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Goal: Apply Knowledge Globally Fire is for the birds: how two rare species influence fire management across the US

Longleaf pine stand with a cavity tree for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker
A cavity tree for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker in a thinned and burned longleaf pine stand, Calcasieu RD, Kisatchie NF, Vernon Parish, LA. (Forest Service photo by James M. Guldin)


A national team of scientists examined two case studies that compare and contrast the value of prescribed fire and thinning to manage habitat for two endangered species: the red-cockaded woodpecker and the spotted owl. A key to success in managing the woodpecker in the South has been active prescribed burning programs along with thinning and other management for multiple species. Similar approaches would likely benefit the spotted owl in the West.


The U.S. Endangered Species Act has enabled species conservation but has differentially impacted fire management and rare bird conservation in the southern and western U.S. In the South, prescribed fire and restoration-based forest thinning are commonly used to conserve the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker, whereas in the West, land managers continue to suppress fire across the diverse habitats of the northern, Californian, and Mexican spotted owls. Although the habitat needs of the woodpecker and the owl 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 red-cockaded woodpecker but proves challenging in the western U.S. The research suggests that the western U.S. 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 spotted owl conservation and enhance forest resilience.

Principal Investigator
James M. Guldin, Senior Research Silviculturist
4855 - Center for Integrated Forest Science
Strategic Program Area
Resource Management and Use
Fire and Fuels
Wildlife and Fish
Is fire “for the birds”? How two rare species influence fire management across the US
Research Partners
Ouachita National Forest
Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region
Forest Service Pacific Northwest Region
Pacific Southwest Research Station
Pacific Northwest Research Station
Rocky Mountain Research Station
External Partners
University of California, Berkeley
University of Idaho
Northern Arizona University
Washington Conservation Science Institute
Tall Timbers Research Station