Megafires drive out spotted owls

©Sheila Whitmore

After the King Fire torched nearly 100,000 acres of the Eldorado National Forest in 2014, California spotted owls (Strix occidentalis occidentalis) abandoned the charred remains of their homes, Capital Public Radio reports. The finding, published this month in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, may help settle a long-running debate over forest management practices to reduce wildfire severity. Previously, some have argued that spotted owls can live in severely burned forests, so tree thinning and prescribed burns do more harm than good. The King Fire provided a perfect natural experiment, burning parts of a forest researchers were already monitoring. The mass exodus of spotted owls suggests that megafire prevention really would benefit the species long term.