Is fire “for the birds”? How two rare species influence fire management across the US
The US Endangered Species Act has enabled species conservation but has differentially impacted fire management and rare bird conservation in the southern and western US. In the South, prescribed fire and restoration-based forest thinning are commonly used to conserve the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis; RCW), whereas in the West, land managers continue to suppress fire across the diverse habitats of the northern, Californian, and Mexican spotted owls (Strix occidentalis subspecies; SO). Although the habitat needs of the RCW and SO are not identical, substantial portions of both species’ ranges have historically been exposed to relatively frequent, low-to moderate-intensity fires. Active management with fire and thinning has benefited the RCW but proves challenging in the western US. We suggest the western US could benefit from the adoption of a similar innovative approach through policy, public–private partnerships, and complementarity of endangered species management with multiple objectives. These changes would likely balance long-term goals of SO conservation and enhance forest resilience.
In a nutshell:
• The US Endangered Species Act has influenced fire management differently across regions, even with species that are adapted to similar fire regimes
• Frequent prescribed fire and restoration thinning have greatly improved red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis) recovery in the southern US, while in the western US, large severe wildfires are a major threat to spotted owl (Strix occidentalis) recovery
• Complementary benefits from habitat restoration and fuels reduction using fire and thinning help explain the redcockaded woodpecker’s recovery in the South
• Integrating the beneficial roles of fire and restoration thinning into spotted owl conservation in