Northern Spotted Owl

Northern spotted owls

Adult with young northern spotted owl.

Northern spotted owls (Strix occidentalis caurina) are listed as one of the species of greatest concern in the Cedar River Watershed Habitat Conservation Plan. Moderate to low elevation forests historically provided the best habitat for spotted owls in Washington. The amount of suitable habitat throughout the spotted owl’s range has declined by more than 60% over the past 190 years, as most of the low elevation forests were cut and replaced with development. Read more about northern spotted owl on the Seattle Public Utilities Cedar River Biodiversity website.

The watershed is strategically located (Watershed Strategic Location Map pdf), connecting the central and southern Cascade Mountains, as well as providing lower elevation forest habitat. Consequently, habitat within the watershed could be very important to spotted owl populations in the future.

There are several factors that influence spotted owls that are beyond our control as land managers. In addition to competition with barred owls, we cannot influence loss of old-growth forest habitat on a landscape scale in western Washington or regional spotted owl population trends. What we can change is the forest habitat needed by spotted owls. So our goals are based on habitat, rather than population.


Our long-term goal, over the next 50 to 100 years, is to both maintain existing and provide new spotted owl nesting, foraging, and dispersal habitat in the watershed. Our specific objectives include:

  1. Protect and maintain all existing old-growth forest habitat
  2. Enhance northern spotted owl habitat and accelerate the development of old-growth forest characteristics (i.e., structural complexity and species diversity) in young second-growth forests.


What are we doing for Northern Spotted Owl?

Upland forest habitat protection and enhancement projects will benefit many species dependent on old-growth forest habitat, including spotted owls, marbled murrelets, and northern goshawk.

Protect All Watershed Habitats
Management of the watershed serves to avoid or minimize adverse effects of major events such as fire, spills of toxic materials, invasive species, and excessive human disturbance. This helps to maintain all existing old-growth for spotted owl nesting and allows second-growth forest to develop owl habitat on its own through passive restoration.
View more information on habitat protection.

Upland Forest Habitat Restoration
Upland forest habitat enhancement projects are designed as active restoration projects to accelerate old-growth forest conditions in second-growth forests generated after clearcut logging. This should increase dispersal, forage, and nesting habitat for spotted owls more rapidly than would passive restoration alone.
View more on our upland forest habitat restoration program..

Strategic Planning
Many active restoration projects are located to link the existing old-growth patches at higher elevations, as well as creating corridors to already well-developed second-growth forest at lower elevations. This will help increase patch sizes for nesting and provide spotted owl dispersal habitat.
View more about our strategic planning.

Upland Forest Habitat Research and Monitoring
The entire forest will be monitored through a system of permanent vegetation sample plots to document how habitat is developing through time, and how habitat development under passive restoration compares with that under active restoration.
View more about our upland forest habitat research and monitoring program.