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Eavesdropping on Northern Spotted Owls for Science

Posted on Monday, May 1, 2023

The northern spotted owl is well-known in the Pacific Northwest for being listed by the Endangered Species Act, creating conflict with their territory in an equally well-known lumber producing region.  

“In the Pacific Northwest, forest management is heavily influenced by the status of the northern spotted owls, which have been in continued population decline for the past four decades.” So begins the research paper of ARCS scholar alum Cara Appel, continuing her PhD work at Oregon State University in wildlife science. 

How do scientists track owl population changes and estimate owl pairings?  

As a novel approach to keeping tabs on these owls Cara and the rest of the research team tried a passive acoustic framework – a way to assess the status of wildlife populations with minimal impact to the animals.  Ecosphere published the paper, with Cara as the lead author. 

The research group did six weeks of acoustic monitoring in the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, and in the Oregon Coast range, during the 2018 spotted owl breeding season.   

The research paper notes that passive monitoring methods are advancing in the field, as well as machine learning methods to work with the substantial volumes of data and ecological datasets.  

As the paper reports, ”In addition to range-wide population monitoring, passive acoustic methods are increasingly being used for pre-timber harvest surveys in the PNW to ensure that management actions are not undertaken in areas occupied by territorial spotted owls.”  

Cara’s research paper is available HERE.