November 5 Spotted Owl Conversation

November 5 Spotted Owl Conversation by Owl Science Team, at 9:39 p.m. on 30 November 2008,

Owl Team Response to Linda Blum's comments of November 9:

  1. PRIVATE LAND OWNERSHIP ON ELDORADO STUDY AREA: There are two aspects of our response. First, private land constitutes about 37% of the Eldorado Density Owl Study Area. The Owl Science Team had been under the mistaken impression that most of this private land was owned by Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI). After being alerted to our possible error by Ms. Blum, our preliminary inquiries indicate that she is correct. Much of the private land may actually belong to Fruit Growers Association. Our assumption that most of the private land belonged to SPI had its genesis by the large land transactions that occurred within this region during the 1990s when the major private landowners were Fruit Growers, MichCal, SPI and others. RJG was told during a field site visit with Fruit Growers that they were in the process, along with MichCal, of liquidating their land to SPI. RJG simply assumed that was true, but apparently the transactions never occurred. We have recently requested detailed information on private land ownership within the Eldorado National Forest from agency personnel, and we will provide an update once we obtain this information. RJG never pursued the veracity of this information because specific land ownership was not of central relevance to our study objectives (see next comment). Second, although we appreciate Ms. Blum’s attention to detail and pointing out our error in terms of land ownership, the topic is not relevant from a scientific perspective or the design of the SNAMP study. In our recollection, we have never noted in any publication the explicit land ownership by a company, corporation, or individual on our study area except perhaps in general statements. Rather, we simply have noted that our study area is 37% private (this percentage may vary slightly in our historical publications because of changing land ownership patterns or as we acquire better information) and that the distribution of public and private land is in a “checkerboard” pattern, which is roughly true, but not geometrically true.

  2. "CONTROL" VS. "TREATMENT" TERRITORIES: When the Owl Science Team refers to “control” and “treatment” territories, it implies the expectation that the owl territory will either experience a fuels reduction treatment executed by the U.S. Forest Service (“treatment”) or not receive one (“control”). This designation has nothing to do with the distribution of landownership or the past harvest or forest conditions (although this can be considered in the modeling of treatment effects). We use this terminology because our stated research questions are directed toward estimating the effects of SPLATs on spotted owls. At the November 5 meeting, DT stressed the importance of documenting private timber harvests within all of the owl territories, regardless of their designation as “control” or “treatment” territories. We stressed this because we recognize the potentially important confounding factor of “control” territories receiving “treatments” by private landowners and of “treatment” territories receiving multiple treatments (both USFS and private timber harvest within an owl territory). Therefore, we are in agreement with Ms. Blum that the effects of private timber harvest on spotted owl habitat represents a potentially important confounding factor, and thus we plan to incorporate data on private timber harvest into our analyses. We plan to contact the actual private landowners on our study area (once we determine their identity) and request information on the locations, size, and types of harvest (clearcut, selective removal, etc.) conducted during the course of our study. If we cannot obtain this information directly from a private landowner, we will obtain the information from Timber Harvest Plans on file with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Our approach will be to model SPLAT treatments so that the treatment will be considered both a categorical (owl territory receives a treatment or not) and a continuous (owl territory receives a specific amount of treatment) effect.

  3. HYPOTHESES/TIME SCALE OF STUDY: The Owl Team does not have a premise that the Framework will be detrimental to the owls. It is one working hypothesis that SPLATs could have a negative effect, but the alternative is also possible given our lack of understanding of owl responses to these treatments at the current time. Finally, we wish to clarify the time scale of the owl SNAMP study, as this may be another source of confusion for Ms. Blum. While current forest conditions on our study landscape have been greatly influenced by historic timber harvests (on both public and private lands), our study objective is not to assess the effects of past activities on spotted owls, but to assess the effects of activities that occur during the course of the SNAMP study (2007−2013). Thus, we will create a habitat map to quantify forest conditions at the beginning of the study. At the study’s conclusion, we will update the habitat map, which will allow us to quantify any habitat change that occurred during the study. Although we are specifically interested in habitat change due to Forest Service SPLATs, we will control for habitat change due to other reasons (private timber harvest, wildfire) as noted above. In addition, we will undoubtedly consider the habitat conditions of each territory prior to their receiving any treatment because owl territories having different starting conditions might respond differently to SPLAT treatments.

This post is a part of the following discussions: