[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 46 (Thursday, March 8, 2012)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 14061-14165]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-5042]



[[Page 14061]]

Vol. 77

Thursday,

No. 46

March 8, 2012

Part II





Department of the Interior





-----------------------------------------------------------------------





Fish and Wildlife Service





-----------------------------------------------------------------------





50 CFR Part 17





Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Revised Critical Habitat 
for the Northern Spotted Owl; Proposed Rule

Federal Register / Vol. 77 , No. 46 / Thursday, March 8, 2012 / 
Proposed Rules

[[Page 14062]]


-----------------------------------------------------------------------

DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

[FWS-R1-ES-2011-0112; 4500030114]
RIN 1018-AX69


Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Revised Critical 
Habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Proposed rule.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

SUMMARY: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) proposes to 
revise the designated critical habitat for the northern spotted owl 
(Strix occidentalis caurina) under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, 
as amended (Act). Consistent with the best scientific data available, 
the standards of the Act, our regulations, and agency practice, we have 
initially identified, for public comment, approximately 13,962,449 
acres (ac) (5,649,660 hectares (ha)) in 11 units and 63 subunits in 
California, Oregon, and Washington that meet the definition of critical 
habitat. In addition, however, the Act provides the Secretary with the 
discretion to exclude certain areas from the final designation after 
taking into consideration economic impacts, impacts on national 
security, and any other relevant impacts of specifying any particular 
area as critical habitat. We have identified and are considering a 
number of specific alternatives in this proposed rulemaking based on 
potential exclusions from the final rule. First, of the total area 
identified, we propose to exclude from the final designation 
approximately 2,631,736 ac (1,065,026 ha) of National Park lands, 
Federal Wilderness Areas, and other Congressionally reserved natural 
areas, as well as 164,776 ac (66,682 ha) of State Park lands. Second, 
we propose to exclude from a final designation approximately 936,816 ac 
(379,116 ha) of State and private lands that have a Habitat 
Conservation Plan, Safe Harbor Agreement, conservation easement, or 
similar conservation protection. And third, we are considering 
exclusion of an additional 838,344 ac (339,266 ha) of other non-Federal 
lands from the final designation.
    These specific alternatives will be considered on an individual 
basis or in any combination thereof. In addition, the final designation 
may not be limited to these alternatives, but may also consider other 
exclusions as a result of continuing analysis of relevant 
considerations (both scientific and economic, as required by the Act) 
and the public comment process. In particular, we solicit comments from 
the public on the physical and biological features currently identified 
in this proposal as being essential for the conservation of the 
species, whether all of the areas identified meet the definition of 
critical habitat, whether other areas would meet that definition, 
whether to make the specific exclusions we have proposed, and whether 
there are other areas that are appropriate for exclusion.

DATES: We will accept comments received or postmarked on or before June 
6, 2012. Please note that if you are submitting comments 
electronically, the deadline is midnight Eastern Standard Time on this 
date. We must receive requests for public hearings, in writing, at the 
address shown in the FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT section by April 
23, 2012. At this time we are anticipating holding a total of at least 
three public information meetings, one each in the States of 
California, Oregon, and Washington, on this proposed rule. The dates 
and times of these meetings will be announced concurrent with the 
notice of availability of the draft economic analysis on this proposed 
revised designation of critical habitat and reopening of the public 
comment period. Public information meetings allow the public the 
opportunity to learn and ask questions about the proposed critical 
habitat designation, as well as the draft economic analysis. An 
information meeting is not the same as a public hearing, which allows 
the public to submit comments for the official record, but generally 
does not provide for the exchange of information between the public and 
representatives of the agency. Comments may always be submitted, 
however, either electronically or by mail (see ADDRESSES) during any 
open public comment period.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments by one of the following methods:
    (1) Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. In the Keyword box, enter Docket No. FWS-R1-ES-
2011-0112, which is the docket number for this rulemaking. Then, in the 
Search panel on the left side of the screen, under the Document Type 
heading, click on the Proposed Rules link to locate this document. You 
may submit a comment by clicking on ``Send a Comment or Submission.''
    (2) By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to: Public 
Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R1-ES-2011-0112; Division of Policy and 
Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax 
Drive, MS 2042-PDM; Arlington, VA 22203.
    We will post all comments on http://www.regulations.gov. This 
generally means that we will post any personal information you provide 
us (see the Public Comments section below for more information).

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Paul Henson, Field Supervisor, U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service, Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office, 2600 SE 
98th Ave, Suite 100, Portland, Oregon 97266; telephone 503-231-6179; 
facsimile 503-231-6195. If you use a telecommunications device for the 
deaf (TDD), call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 800-
877-8339.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Executive Summary

    The purpose of this proposed revised critical habitat designation 
is: (1) To identify those geographic areas occupied at the time of 
listing that contain the physical or biological features essential to 
the conservation of the spotted owl; (2) to determine whether these 
features may require special management considerations or protection 
and provide general information on the types of management that may be 
appropriate consistent with the conservation of the owl; and (3) to 
identify any areas that may have been unoccupied at the time of 
listing, but that are nonetheless essential to the conservation and 
recovery of the owl. This proposed revised designation of critical 
habitat identifies all of the areas that we have initially determined 
meet the definition of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl. 
Federal lands comprise the strong majority of the area, but some State 
and private lands are also identified.
    Under section 7(a)(2) of the Act, Federal agencies must, in 
consultation with and with the assistance of the Service, ensure that 
any action authorized, funded or carried out by that Federal agency is 
not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species 
(this is referred to as the ``jeopardy standard''). Once finalized, the 
effect of designation of critical habitat for a listed species is to 
require that Federal agencies additionally ensure that their actions 
are not likely to result in the destruction or adverse modification of 
that critical habitat. In areas where northern spotted owls occur, 
including areas identified as meeting the definition of critical 
habitat in this proposed rule, Federal agencies such as the U.S. Forest 
Service and Bureau of Land Management are already

[[Page 14063]]

consulting with the Service on the potential effects of their proposed 
actions under the ``jeopardy standard,'' regardless of whether these 
lands are currently designated as critical habitat. Aside from this 
requirement specific to Federal agencies, critical habitat designations 
do not provide additional regulatory protection for a species on non-
Federal lands, unless the proposed activities involve Federal funding 
or permitting. In other words, designation of private or other non-
Federal lands as critical habitat has no direct regulatory impact 
unless there is such a Federal connection. Although we anticipate that 
the effects on private landowners would not be significant, we 
acknowledge that there may be significant benefits to excluding private 
lands; we particularly request comments on whether and to what extent 
excluding such lands would be consistent with the Act.
    While we have initially identified 13,962,449 ac (5,649,660 ha) of 
lands in the States of Washington, Oregon, and California that meet the 
definition of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl, it is 
important to emphasize that for several reasons, the number of acres 
actually included in the final designation may vary significantly from 
what is in this proposed revised designation. First, our conclusions as 
to what areas meet the Act's definition of ``critical habitat'' may 
change based on public comment and further analysis. Second, we may 
determine that military lands proposed for designation may qualify for 
an exemption from designation pursuant to section 4(a)(3)(B)(i) of the 
Act. Third, the Secretary may exclude certain areas from the final 
designation based on a thorough balancing analysis, including 
consideration of economic impacts, pursuant to section 4(b)(2) of the 
Act. In all cases, and without prejudging the consideration of further 
analysis and public comments, we anticipate a final designation that 
may be significantly smaller than the area currently identified.
    The Act provides that critical habitat shall be designated after 
taking into consideration the economic impact, the impact on national 
security, and any other relevant impact of specifying any particular 
area as critical habitat. Section 4(b)(2) of the Act provides that the 
Secretary may exclude any area from critical habitat if he determines 
that the benefits of excluding that area outweigh the benefits of 
including it in the designation, unless such an exclusion would result 
in the extinction of the species. This ``weighing'' of considerations 
under section 4(b)(2) of the Act is the next step in the designation 
process, in which the Secretary may consider particular areas for 
exclusion from the final designation. In this proposed rule, we have 
already identified 4,571,672 ac (1,850,090 ha) of lands that we will 
specifically consider for exclusion from the final designation of 
critical habitat.
    The final designation may reflect a variety of possible 
combinations of exclusions. The public is invited to comment on the 
possible exclusion of any areas proposed, but in particular those areas 
we have identified as those we propose to exclude and those we may 
additionally consider for exclusion from the final designation of 
critical habitat. After evaluating public comment and carefully 
analyzing and weighing all appropriate factors, a variety of potential 
outcomes are possible in the final designation.
    This proposed revised critical habitat designation includes a 
diverse forest landscape that contains several different forest 
ecosystems and thousands of plant and animal species. Consistent with 
the best available science and the adaptive management principles 
outlined in the Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl, we 
strongly encourage the application of ecosystem management principles 
and active forest management to ensure the long-term conservation of 
the northern spotted owl and its habitat, as well as other species 
dependent on these shared ecosystems. While proposed Federal actions 
must comply with requirements of the Act, actions with some short-term 
adverse impacts to spotted owls and critical habitat, but whose effect 
is to conserve or restore natural ecological processes and enhance 
forest resilience in the long term, should generally be consistent with 
the goals of critical habitat management. These management approaches 
are intended to be consistent with the principles of Executive Order 
13563, which, as noted, directs agencies to consider regulatory 
approaches that reduce burdens and maintain flexibility and freedom of 
choice for the public. E.O. 13563 also further emphasizes that the 
rulemaking process must allow for public participation and an open 
exchange of ideas. To the extent feasible and consistent with law, the 
Service will seek to ensure that the process of designating critical 
habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl will be based on the open exchange 
of information and perspectives among State, local, and tribal 
officials, experts in relevant disciplines, affected stakeholders in 
the private sector, and the public as a whole.

Overview of Northern Spotted Owl Critical Habitat

    The northern spotted owl (also variously referred to as simply 
``spotted owl'' or ``owl'' in this document) was originally listed as 
threatened under the Act because of loss of its older growth forest 
habitat and a declining population (55 FR 26114, June 26, 1990). More 
recently, competition with barred owls (Strix varia) has emerged as a 
significant additional threat to spotted owl conservation. Experimental 
management of the barred owl threat is being addressed through a 
separate decision making process, as discussed further below.
    One requirement of the Act, under section 7(a)(2), is that Federal 
agencies must, in consultation with and with the assistance of the 
Service, ensure that any action authorized, funded or carried out by 
that Federal agency is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence 
of a listed species (this is referred to as the ``jeopardy standard''). 
Once finalized, the effect of designation of critical habitat for a 
listed species is to add an independent requirement that Federal 
agencies ensure that their actions are not likely to result in the 
destruction or adverse modification of that critical habitat. Thus, in 
areas where northern spotted owls occur, including most areas included 
in this proposed rule, Federal agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service 
(USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are already consulting with 
the Service on the potential effects of their proposed actions under 
the ``jeopardy standard,'' regardless of whether these lands are 
currently designated as critical habitat. Aside from this requirement 
specific to Federal agencies, critical habitat designations do not 
provide additional regulatory protection for a species on non-Federal 
lands, unless the activities proposed involve Federal funding or 
permitting. In other words, designation of private or other non-Federal 
lands as critical habitat has no direct regulatory impact on the use of 
that land unless there is such a Federal connection. Identifying non-
Federal lands that are essential to the conservation of a species may 
nonetheless be relevant, in that it alerts State and local government 
agencies and private landowners to the value of the habitat, and may 
help facilitate voluntary conservation partnerships such as Safe Harbor 
Agreements and Habitat Conservation Plans that may contribute to the 
recovery and delisting of the species.
    To comply with the statutory requirements of the Act, we begin by 
identifying the areas that meet the

[[Page 14064]]

definition of ``critical habitat.'' Notably, however, section 4 of the 
Act also requires us to consider the economic impacts, impacts on 
national security, and other relevant impacts of specifying any 
particular areas as critical habitat before we make our final 
designation. This process is summarized below in the section An 
Introductory Background of the Critical Habitat Process, and is 
detailed in the Exclusions section of this document.
    In general, we recommend that critical habitat for the northern 
spotted owl should follow these basic management recommendations 
(detailed further in the Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted 
Owl, USFWS 2011; hereafter ``Revised Recovery Plan''):
    1. Conserve the older growth, high quality and occupied forest 
habitat as necessary to meet recovery goals.
    2. Implement science-based, active vegetation management to restore 
forest health, especially in drier forests in the eastern and southern 
portions of the owl's range.
    3. Encourage landscape-level planning and vegetation management 
that allow historical ecological processes, such as characteristic fire 
regimes and natural forest succession, to occur on these landscapes 
throughout the range of the owl. This approach has the best chance of 
resulting in forests that are resilient to future changes that may 
arise due to climate change.
    These general recommendations are consistent with the underlying 
purpose of the Act. Section 2(b) of the Act states, in part: ``The 
purposes of this Act are to provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon 
which endangered species and threatened species depend may be 
conserved.'' A fundamental goal of critical habitat management is not 
only to conserve the listed species, but also to conserve the ecosystem 
upon which that species depends. This is the case with the northern 
spotted owl.
    An ``ecosystem'' is a biological community of interacting organisms 
and their physical environment, or as the complex of a community of 
organisms and its environment functioning as an ecological unit (Krebs 
1972, pp. 10-11; Ricklefs 1979, pp. 31-32, 869). These ecosystem 
interactions and functions are often referred to as ecological 
``relationships'' or ``processes.'' Thus, to conserve the northern 
spotted owl as directed by the Act, one must also conserve the 
ecological processes that occur within the ecological landscape 
inhabited by the species. These natural processes--such as vegetation 
succession, forest fire regimes, and nutrient cycling--create and shape 
the physical and biological features that form the foundation of 
critical habitat. A complex interaction of physical and biological 
factors contribute to the development and maintenance of these 
ecosystems, which in turn provide the northern spotted owl with the 
environmental conditions required for its conservation and survival. A 
fundamental goal of critical habitat management should thus be to 
understand, describe, and conserve these processes. This ``ecosystem 
approach'' of management will ultimately have the highest likelihood of 
conserving listed species such as the northern spotted owl in the long 
term (Knight 1998, p. 43).
    Service policy also endorses this approach: ``Species will be 
conserved best not by a species-by-species approach but by an ecosystem 
conservation strategy that transcends individual species'' (59 FR 
34724, July 1, 1994). The Service considers this ecosystem approach in 
critical habitat designations for other listed species (e.g., in Hawaii 
(75 FR 18960, April 13, 2010; 76 FR 46362, August 2, 2011)). Likewise, 
the U.S. Forest Service, which manages the great majority of the 
proposed revised areas initially meeting the definition of northern 
spotted owl critical habitat, has prioritized restoring and maintaining 
natural ecological function and resiliency to its forest lands (Blate 
et al. 2009, entire; USDA 2010, entire; Tidwell 2011, entire). Active 
management of critical habitat is intended to be fully compatible and 
consistent with these landscape-level ecosystem conservation efforts.
    This proposed revised critical habitat designation includes a 
diverse forest landscape that contains several different forest 
ecosystems and thousands of plant and animal species. It ranges from 
dry, fire-prone forests to moist old-growth conifer forest to a mix of 
conifers and hardwood trees. Thousands of species occur in these forest 
ecosystems, including other listed species with very specific 
biological needs. Prescribed management for all of these needs at the 
species level on large landscapes will raise a number of challenges 
(Thompson et al. 2009, p. 29). Many scientists believe a single-species 
approach to forest management is limited and that land managers need to 
focus on broader landscape goals that address ecosystem process and 
future habitat conditions (see, e.g., Thomas et al. 2006, p. 286; Boyd 
et al. 2008, p. 42; Hobbs et al. 2010, p. 487; Mori 2011, pp. 289-290). 
We strongly encourage the application of ecosystem management 
principles and active forest management to ensure the long-term 
conservation of the northern spotted owl and its habitat, as well as 
other species dependent on these shared ecosystems.
    Another important development that would inform spotted owl 
critical habitat management involves changes in forestry science. 
Emulating natural disturbance regimes is emerging as a dominant 
paradigm in North American forest management (Seymour and Hunter 1999, 
p. 56; Long 2009, p. 1868). This change is occurring in response to (1) 
the simplification of forests in terms of structure, age-class 
diversity, and species composition as a result of management for timber 
production and (2) a recognition of fundamental changes in ecosystem 
function and processes due to land management practices, especially 
fire and successional patterns (Franklin et al. 2002, pp. 402-408; 
Hessburg et al. 2005, pp. 134-135; Drever et al. 2006, p. 2291). 
Although active vegetation management is unlikely to precisely mimic 
natural forest disturbance in all ways, it can be used to better 
maintain the resilience of landscapes and wildlife populations to 
respond to natural disturbance and climate change (Lindenmayer et al. 
2008, p. 87). In general, silviculture prescriptions that apply 
ecological forestry principles to address the conservation of broader 
ecological processes are compatible with maintaining the proposed 
critical habitat's essential features in the long term (USFWS 2011, p. 
III-14).
    Explicitly prescribing such management at a fine scale (e.g., 
forest stand level) is beyond the scope of this document and should be 
developed at the appropriate land management unit (e.g., National 
Forest or BLM District; USDA 2010, entire) and through consultation 
with the Service, as appropriate. While proposed Federal actions must 
comply with requirements of section 7 of the Act, which requires 
consideration of short as well as long-term impacts to species and 
their critical habitat, as described below and in the Revised Recovery 
Plan, management actions with some short term adverse impacts to 
spotted owls and critical habitat, but whose effect is to conserve or 
restore natural ecological processes and enhance forest resilience in 
the long term, should generally be consistent with the goals of 
critical habitat management (USFWS 2011, p. III 11-39). The Service has 
recently approved these types of management actions in occupied spotted 
owl habitat on BLM and USFS lands.
    Specific considerations for managing within spotted owl critical 
habitat are discussed in more detail in the Special Management 
Considerations and

[[Page 14065]]

Adverse Modification sections later in this document. In sum, 
vegetation and fuels management in dry and mixed-dry forests is 
strongly encouraged both within and outside designated critical habitat 
where the effect of such treatment is to conserve natural ecological 
processes or restore them (including fire) where they have been 
modified or suppressed (Allen et al. 2002, pp. 1429-1430; Spies et al. 
2006, pp. 358-361; Fielder et al. 2007, entire; Prather et al. 2008, 
entire; Lindenmayer et al. 2009, p. 274; Tidwell 2011, entire). 
Likewise, in moist and some mixed forests, management of spotted owl 
critical habitat should be compatible with broader ecological goals, 
such as the retention of high-quality older forest, the continued 
treatment of young or homogenous forest plantations, and the 
conservation or restoration of complex early seral forest habitat 
(Spies et al. 2007b, pp. 57-63; Betts et al. 2010, pp. 2117, 2126-2127; 
Swanson et al. 2010, entire). In general, actions that promote 
ecological restoration and those that apply ecological forestry 
principles as described in the Revised Recovery Plan (USFWS 2011, pp. 
III-11 to III-41) and later in this document are likely to be 
consistent with the conservation of the northern spotted owl and the 
management of its critical habitat.
    In conclusion, the designation and management of critical habitat 
for the spotted owl must be compatible with these broader landscape 
management goals if it is to conserve the spotted owl as required by 
the Act. It is therefore important to emphasize that spotted owl 
critical habitat should not be a ``hands off'' reserve in the 
traditional sense. Rather, it should be a ``hands on'' ecosystem 
management landscape that should include a mix of active and passive 
actions to meet a variety of forest conservation goals that support 
long-term spotted owl conservation. It would be inconsistent with the 
stated purposes of the Act, the Revised Recovery Plan (USFWS 2011), and 
the goals of the Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP) if spotted owl critical 
habitat was narrowly managed and, in so doing, discouraged land 
managers from implementing scientifically justified measures for 
conserving forest ecosystem functions and health.

An Introductory Background of the Critical Habitat Process

    Section 4(a)(3) of the Act specifies that the Service shall 
designate critical habitat for endangered or threatened species and 
may, from time-time thereafter as appropriate, revise such designation. 
Critical habitat is defined as (1) specific areas within the 
geographical area occupied by the species at the time it is listed, on 
which are found those physical or biological features that are 
essential to the conservation of the listed species and which may 
require special management considerations or protection, and (2) 
specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by the species at 
the time it is listed that are essential for the conservation of a 
listed species. Our regulations direct us to focus on the ``primary 
constituent elements,'' or PCEs, in identifying these physical or 
biological features.
    As part of our rulemaking process, we identify what types of 
activities on Federal lands, or what activities involving a Federal 
nexus, may be affected within the proposed critical habitat area and 
would require consultation under section 7(a)(2) of the Act. Although 
we are in the process of developing an economic analysis specific to 
this proposed revision of critical habitat, the economic analysis for 
the 2008 designation of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl 
may be informative in terms of providing the categories of activities 
identified as those that may be affected within critical habitat. For 
the 2008 critical habitat, those initially included: (1) Timber 
management, (2) barred owl management and control, (3) northern spotted 
owl surveys and monitoring, (4) fire management, (5) linear projects 
(i.e., transportation, pipelines, and powerlines), (6) restoration, and 
(7) recreation. However, the effects on fire management, linear 
projects, restoration, and recreation were found to range from minimal 
to none. As a consequence, the 2008 economic analysis concluded that 
there were four categories of potential impacts from critical habitat 
for the northern spotted owl: (1) Impacts to timber management; (2) 
impacts to survey and monitoring activities; (3) impacts to barred owl 
management; and (4) costs related to consultations under section 7 of 
the Act.
    Some specific examples of timber management and commercial timber 
harvesting activities that may be affected by the designation of 
critical habitat include, but are not limited to: Traditional 
clearcutting; targeted variable retention harvest; pre-commercial or 
commercial thinning; variable thinning in single-story, uniform forest 
stands; reduction of fuels in order to reduce the effect of wildfires; 
hazard tree removal; removal of younger, shade-intolerant conifers to 
reduce competition with larger, legacy conifers; and silvicultural 
treatments. Some of these activities may have short-term negative 
impacts to the owl, but long-term benefits by creating higher quality 
habitat. These activities and possible effects are discussed below in 
more detail (see Effects of Critical Habitat Designation, Section 7 
Consultation). As described in this proposed rule, we anticipate that, 
in general, actions that promote ecological restoration and those that 
apply ecological forestry principles as described in the Revised 
Recovery Plan (USFWS 2011, pp. III-11 to III-41) and later in this 
document are likely to be consistent with the conservation of the 
northern spotted owl and the management of its critical habitat.
    Any proposed designation of critical habitat begins with the 
identification of all specific areas that contain the physical or 
biological features essential to the conservation of the species and 
which may require special management considerations or protection (this 
applies to areas occupied at the time of listing), and all areas that 
the Secretary has otherwise determined to be essential to the 
conservation of the species (this applies to areas unoccupied by the 
species at the time of listing). The initial identification of these 
lands is based on the best available scientific information. After we 
have identified the lands that meet the definition of ``critical 
habitat,'' we consider the potential economic, national security, or 
other relevant impacts of the designation. Under section 4(b)(2) of the 
Act, we may identify any lands for which we believe the benefits of 
exclusion may outweigh the benefits of inclusion, and solicit public 
comment on our consideration of those particular lands for exclusion or 
exemption from the final designation, as we have done in this proposed 
rule.
    In addition, section 4(a)(3)(B)(i) of the Act species that the 
Secretary shall not designate any lands as critical habitat owned or 
controlled by the Department of Defense, or designated for its use, 
that are subject to an integrated natural resources management plan 
(INRMP) if the Secretary determines in writing that such plan provides 
a benefit to the species for which critical habitat is proposed for 
designation. Such lands may be exempted from the designation of 
critical habitat, which is a separate process from the exclusion of 
lands under section 4(b)(2) of the Act.

The Critical Habitat Process for the Proposed Revised Designation of 
Critical Habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl

    For this proposed revised designation of critical habitat for the 
northern spotted owl, we used the integrated habitat conservation 
planning framework developed in the Revised Recovery Plan for the 
Northern Spotted

[[Page 14066]]

Owl (USFWS 2011, Appendix C) as one key source of information. This 
framework integrates a spotted owl habitat model, a habitat 
conservation planning model, and a population simulation model that 
collectively allowed us to compare estimated spotted owl population 
performance among alternative habitat conservation network scenarios 
under a variety of potential conditions. This process specifically 
incorporated consideration of the physical or biological features and 
allowed us to determine the quantity and distribution or spatial 
arrangement of these features that are essential to the conservation of 
the northern spotted owl. It also assisted us in identifying habitat 
that may have been unoccupied at the time of listing but is essential 
to the species' conservation. Additionally, it allowed us to consider 
the effect of variables such as habitat change over time and density of 
barred owls, as well as to evaluate the effect of including different 
configurations of landownership in the scenarios considered.
    Consistent with our statutory obligation to consider the best 
available science in making decisions, our evaluation of spotted owl 
population performance, based on various habitat configurations tested, 
required that we make assumptions regarding some of the model inputs, 
for example the interaction rate between northern spotted owls and 
barred owls (all assumptions are explicitly identified in Dunk et al. 
2012). Given that critical habitat cannot be expected to ameliorate 
non-habitat based stressors to spotted owl populations, it was 
necessary to establish reasonable assumptions regarding barred owl 
encounter rates (the probability that a given spotted owl territory 
also has barred owls present) that we believed could, along with 
critical habitat designation, lead to recovery of the northern spotted 
owl. Absent such an assumption, it would not be possible to identify 
those areas essential to the conservation of the owl, as the negative 
effect of barred owls would essentially mask the positive effect of 
habitat on spotted owl populations. Therefore, as part of the critical 
habitat modeling process, we established region-specific barred owl 
encounter rates based on preliminary analyses conducted as part of the 
modeling process (Dunk et al. 2012) and barred owl encounter 
probabilities estimated from long-term demographic study areas (Forsman 
et al. 2011) within each modeling region. In some areas, we maintained 
barred owl encounter rates at current levels or allowed them to 
increase slightly. In others, we used encounter rates that were less 
than current levels, but at levels we believed could potentially be 
maintained through management activities.
    It is important to recognize that the barred owl encounter 
probabilities we established for modeling purposes do not represent 
predictions about conditions that will be achieved through management 
actions, or that they are an estimate of what is likely to occur in the 
future. Instead, the assumed barred owl encounter probabilities were 
used to identify the critical habitat that is essential to recovery of 
the northern spotted owl, assuming that other, non-habitat based 
threats to the species have been addressed. We invite public comment on 
the process we used to evaluate barred owl effects on critical habitat.
    The Service is currently in the process of preparing an 
Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that will serve as the basis for a 
decision on whether to move forward with a study on the experimental 
removal of barred owls. We will release the EIS for public review and 
comment in the near future. If we decide to proceed with this study, we 
will likely implement it over a period of approximately 4 to 10 years. 
Furthermore, if we decide to proceed with this experimental removal 
study, that decision will not include a determination on whether or how 
barred owls would be managed in the long term; we will make that 
decision only after further evaluation of the results from our initial 
study. Barred owls are already present across most, if not all, of the 
landscape being proposed as revised critical habitat, and in many cases 
both spotted owls and barred owls are occupying the same forest lands. 
By designating additional habitat distributed across the range of the 
subspecies, our goal is to increase the likelihood that spotted owls 
will be able to persist in areas where barred owls are also present. 
With regard to how possible future management of the barred owl could 
affect the need for critical habitat for the spotted owl, if, through 
experimental removal studies or otherwise, we learn how to manage 
barred owls for the benefit of spotted owls, and if such management 
efforts are undertaken and result in a reduction in the amount of 
habitat essential to the conservation of the northern spotted owl, the 
Service may at that point consider revising critical habitat.
    Each of the three models used in our integrated conservation 
planning framework helped identify an important element of the 
statutory definition of critical habitat: The identification of 
physical or biological features needed by the northern spotted owl, and 
the distribution of those features across the geographical range of the 
species; and the identification of a landscape configuration where 
these features, as well as any necessary unoccupied areas, are 
essential to the conservation of the species. In all cases, we 
attempted to maximize reliance on public lands, looking first to 
Federal lands and secondarily to State lands, and incorporated private 
lands only when Federal and State lands were insufficient to meet the 
recovery needs of the species. We then evaluated the population 
performance of each habitat configuration considered against the 
recovery criteria as set forth in the Revised Recovery Plan for the 
Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011, p. ix).
    Following the application of the modeling framework, we further 
refined the model-based map units after considering land-ownership 
patterns, interagency coordination, and best professional judgment, 
with the objective of increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of 
the critical habitat proposal. We again used the population simulation 
model to evaluate whether the habitat network, as refined, continued to 
provide what is essential to the conservation of the northern spotted 
owl. The details of this process are presented in this proposed rule in 
the section ``Criteria Used to Identify Critical Habitat,'' and are 
provided in greater detail in our supporting document ``Modeling and 
Analysis Procedures Used to Identify and Evaluate Potential Critical 
Habitat Networks for the Northern Spotted Owl,'' (Dunk et al. 2012), 
available online at http://www.regulations.gov (see ADDRESSES), or by 
contacting our Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office (see FOR FURTHER 
INFORMATION CONTACT). The latter document in particular describes the 
specific assumptions and uncertainties associated with the modeling 
process, and we invite public comment on these assumptions and 
uncertainties. We further invite public comment on those areas we have 
identified here as providing the physical or biological features 
essential the conservation of the owl, or that have been otherwise 
determined to be essential to the conservation of the species.
    As a result of this process, this proposed revised designation of 
critical habitat includes all of the areas that we have determined meet 
the definition of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl. 
Federal lands comprise the majority of the proposed revised 
designation, but some State and private

[[Page 14067]]

lands are also identified. As required by section 4(b)(2) of the Act, 
we have used the best scientific data available to identify those areas 
within the geographical area occupied by the species at the time it was 
listed, on which are found those physical or biological features 
essential to the conservation of the species and which may require 
special management considerations or protection. In addition, the 
Secretary has determined that some areas in a small subset of the 
proposed revised designation may not have been occupied at the time of 
listing, but these areas are nevertheless essential to the conservation 
of the species. While we conclude that the vast majority of lands 
included in the proposed designation were occupied at the time of 
listing for the reasons discussed below, we also evaluated them as if 
they were not occupied and have tentatively determined that all of 
these lands are essential to the conservation of the species. Based on 
the standards of the Act and our implementing regulations, we have 
initially identified 13,962,449 acres (5,649,660 ha) of lands in the 
States of Washington, Oregon, and California that meet the definition 
of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl.
    The specific areas actually included in the final designation may 
vary significantly from what is in this proposed revised designation 
for several reasons. First, our conclusions as to what areas meet the 
Act's definition of ``critical habitat'' may change based on public 
comment and further analysis. Second, we may determine that military 
lands proposed for designation may qualify for an exemption from 
designation pursuant to section 4(a)(3)(B) of the Act. As described 
below under ``Exemptions,'' Joint Base Lewis-McChord in the State of 
Washington is currently in the process of revising its INRMP, and is 
under consideration for exemption from the final designation of 
critical habitat. Third, the Secretary may exercise his discretion to 
exclude certain areas from the final designation based on a thorough 
balancing analysis pursuant to section 4(b)(2) of the Act. In all 
cases, we anticipate a final designation that may be smaller than the 
current proposed revised designation. The proposed revised designation 
may be taken as a maximum in the sense that, in no case, with the 
exception of minor boundary adjustments, would the final designation 
include lands not included in the proposed rule without first providing 
the opportunity for public notice and comments with respect to such 
additional lands.
    As described above, the Act provides that critical habitat shall be 
designated after taking into consideration the economic impact, the 
impact on national security, and any other relevant impact of 
specifying any particular area as critical habitat. Section 4(b)(2) of 
the Act provides that the Secretary may exclude any area from critical 
habitat if he determines that the benefits of excluding that area 
outweigh the benefits of including it in the designation, unless such 
an exclusion would result in the extinction of the species. This 
``weighing'' of considerations under section 4(b)(2) of the Act is the 
next step in the designation process, in which the Secretary may 
consider particular areas for exclusion from the final designation. In 
this proposed revised designation of critical habitat, we have already 
identified 4,571,672 ac (1,850,090 ha) of lands that we will consider 
for exclusion from the final designation of critical habitat. We note 
that Executive Order 13563 states that to the extent permitted by law, 
each agency must ``tailor its regulations to impose the least burden on 
society, consistent with obtaining regulatory objectives,'' and that 
each agency ``shall identify and consider regulatory burdens that 
reduce burdens and maintain flexibility and freedom of choice for the 
public.''
    The final designation may reflect a variety of possible 
combinations of exclusions (We note that in 1991, the initial proposal 
was for 11.6 million acres of critical habitat (May 6, 1991, 56 FR 
20816), but the final rule identified 6.9 million acres (January 15, 
1992, 57 FR 1796), a decrease of 40 percent). The public is invited to 
comment on the possible exclusion of any areas proposed, but in 
particular those areas we have identified as those we propose to 
exclude and those we may additionally consider to exclude from the 
final designation of critical habitat. After evaluating public comment 
and carefully analyzing and weighing all appropriate factors, a variety 
of potential outcomes is possible in the final designation. The 
following represents a range of some possible outcomes that may result 
from the critical habitat designation process. In all cases, and 
without prejudging the consideration of further analysis and public 
comments, we anticipate a final designation that may be significantly 
smaller than the currently identified area. We emphasize that these are 
possible outcomes and that we seek comments on alternatives, including 
those that may involve additional exclusions beyond those specifically 
identified in this proposal.
    Possible Outcome 1. Finalize critical habitat on all lands 
described as meeting the definition of critical habitat in this 
proposed revised designation. This outcome would result if the 
Secretary determines, following public comment and consideration of all 
possible exclusions and exemptions, that all of the areas proposed as 
revised critical habitat still meet the definition of critical habitat, 
and no areas are excluded or exempted from the final designation. In 
this outcome, the final designation would be 13,962,449 ac (5,649,660 
ha).
    Possible Outcome 2. Finalize critical habitat by excluding all 
private and State lands with active conservation agreements (HCPS, 
SHAs, and other formal agreements) in place, identified here as 
proposed for exclusion based on a through balancing analysis under 
section 4(b)(2) of the Act (see Table 1). This outcome would result if, 
following public comment and consideration of all possible exclusions, 
the Secretary determined that, of all of the areas identified here for 
consideration for possible exclusion, the benefits of excluding those 
areas with formal conservation agreements that support conservation of 
the northern spotted owl would be greater than the benefits of 
including those areas in critical habitat, and if exclusion of those 
areas did not result in the extinction of the species. In this outcome, 
the final designation would be 13,025,633 ac (5,271,287 ha).
    Possible Outcome 3. Finalize critical habitat by excluding all 
private and State lands with active conservation agreements (HCPs, 
SHAs, and other formal agreements) in place, all State parks, and all 
Congressionally reserved natural areas (e.g., wilderness areas, 
national scenic areas, national parks) based on a through balancing 
analysis under section 4(b)(2) of the Act (see Table 1). This outcome 
would result if, following public comment and consideration of all 
possible exclusions, the Secretary determined that of all of the areas 
identified here as proposed for exclusion, the benefits of excluding 
those areas with formal conservation agreements that support 
conservation of the northern spotted owl, as well as the benefits of 
excluding those State parks and Federal natural areas managed as parks 
or wilderness, would be greater than the benefits of including those 
areas in critical habitat, and if exclusion of those areas did not 
result in the extinction of the species. In this outcome, the final 
designation would be 10,229,121 ac (4,139,578 ha). Figures 1

[[Page 14068]]

through 3 demonstrate what the final critical habitat designation would 
be if all exclusions proposed in this proposed revised rule were 
finalized.
    Possible Outcome 4. Finalize critical habitat by excluding all 
private lands, all State lands, and all Congressionally reserved 
natural areas based on a through balancing analysis under section 
4(b)(2) of the Act (see Table 1). This outcome would result if, 
following public comment and consideration of all possible exclusions, 
the Secretary determined that of all of the areas identified here for 
consideration for possible exclusion, the benefits of excluding all 
private lands, State lands, and Federal natural areas managed as parks 
or wilderness would be greater than the benefits of including those 
areas in critical habitat. In this outcome, the final designation would 
be 9,390,777 ac (3,800,313 ha).
    We emphasize that there may be significant benefits to excluding 
private lands; we particularly request comments on whether and to what 
extent excluding such lands would be consistent with the Act.
    There is, of course, a Possible Outcome 5, which would involve 
greater exclusions than those identified in Possible Outcome 4. As 
noted, we request public comments on any such potential exclusions, and 
the underlying law and science that would support such exclusions. In 
considering the various possible outcomes, we will focus on the 
requirements of the Act and to the extent consistent with law, the 
requirements of Executive Order 13563 and in particular its emphasis on 
public participation, on imposing the least burden on society, and on 
maintaining flexibility and freedom of choice for the public.

   Table 1--Lands Proposed or Considered for Exclusion From the Final
  Critical Habitat Designation Under Various Possible Outcomes of This
                              Proposed Rule
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                Acres (hectares)
                                   proposed or       Acres (hectares) in
                                 considered for        potential final
                                    exclusion            designation
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Possible Outcome 1:
    No exclusions...........  ....................  13,962,449 ac
                                                     (5,649,660 ha)
Possible Outcome 2:
    Excludes private lands    711,803 ac..........
     with conservation        (288,059 ha)........
     agreements (HCPs, SHAs,
     and other formal
     agreements) proposed
     for exclusion.
    Excludes State lands      225,013.............
     with conservation        (91,059 ha).........
     agreements (HCPs, SHAs,
     or other formal
     agreements) proposed
     for exclusion.
                             ----------------------
        Subtotal............  936,816 ac..........  13,025,633 ac
                             ----------------------
                              (379,116 ha)........  (5,271,287 ha)
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Possible Outcome 3:
    Excludes private lands    711,803 ac..........
     with conservation        (288,059 ha)........
     agreements (HCPs, SHAs,
     and other formal
     agreements) proposed
     for exclusion.
    Excludes State lands      225,013.............
     with conservation        (91,059 ha).........
     agreements (HCPs, SHAs,
     or other formal
     agreements) proposed
     for exclusion.
    Excludes State park       164,776 ac..........
     lands proposed for       (66,682 ha).........
     exclusion.
    Excludes Congressionally  2,631,736 ac........
     reserved natural areas   (1,065,026 ha)......
     proposed for exclusion.
                             ----------------------
        Subtotal............  3,733,328 ac........  10,229,121 ac
                             ----------------------
                              (1,510,824 ha)......  (4,139,578 ha)
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Possible Outcome 4:
    Excludes private lands    711,803 ac..........
     with conservation        (288,059 ha)........
     agreements (HCPs, SHAs,
     and other formal
     agreements) proposed
     for exclusion.
    Excludes State lands      225,013.............
     with conservation        (91,059 ha).........
     agreements (HCPs, SHAs,
     or other formal
     agreements) proposed
     for exclusion.
    Excludes State park       164,776 ac..........
     lands proposed for       (66,682 ha).........
     exclusion.
    Excludes Congressionally  2,631,736 ac........
     reserved natural areas   (1,065,026 ha)......
     proposed for exclusion.
    Excludes all additional   555,901 ac..........
     private lands without    (224,996 ha)........
     formal conservation
     agreements under
     consideration for
     exclusion.
    Excludes all additional   281, 247 ac.........
     State lands without      (113,817 ha)........
     formal conservation
     agreements under
     consideration for
     exclusion.
        Subtotal............  4,570,476 ac........  9,391,973 ac
                             ----------------------
                              (1,849,613 ha)......  (3,800,812 ha)
------------------------------------------------------------------------

BILLING CODE 4310-55-P

[[Page 14069]]

[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP08MR12.000


[[Page 14070]]


[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP08MR12.001


[[Page 14071]]


[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP08MR12.002

BILLING CODE 4310-55-C

Public Comment

    We intend that any final action resulting from this proposed 
revised rule will be based on the best scientific and commercial data 
available and be as accurate and as effective as possible. Therefore, 
we request comments or information from other concerned government 
agencies, the scientific community, industry, or any other interested 
party concerning this proposed rule. We particularly seek comments 
concerning:
    (1) Specific information regarding:
    (a) The amount and distribution of northern spotted owl habitat;
    (b) What areas were occupied at the time of listing and contain 
features essential to the conservation of the species such that they 
should be included in the designation and why;

[[Page 14072]]

    (c) Whether these essential features may require special management 
considerations or protection and what special management considerations 
or protection may be needed in critical habitat areas we are proposing;
    (d) What areas not occupied at the time of listing are essential 
for the conservation of the species and why;
    (e) Whether we have identified here any areas occupied at the time 
of listing, but that do not contain features essential to the 
conservation of the species, and that therefore should not be included 
in the designation; and
    (f) Whether we have identified here any areas that may not have 
been occupied at the time of listing and that are not essential to the 
conservation of the species, such that they should not be included in 
the designation.
    (2) Land-use designations and current or planned activities in the 
subject areas and their possible impacts on proposed critical habitat.
    (3) Our proposed approach to effects determinations for the 
purposes of conducting consultation under section 7(a)(2) of the Act, 
in particular the application of a 500-ac (200-ha) scale as a screen 
for a determination of not likely to adversely affect, as described in 
the section Determinations of Adverse Effects and Application of the 
``Adverse Modification'' Standard.
    (4) Assistance in the identification of any private lands that are 
not expressly identified as intended for inclusion within critical 
habitat and that may have inadvertently been included within the 
designation, due to mapping and modeling limitations, as described in 
the section ``Proposed Revised Critical Habitat Designation.''
    (5) Information on the potential impacts of climate change on the 
northern spotted owl and proposed critical habitat, and whether special 
management needs or protections may be needed to address this issue in 
the critical habitat areas we are proposing.
    (6) Any probable economic, national security, or other relevant 
impacts of designating any area as critical habitat, and in particular, 
any impacts on small entities, and the benefits of including or 
excluding areas that exhibit these impacts. We particularly request 
information and comments on what activities may occur and the effects 
to those activities in the proposed revised critical habitat areas. 
Such information could include:
    (a) The extent of possible activities, including temporal and 
spatial scale, relative to the critical habitat area within which they 
occur.
    (b) The impact of possible activities on the habitat's likelihood 
of serving its intended conservation function or purpose.
    (c) The consistency of possible activities with the intent of the 
recovery plan or other landscape-level conservation plans.
    (7) Whether the benefits of excluding the private and State lands 
with active conservation agreements (HCPs, SHAs, and other formal 
agreements) and Congressionally reserved natural areas (e.g., 
wilderness areas, national scenic areas, national parks) that are 
proposed for exclusion outweigh the benefits of including them in 
critical habitat.
    (8) Whether the benefits of excluding any other particular area 
from critical habitat outweigh the benefits of including that area in 
critical habitat under section 4(b)(2) of the Act, after considering 
both the potential impacts and benefits of the proposed revised 
critical habitat designation. We are considering the possible exclusion 
of non-Federal lands, especially areas in private ownership, in 
particular, and whether the benefits of exclusion may outweigh the 
benefits of inclusion of those areas. We, therefore, request specific 
information on:
    (a) The benefits of including any specific areas in the final 
designation and supporting rationale.
    (b) The benefits of excluding any specific areas from the final 
designation and supporting rationale.
    (c) Whether any specific exclusions may result in the extinction of 
the species and why (see Exclusions section, below).
    (d) For private lands in particular, we are interested in 
information regarding the potential benefits of including private lands 
in critical habitat versus the benefits of excluding such lands from 
critical habitat. This information does not need to include a detailed 
technical analysis of the potential effects of designated critical 
habitat on private property. In weighing the potential benefits of 
exclusion versus inclusion of private lands, the Service may consider 
whether existing partnership agreements provide for the management of 
spotted owl habitat. We may consider, for example, the status of 
conservation efforts, the effectiveness of any conservation agreements 
to conserve the species, and the likelihood of the conservation 
agreement's future implementation. There may be broad public benefits 
of encouraging collaborative efforts and encouraging local and private 
conservation efforts, and these broad benefits are important 
considerations in our evaluation.
    (9) Our process used for identifying those areas that meet the 
definition of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl, including 
the assumptions incorporated into the habitat modeling process, as 
described more fully in the section ``Criteria Used to Identify 
Critical Habitat'' and also in our supporting documentation (Dunk et 
al. 2012).
    (10) Whether we could improve or modify our approach to designating 
critical habitat in any way to provide for greater public participation 
and understanding, or to better accommodate public concerns and 
comments.
    (11) Specific information on ways to improve the clarity of this 
rule as it pertains to completion of consultations under section 7 of 
the Endangered Species Act.
    Our final determination concerning the revision of northern spotted 
owl critical habitat will take into consideration all written comments 
and any additional information we receive during all comment periods. 
The comments will be included in the public record for this rulemaking, 
and we will fully consider them in the preparation of our final 
determination. On the basis of information received, we may, during the 
development of our final determination, find that areas within the 
proposed designation do not meet the definition of critical habitat, 
that some modifications to the described boundaries are appropriate, or 
that areas may or may not be appropriate for exclusion based on a 
through balancing analysis under section 4(b)(2) of the Act under 
section 4(b)(2) of the Act.
    You may submit your comments and materials concerning this proposed 
rule by one of the methods listed in the ADDRESSES section. We will 
post your entire comment--including your personal identifying 
information--on http://www.regulations.gov. You may request at the top 
of your document that we withhold personal information such as your 
street address, phone number, or email address from public review; 
however, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so.
    Comments and materials we receive, as well as supporting 
documentation we used in preparing this proposed rule, will be 
available for public inspection on http://www.regulations.gov, or by 
appointment, during normal business hours, at the U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office (see FOR FURTHER 
INFORMATION CONTACT).

Background

    It is our intent to discuss only those topics directly relevant to 
the revised designation of critical habitat in this proposed rule. For 
further details regarding northern spotted owl biology

[[Page 14073]]

and habitat, population abundance and trend, distribution, demographic 
features, habitat use and conditions, threats, and conservation 
measures, please see the Northern Spotted Owl 5 year Review Summary and 
Evaluation, completed October 26, 2011, and the Revised Recovery Plan 
for the Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011), completed July 1, 2011. Both 
of these documents are available on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service's Endangered Species web site at http://ecos.fws.gov/; under 
``Species Search,'' enter ``northern spotted owl''). As detailed below, 
Appendix C of the Revised Recovery Plan is particularly informative, as 
the habitat modeling process described therein was used to help 
identify those areas considered essential to the conservation of the 
northern spotted owl in this proposed revised designation of critical 
habitat. Furthermore, the recovery criteria for the northern spotted 
owl, as described in the Revised Recovery Plan (USFWS 2011, pp. I-1 to 
I-2), helped to discriminate between the various scenarios considered 
in the modeling process in terms of assessing which of the habitat 
networks evaluated would contribute most efficiently to the 
conservation of the northern spotted owl.
    The Service recognizes that this proposed revision of critical 
habitat represents an increase in the total land area identified from 
previous designations in 1992 (January 15, 1992; 57 FR 1796) and 2008 
(August 13, 2008; 73 FR 47325). For a detailed explanation of the 
changes proposed between this proposed revised designation and the 
present designation of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl, 
please see Summary of Changes from Previously Designated Critical 
Habitat, below.

Introduction

    The northern spotted owl inhabits structurally complex forests from 
southwestern British Columbia through Washington and Oregon to northern 
California. The northern spotted owl was listed under the Act as a 
threatened species in 1990 because of widespread loss of habitat across 
its range and the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms to 
conserve it (55 FR 26114; June 26, 1990). Although the rate of loss of 
habitat due to timber harvest has been greatly reduced on Federal lands 
over the past two decades, both past and current habitat loss remain a 
threat to the northern spotted owl. Despite implementation of habitat 
conservation measures in the early 1990s, Thomas et al. (1990, p. 5) 
and USDI (1992, Appendix C) foresaw that owl populations would continue 
to decline for several decades, even with habitat conservation, as the 
consequence of lag effects at both individual and population levels. 
However, many populations of northern spotted owls have declined at a 
faster rate than anticipated, especially in the northern parts of the 
subspecies' range (Anthony et al. 2006, pp. 31-32; Forsman et al. 2011, 
pp. 65, 76). We now know that the suite of threats facing the northern 
spotted owl differs from those at the time it was listed; in addition 
to the effects of historical and ongoing habitat loss, the northern 
spotted owl faces a new significant and complex threat in the form of 
competition from the congeneric (referring to a member of the same 
genus) barred owl (USFWS 2011, pp. I-7 to I-8).
    During the second half of the 20th century, barred owls expanded 
their range from eastern to western North America, and the range of the 
barred owl now completely overlaps that of the northern spotted owl 
(Guti[eacute]rrez et al. 1995, p. 3; Crozier et al. 2006, p. 761). 
Barred owls compete with northern spotted owls for habitat and 
resources for breeding, feeding, and sheltering, and the presence of 
barred owls has significant negative effects on northern spotted owl 
reproduction, survivorship, and successful occupation of territories 
(see ``Population Status and Trends,'' below). The loss of habitat has 
the potential to intensify competition with barred owls by reducing the 
total amount of resources available to the northern spotted owl and by 
increasing the likelihood and frequency of competitive interactions. 
Barred owls select very similar habitat to spotted owls for breeding, 
feeding, and sheltering, and loss of habitat has the potential to 
intensify competition between species. While conserving habitat will 
not alleviate the barred owl threat, Dugger et al. (2011, pp. 2464-
2465) found that spotted owl occupancy and colonization rates decreased 
as both barred owl presence increased and available habitat decreased. 
These authors concluded that, similar to another case in which 
increased suitable habitat was required to support two potentially 
competing raptors, increased habitat protection for spotted owls may be 
necessary to provide for sustainable populations in the presence of 
barred owls (Dugger et al. 2011, p. 2467). Maintaining high-quality 
habitat has been important since the northern spotted owl was initially 
listed as threatened in 1990, and this competitive pressure from barred 
owls has intensified the need to conserve and restore large areas of 
contiguous, high-quality habitat across the range of the northern 
spotted owl (Dugger et al. 2011, p. 2464; Forsman et al. 2011, p. 76; 
USFWS 2011, Recovery Action 32 [RA32], p. III-67).
    It is becoming increasingly evident that solely securing habitat 
will not be effective in achieving the recovery of the northern spotted 
owl when barred owls are present (USFWS 2011, p. vi). While 
conservation of high-quality habitat is essential for the recovery and 
conservation of the owl, habitat conservation alone is not sufficient 
to achieve recovery objectives. As stated in the Revised Recovery Plan, 
``addressing the threats associated with past and current habitat loss 
must be conducted simultaneously with addressing the threats from 
barred owls. Addressing the threat from habitat loss is relatively 
straightforward with predictable results. However, addressing a large-
scale threat of one raptor on another, closely related raptor has many 
uncertainties'' (USFWS 2011, p. I-8). A designation of critical habitat 
is intended to ameliorate habitat-based threats to an endangered or 
threatened species; critical habitat cannot reasonably be expected to 
address other, non-habitat-related threats to the species. In the case 
of the northern spotted owl, the recovery goal of supporting population 
viability and demographically stable populations of northern spotted 
owls will likely require habitat conservation in concert with the 
implementation of recovery actions that address other, non-habitat-
based threats to the species, including the barred owl. In addition, 
recovery actions include scientific evaluation of potential management 
options to reduce the impact of barred owls on northern spotted owls 
(USFWS 2011, Recovery Action 29 [RA29], p. III-65), and implementation 
of management actions determined to be effective (USFWS 2011, Recovery 
Action 30 [RA30], p. III-65).
    When developing a critical habitat rule, the Service must use the 
best scientific information available to identify those specific areas 
within the geographical area occupied by the species at the time it was 
listed that provide the physical and biological features essential for 
the conservation of the species, and that may require special 
management considerations or protection, or to identify those areas 
outside the geographical area occupied by the species at the time it 
was listed that are otherwise determined to be essential to the 
conservation of the species. However, like most critical habitat 
proposals, this rule addresses

[[Page 14074]]

elements of risk management, because we must make recommendations and 
decisions in the face of incomplete information and uncertainty about 
factors influencing northern spotted owl populations. This uncertainty 
exists even though the northern spotted owl is among the most 
thoroughly studied of listed species. We understand a great deal about 
the habitats the subspecies prefers and the factors that influence its 
demographic trends. Nonetheless, considerable uncertainty remains, 
particularly about interactions among different factors that threaten 
the owl.
    In the face of such uncertainty, the Revised Recovery Plan proposes 
strategies to address the primary threats to the northern spotted owl 
from habitat loss and barred owls (USFWS 2011, p. I-7). The effects of 
climate change and of past management practices are changing forest 
ecosystem processes and dynamics, including patterns of wildfires, 
insect outbreaks and disease, to a degree greater than anticipated in 
the Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP) (Hessburg et al. 2005, pp. 134-135; 
Carroll et al. 2010, p. 899; Spies et al. 2010, entire; USFWS 2011, p. 
I-8). At the same time, the expansion of barred owl populations is 
altering the capacity of intact habitat to support northern spotted 
owls. Projecting the effects of these factors and their interactions 
into the future leads to even higher levels of uncertainty, especially 
considering how the influences of different threats may vary across the 
owl's large geographical range. It is clear that ecosystem-level 
changes are occurring within the northern spotted owl's forest habitat.
    The development of a critical habitat network for the northern 
spotted owl must take into account the current uncertainty associated 
with both barred owl impacts and climate change predictions (USFWS 
2011, p. III-10) as well as the uncertainty associated with how land 
will be managed in the future, how climate change effects will impact 
northern spotted owls, and whether and how barred owls will be managed 
(and thus, what the future effect of barred owls will be on northern 
spotted owl populations). These uncertainties require that we make some 
assumptions about likely future conditions in developing, modeling, and 
evaluating potential critical habitat for the northern spotted owl; 
those assumptions are identified clearly in this proposed rule (see 
Criteria Used to Identify Critical Habitat, below) and in our 
supporting documentation (Dunk et al. 2012, entire).
    Given the continued decline of northern spotted owl populations, 
the apparent increase in severity of the threat from barred owls, and 
information indicating a recent loss of genetic diversity for the 
subspecies, retaining both occupied northern spotted owl sites and 
unoccupied, high-value northern spotted owl habitat across the 
subspecies' range are key components for recovery (USFWS 2011, p. I-9). 
Accordingly, in this proposed rule, we have identified areas of 
occupied habitat that provide the physical or biological features 
essential to the conservation of the northern spotted owl, and which 
may require special management considerations or protection. When 
occupied areas were not adequate to achieve recovery goals, we also 
identified some unoccupied areas as critical habitat for the northern 
spotted owl when it was clear that such areas are essential to the 
conservation of the species. However, it is important to note that this 
proposed revised designation of critical habitat does not include all 
sites where northern spotted owls are known to occur. The habitat 
modeling that we used, in part, to assist us in developing this 
proposed revised designation was based primarily on present habitat 
suitability. While we did also consider the present known locations of 
northern spotted owls in refining the identified habitat network, not 
all such sites were included in the proposed revised designation if 
those areas did not make a significant contribution to population 
viability (for example, if known sites were too small or isolated to 
play a meaningful role in the conservation of the species; see Criteria 
Used to Identify Critical Habitat). This is in accordance with Section 
3(5)(C) of the Act, which specifies that ``critical habitat shall not 
include the entire geographical area which can be occupied by the 
threatened or endangered species.''
    Because of the uncertainties associated with the effects of barred 
owl interactions with the northern spotted owl and habitat changes that 
may occur as a result of climate change, active adaptive management 
strategies will be needed to achieve results in certain landscapes. 
Adaptive management is a systematic approach for improving resource 
management by learning from the results of explicit management policies 
and practices and applying that learning to future management decisions 
(USFWS 2011, p. G-1). This critical habitat rule identifies key sources 
of uncertainty, and the need to learn from our management of forests 
that provide habitat for northern spotted owls. We propose a critical 
habitat network that was developed based on what we believe to be 
essential for the conservation of the northern spotted owl, including 
information on essential habitats, the current distribution of those 
habitats, and the best available scientific knowledge about northern 
spotted owl population dynamics, while acknowledging uncertainty about 
future conditions in Pacific Northwest forests.

An Ecosystem-Based Approach to the Conservation of the Northern Spotted 
Owl and Managing Its Critical Habitat

    Section 2 of the Act states, ``The purposes of this Act are to 
provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species 
and threatened species depend may be conserved.'' Although the 
conservation of the listed species is the specific objective of a 
critical habitat designation, the essential physical or biological 
features that serve as the basis of critical habitat are often 
essential components of the ecosystem upon which the species depends. 
In such cases, a fundamental goal of critical habitat management is not 
only to conserve the listed species, but also to conserve the ecosystem 
upon which that species depends. This is the case with the northern 
spotted owl.
    An ``ecosystem'' is defined as a biological community of 
interacting organisms and their physical environment, or as the complex 
of a community of organisms and its environment functioning as an 
ecological unit (Krebs 1972, pp. 10-11; Ricklefs 1979, pp. 31-32, 869). 
These ecosystem interactions and functions are often referred to as 
ecological ``relationships'' or ``processes.'' Thus, to conserve the 
northern spotted owl as directed by the Act, one must also conserve the 
ecological processes that occur within the ecological landscape 
inhabited by the species. These processes--such as vegetation 
succession, forest fire regimes, and nutrient cycling--create and shape 
the physical and biological features that form the foundation of 
critical habitat. The northern spotted owl was initially listed as a 
threatened species largely due to the loss or degradation of the late-
successional forest ecosystems upon which it depends. A complex 
interaction of physical and biological factors contribute to the 
development and maintenance of these ecosystems, which in turn provide 
the northern spotted owl with the environmental conditions required for 
its conservation and survival, such as large areas of suitable habitat, 
nest structures, and sufficient prey to sustain interconnected 
populations of owls across the landscape. A fundamental goal of 
critical habitat management should thus

[[Page 14075]]

be to understand, describe, and conserve these processes, which in turn 
will maintain the physical and biological features essential to the 
conservation of the species. This ``ecosystem approach'' will 
ultimately have the highest likelihood of conserving listed species 
such as the northern spotted owl in the long term (Knight 1998, p. 43).
    Service policy also endorses this approach: ``Species will be 
conserved best not by a species-by-species approach but by an ecosystem 
conservation strategy that transcends individual species'' (59 FR 
34724, July 1, 1994). The Service applies this ecosystem approach to 
critical habitat designations for other listed species (e.g., in Hawaii 
(75 FR 18960, April 13, 2010; 76 FR 46362, August 2, 2011)). Likewise, 
the U.S. Forest Service, which manages the great majority of the 
proposed northern spotted owl critical habitat, has prioritized 
restoring and maintaining natural ecological function and resiliency to 
its forest lands (Blate et al. 2009, entire; USDA 2010, entire; Tidwell 
2011, entire). Active management of critical habitat is intended to be 
fully compatible and consistent with these landscape-level ecosystem 
conservation efforts.
    Proposed revised critical habitat for the northern spotted owl 
includes a diverse forest landscape that covers millions of acres and 
contains several different forest ecosystems and thousands of plant and 
animal species. It ranges from dry, fire-prone forests to moist old-
growth conifer forest to a mix of conifers and hardwood trees. 
Thousands of species occur in these forest ecosystems, including other 
listed species with very specific biological needs. Prescribed 
management for all of these needs at the species level on large 
landscapes is likely to be expensive, logistically difficult, and often 
in conflict (Thompson et al. 2009, p. 29). Many scientists believe a 
single-species approach to forest management is limited and that land 
managers need to focus on broader landscape goals that address 
ecosystem process and future habitat conditions (see, e.g., Thomas et 
al. 2006, p. 286; Boyd et al. 2008, p. 42; Hobbs et al. 2010, p. 487; 
Mori 2011, pp. 289-290). In this proposed revised designation of 
critical habitat, we encourage the application of ecosystem management 
principles to ensure the long-term conservation of the northern spotted 
owl and its habitat, as well as other species dependent on these shared 
ecosystems.

Forest Management Activities in Spotted Owl Critical Habitat

    Another important development informing spotted owl critical 
habitat management involves changes in forestry science. Emulating 
natural disturbance regimes is emerging as a dominant paradigm in North 
American forest management (Seymour and Hunter 1999, p. 56; Long 2009, 
p. 1868). This change is occurring in response to: (1) The 
simplification of forests in terms of structure, age-class diversity, 
and species composition as a result of management for timber 
production, and (2) a recognition of fundamental changes in ecosystem 
function and processes due to land management practices, especially 
fire and successional patterns (Franklin et al. 2002, pp. 402-408; 
Hessburg et al. 2005, pp. 134-135; Drever et al. 2006, p. 2291). 
Although human disturbance is unlikely to precisely mimic natural 
forest disturbance, it can be used to better maintain the resilience of 
landscapes and wildlife populations to respond to natural disturbance 
and climate change (Lindenmayer et al. 2008, p. 87). In general, 
silviculture prescriptions that apply ecological forestry principles to 
address the conservation of broader ecological processes are compatible 
with maintaining the proposed critical habitat's essential features in 
the long term (USFWS 2011, p. III-14).
    Explicitly prescribing such management at a fine scale (e.g., 
forest stand level) is beyond the scope of this document and should be 
developed at the appropriate land management unit (e.g., National 
Forest or BLM District; USDA 2010, entire) and through consultation 
with the Service, as appropriate. As described below and in the Revised 
Recovery Plan, management actions whose intent is to conserve or 
restore natural ecological processes and enhance forest resilience in 
the long term should generally be consistent with the goals of critical 
habitat management (USFWS 2011, p. III 11-39). The Service has recently 
approved these types of management actions in occupied spotted owl 
habitat on BLM and USFS lands.
    Some general considerations for managing within spotted owl 
critical habitat are discussed in more detail in the Special Management 
Considerations and Adverse Modification sections of this document. In 
sum, vegetation and fuels management in dry and mixed-dry forests is 
encouraged both within and outside designated critical habitat where 
the goal of such treatment is to conserve natural ecological processes 
or restore them (including fire) where they have been modified or 
suppressed (Allen et al. 2002, pp. 1429-1430; Spies et al. 2006, pp. 
358-361; Fielder et al. 2007, entire; Prather et al. 2008, entire; 
Lindenmayer et al. 2009, p. 274; Tidwell 2011, entire). Likewise, in 
moist and some mixed forests, management of spotted owl critical 
habitat should be compatible with broader ecological goals, such as the 
retention of high-quality older forest, the continued treatment of 
young or homogenous forest plantations, and the conservation or 
restoration of complex early seral forest habitat (Spies et al. 2007b, 
pp. 57-63; Betts et al. 2010, pp. 2117, 2126-2127; Swanson at al. 2010, 
entire). In general, actions that promote ecological restoration and 
those that apply ecological forestry principles as described in the 
Revised Recovery Plan (USFWS 2011, pp. III-11 to III-41) are likely to 
be consistent with the conservation of the northern spotted owl and the 
management of its critical habitat.

Critical Habitat and the Northwest Forest Plan

    It is important for readers of this document to understand the 
relationship between spotted owl critical habitat and the Northwest 
Forest Plan (NWFP). Critical habitat for the spotted owl was first 
designated in 1992 (January 15, 1992; 57 FR 1796). Since 1994, the NWFP 
has also served as an important landscape-level plan that has 
contributed to the conservation of the northern spotted owl and its 
late-successional forest habitat (Thomas et al. 2006, pp. 278-284). The 
NWFP introduced a strategy of reserves where conservation would be the 
priority, and matrix areas where timber harvest would be the goal. Here 
we briefly provide a summary of how our proposed designation of 
critical habitat has been informed by the knowledge and experience 
gained from management under the NWFP.
    The NWFP reserve strategy has been successful in the conservation 
and recruitment of late-successional forest and associated species on 
Federal lands (Thomas et al. 2006, p. 283). Implementation of the plan 
has been less successful in providing the anticipated level of 
commercial timber harvest from matrix lands (less than 50 percent of 
anticipated levels; Thomas et al. 2006, p. 284), at promoting active 
restoration in areas that may contain uncharacteristically high risk of 
severe fire (Spies et al. 2006, pg. 359; Thomas et al. 2006, p. 277), 
or in moist forests where early seral habitats are lacking

[[Page 14076]]

such as those described above (Betts et al. 2010, p. 2117).
    Some scientists have suggested that it may be time to reconsider 
various recommendations or requirements of the NWFP in light of 
improved scientific insight, increasing concerns over future ecological 
conditions that appear increasingly dynamic, and changing social values 
(Spies et al. 2006, p. 360; Thomas et al. 2006, p. 286; Thompson et al. 
2009, p. 29). Some specifically question the strategy of managing 
Federal lands in the range of the northern spotted owl separately as 
reserves in some areas and for commodity production in others, 
suggesting a more holistic management perspective (Spies et al. 2006, 
p. 360; Thomas et al. 2006, p. 286; Franklin and Lindenmayer 2009, 
entire). Other scientists conclude that a system of large reserves in 
the NWFP is still necessary for course-scale planning, but that fine-
scale management should proceed that restores ecological processes 
while minimizing adverse impacts to wildlife (Carroll et al. 2009, p. 
29).
    The Service, in developing this proposed critical habitat 
designation, has taken these concerns into consideration. Thomas et al. 
(2006, pp. 284-287) recommend three primary improvements in the NWFP to 
address these concerns. These recommendations are highly relevant to 
spotted owl critical habitat management:
    1. Conserve old growth trees and forests on Federal lands wherever 
they are found (emphasis added), and undertake appropriate restoration 
treatment in the threatened forest types.
    2. Manage NWFP forests as dynamic ecosystems that conserve all 
stages of forest development (e.g., old growth and early seral), and 
where tradeoffs between short-term and long-term risks are better 
balanced.
    3. Recognize the NWFP as an integrated conservation strategy that 
contributes to all components of sustainability across Federal lands.
    The management of critical habitat for the spotted owl should be 
compatible with these broader landscape management goals articulated by 
Thomas et al. (2006, pp. 284-287). Critical habitat for the northern 
spotted owl is not intended to be a ``hands off'' reserve in the 
traditional sense. Rather, it should be a ``hands-on'' ecosystem 
management landscape that should include a mix of active and passive 
actions to meet a variety of conservation goals that support long-term 
spotted owl conservation. Some general considerations for managing for 
the conservation of the northern spotted owl are discussed in the 
Special Management Considerations and Adverse Modification sections of 
this document, as well as in the Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern 
Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011, pp. III-11 to III-39).

The Biology and Ecology of the Northern Spotted Owl

Physical Description and Taxonomy
    The northern spotted owl is a medium-sized owl and the largest of 
the three subspecies of spotted owls currently recognized by the 
American Ornithologists' Union (Guti[eacute]rrez et al. 1995, p. 2). It 
is dark brown with a barred tail and white spots on the head and 
breast, and has dark brown eyes that are surrounded by prominent facial 
disks. The taxonomic separation of these three subspecies is supported 
by numerous factors (reviewed in Courtney et al. 2004, pp. 3-3 to 3-
31), including genetic (Barrowclough and Guti[eacute]rrez 1990, p. 739; 
Barrowclough et al. 1999, p. 922; Haig et al. 2004, p. 1353; 
Barrowclough et al. 2005, p. 1113), morphological (Guti[eacute]rrez et 
al. 1995, pp. 2 to 3), behavioral (Van Gelder 2003, p. 30), and 
biogeographical characteristics (Barrowclough et al. 1999, p. 928).
Distribution and Habitat
    The current range of the northern spotted owl extends from 
southwest British Columbia through the Cascade Mountains, coastal 
ranges, and intervening forested lands in Washington, Oregon, and 
California, as far south as Marin County, California. The subspecies is 
listed as threatened under the Act throughout its range (55 FR 26114; 
June 26, 1990). Within the United States, the northern spotted owl 
ranges across 12 physiographic provinces, based on recognized landscape 
subdivisions exhibiting different physical and environmental features, 
often referred to as ``physiographic provinces'' (Franklin and Dyrness 
1988, pp. 5-26; Thomas et al. 1990, p. 61; USDA and USDI 1994, p. A-3). 
These include the Olympic Peninsula, Western Washington Lowlands, 
Western Washington Cascades, Eastern Washington Cascades, Oregon Coast 
Ranges, Western Oregon Cascades, Willamette Valley, Eastern Oregon 
Cascades, Oregon Klamath, California Klamath, California Coast Ranges, 
and California Cascades Provinces (based on USDA and USDI 1994, p. A-
3). Very few northern spotted owls are found in British Columbia, the 
Western Washington Lowlands or Willamette Valley; therefore, the 
subspecies is restricted primarily to 10 of the 12 provinces within its 
range.
    For the purposes of developing this proposed rule, and based on 
Appendix C of the Revised Recovery Plan (USFWS 2011, pp. C-7 to C-13), 
we have divided the range of the northern spotted owl into 11 different 
regions. We used these 11 regions in the habitat modeling that informed 
this proposed revised designation of critical habitat. The regions used 
here are more ``owl specific'' than the physiographic provinces used in 
the past. In addition to regional patterns of climate, topography, and 
forest communities, which the physiographic provinces also considered, 
the 11 regions are additionally based on specific patterns of spotted 
owl habitat relationships and prey base relationships across the range 
of the species. A map of the 11 regions used for the purposes of 
habitat modeling is provided in the Revised Recovery Plan (USFWS 2011, 
p. C-13), and are also shown in Figure 1 of this document. We 
additionally used these 11 regions identified in the Revised Recovery 
Plan as the organizing units for our designation of critical habitat.
    Spotted owls generally rely on older forested habitats because such 
forests contain the structures and characteristics required for 
nesting, roosting, and foraging, and dispersal. Forest characteristics 
associated with spotted owls usually develop with increasing forest 
age, but their occurrence may vary by location, past forest practices, 
and stand type, history, and condition. Although spotted owl habitat is 
variable over its range, some general attributes are common to the 
owl's life-history requirements throughout its range. To support 
northern spotted owl reproduction, a home range requires appropriate 
amounts of nesting, roosting, and foraging habitat arrayed so that 
nesting pairs can survive, obtain resources, and breed successfully. In 
northern parts of the range where nesting, roosting, and foraging 
habitat have similar attributes, nesting is generally associated with 
increasing old forest in the core area (Swindle et al. 1999, p. 1216). 
In some southern portions of the range, northern spotted owl survival 
is positively associated with the area of old forest habitat in the 
core, but reproductive output is positively associated with amount of 
edge between older forest and other habitat types in the home range 
(Franklin et al. 2000, pp. 573, 579). This pattern suggests that where 
dusky-footed woodrats (Neotoma fuscipes) are the primary prey species, 
core areas that have nesting habitat stands interspersed with varied 
types of foraging habitat

[[Page 14077]]

may be optimal for northern spotted owl survival and reproduction. Both 
the amount and spatial distribution of nesting, roosting, foraging, and 
dispersal habitat influence reproductive success and long-term 
population viability of northern spotted owls.
    Population growth can occur only if there is adequate habitat in an 
appropriate configuration to allow for the dispersal of owls across the 
landscape. This includes support of dispersing juveniles, as well as 
nonresident subadults and adults that have not yet recruited into the 
breeding population. The survivorship of northern spotted owls is 
likely greatest when dispersal habitat most closely resembles nesting, 
roosting, and foraging habitat, but owls may use other types of habitat 
for dispersal on a short-term basis. Dispersal habitat, at a minimum, 
consists of stands with adequate tree size and canopy closure to 
provide protection from avian predators and at least minimal foraging 
opportunities (57 FR 1805, January 15, 1992).
    The three essential functions served by habitat within the home 
range of a northern spotted owl are:
    (1) Nesting. Nesting habitat is essential to provide structural 
features for nesting, protection from adverse weather conditions, and 
cover to reduce predation risks. Habitat requirements for nesting and 
roosting are nearly identical. However, nesting habitat is specifically 
associated with a high incidence of large trees with various 
deformities (large cavities, broken tops, mistletoe (Arceuthobium spp.) 
infections, and other evidence of decadence) or large snags suitable 
for nest placement. Additional features that support nesting and 
roosting typically include a moderate to high canopy closure; a 
multilayered, multi-species canopy with large overstory trees; large 
accumulations of fallen trees and other woody debris on the ground; and 
sufficient open space below the canopy for spotted owls to fly (Thomas 
et al. 1990, p. 164). Forested stands with high canopy closure also 
provide thermal cover (Weathers et al. 2001, p. 686) and protection 
from predators. Patches of nesting habitat, in combination with 
roosting habitat, must be sufficiently large and contiguous to maintain 
northern spotted owl core areas and home ranges, and must be proximate 
to foraging habitat. Ideally, nesting habitat also functions as 
roosting, foraging, and dispersal habitat.
    (2) Roosting. Roosting habitat is essential to provide for 
thermoregulation, shelter, and cover to reduce predation risk while 
resting or foraging. As noted above, the same habitat generally serves 
for both nesting and roosting functions; technically ``roosting 
habitat'' differs from nesting habitat only in that it need not contain 
those specific structural features used for nesting (cavities, broken 
tops, and mistletoe platforms), but does contain moderate to high 
canopy closure; a multi-layered, multi-species canopy; large 
accumulations of fallen trees and other woody debris on the ground; and 
open space below the canopy for northern spotted owls to fly. In 
practice, however, roosting habitat is not segregated from nesting 
habitat. Nesting and roosting habitat will also function as foraging 
and dispersal habitat.
    (3) Foraging. Foraging habitat is essential to provide a food 
supply for survival and reproduction. Foraging habitat is the most 
variable of all habitats used by territorial spotted owls, and is 
closely tied to the prey base, as described below. Nesting and roosting 
habitat always provides for foraging, but in some cases owls also use 
more open and fragmented forests, especially in the southern portion of 
the range where some younger stands may have high prey abundance and 
structural attributes similar to those of older forests, such as 
moderate tree density, subcanopy perches at multiple levels, multi-
layered vegetation, or residual older trees. Foraging habitat generally 
has attributes similar to those of nesting and roosting habitat, but 
foraging habitat may not always support successfully nesting pairs 
(USDI 1992, pp. 22-25). Foraging habitat can also function as dispersal 
habitat. The primary function of foraging habitat is to provide a food 
supply for survival and reproduction.
    Because northern spotted owls show a clear geographical pattern in 
diet, and different prey species prefer different habitat types, prey 
distribution contributes to differences in northern spotted owl 
foraging habitat selection across the range. In the northern portion of 
their range, northern spotted owls forage heavily in older forests or 
forests with similar complex structure that support northern flying 
squirrels (Glaucomys sabrinus) Carey et al. 1992, p. 233; Rosenberg and 
Anthony 1992, p. 165). In the southern portion of their range, where 
woodrats are a major component of their diet, northern spotted owls are 
more likely to use a variety of stands, including younger stands, 
brushy openings in older stands, and edges between forest types in 
response to higher prey density in some of these areas (Solis 1983, pp. 
89-90; Sakai and Noon 1993, pp. 376-378; Sakai and Noon 1997, p. 347; 
Carey et al. 1999, p. 73; Franklin et al. 2000, p. 579). Both the 
amount and distribution of foraging habitat within the home range 
influence the survival and reproduction of northern spotted owls.
Dispersal Habitat and Habitat for Nonresident Owls
    Successful dispersal of northern spotted owls is essential to 
maintaining genetic and demographic connections among populations 
across the range of the species. Habitats that support movements 
between larger habitat patches that provide nesting, roosting, and 
foraging habitats for northern spotted owls act to limit the adverse 
genetic effects of inbreeding and genetic drift and provide demographic 
support to declining populations (Thomas et al. 1990, pp. 271-272). 
Dispersing juvenile northern spotted owls experience high mortality 
rates (more than 70 percent in some studies (Miller 1989, pp. 32-41; 
Franklin et al. 1999, pp. 25, 28; 55 FR 26115; June 26, 1990)) from 
starvation, predation, and accidents (Miller 1989, pp. 41-44; Forsman 
et al. 2002, pp. 18-19). Juvenile dispersal is thus a highly vulnerable 
life stage for northern spotted owls, and enhancing the survivorship of 
juveniles during this period could play an important role in 
maintaining stable populations of northern spotted owls.
    Successful juvenile dispersal may depend on locating unoccupied 
suitable habitat in close proximity to other occupied sites (LaHaye et 
al. 2001, pp. 697-698). Dispersing juveniles are likely attracted to 
conspecific calls, and may look for suitable sites preferentially in 
the vicinity of occupied territories. When all suitable territories are 
occupied, dispersers may temporarily pursue a nonresident (nonbreeding) 
strategy; such individuals are sometimes referred to as ``floaters'' 
(Forsman et al. 2002, pp. 15, 26). Floaters prospect for territorial 
vacancies created when residents die or leave their territories. 
Floaters contribute to stable or increasing populations of northern 
spotted owls by quickly filling territorial vacancies. Where large 
blocks of habitat with multiple breeding pairs occur, the opportunities 
for successful recruitment of dispersers and floaters are enhanced due 
to the within-block production of potential replacement birds (Thomas 
et al. 1990, pp. 295, 307).
    Juvenile dispersal occurs in steps (Forsman et al. 2002, pp. 13-
14), between which dispersing juveniles settle into temporary home 
ranges for up to several months (Forsman et al. 2002, p. 13). Natal 
dispersal distances, measured from natal areas to eventual home range, 
tend to be larger for females (about 15 mi (24 km)) than males (about

[[Page 14078]]

8.5 mi (13.7 km)) (Courtney et al. 2004, p. 8-5). Forsman et al. (2002, 
pp. 15-16) reported dispersal distances of 1,475 spotted owls in Oregon 
and Washington for the period from 1985 to 1996. Median maximum 
dispersal distance (the straight-line distance between the natal site 
and the farthest location) for radio-marked juvenile male spotted owls 
was 12.7 mi (20.3 km), and that of female spotted owls was 17.2 mi 
(27.5 km) (Forsman et al. 2002, Table 2).
    Spotted owls can utilize forests with the characteristics of 
nesting, roosting, or foraging for dispersal, and likely experience 
greater survivorship under such conditions. However, dispersing or 
nonresident individuals may also make use of other forested areas that 
do not meet the requirements of nesting or roosting habitat on a short-
term basis. Such short-term dispersal habitats must, at minimum, 
consist of stands with adequate tree size and canopy closure to provide 
protection from avian predators and at least minimal foraging 
opportunities.
Population Status and Trends
    Demographic data from studies initiated as early as 1985 have been 
analyzed every 5 years to estimate northern spotted owl demographic 
rates and population trends (Anderson and Burnham 1992, entire; Burnham 
et al. 1994, entire; Franklin et al. 1999, entire; Anthony et al. 2006, 
entire; Forsman et al. 2011, entire). The most current evaluation of 
population status and trends is based on data through 2008 (Forsman et 
al. 2011, p. 1). Based on this analysis, populations on 7 of 11 study 
areas (Cle Elum, Rainier, Olympic Peninsula, Oregon Coast Ranges, H.J. 
Andrews, Northwest California, and Green Diamond) were declining 
(Forsman et al. 2011, p. 64, Table 22).
    Estimates of realized population change (cumulative population 
change across all study years) indicated that, in the more rapidly 
declining populations (Cle Elum, Rainier, and Olympic Peninsula), the 
2006 populations were 40 to 60 percent of the population sizes observed 
in 1994 or 1995 (Forsman et al. 2011, pp. 47-49). Populations at the 
remaining areas (Tyee, Klamath, Southern Oregon Cascades, and Hoopa) 
showed declining population growth rates as well, although the 
estimated rates were not significantly different from stable 
populations (Forsman et al. 2011, p 64). A meta-analysis combining data 
from all 11 study areas indicates that rangewide the population 
declined at a rate of about 2.9 percent per year for the period from 
1985 to 2006. Northern spotted owl populations on Federal lands had 
better demographic rates than elsewhere, but still declined at a mean 
annual rate of about 2.8 percent per year for 1985-2006 (Forsman et al. 
2011, p. 67).
    In addition to declines in population growth rates, declines in 
annual survival were reported for 10 of the 11 study areas (Forsman et 
al. 2011, p. 64, Table 22). Number of young produced each year showed 
declines at 5 areas (Cle Elum, Klamath, Southern Oregon Cascades, 
Northwest California, and Green Diamond), was relatively stable at 3 
areas (Olympic Peninsula, Tyee, Hoopa), and was increasing at 2 areas 
(Oregon Coast Ranges, H. J. Andrews) (Forsman et al. 2011, p. 64 Table 
22).
    As noted above, the barred owl has emerged as a greater threat to 
the northern spotted owl than was previously recognized. The range of 
the barred owl has expanded in recent years and now completely overlaps 
that of the northern spotted owl (Crozier et al. 2006, p. 761). The 
presence of barred owls has significant negative effects on northern 
spotted owl reproduction (Olson et al. 2004, p. 1048), survival 
(Anthony et al 2006, p. 32), and number of territories occupied (Kelly 
et al. 2003, p. 51; Olson et al. 2005, p. 928). The determination of 
population trends for the northern spotted owl has become complicated 
by the finding that northern spotted owls are less likely to call when 
barred owls are also present; therefore, they are more likely to be 
undetected by standard survey methods (Olson et al. 2005, pp. 919-929; 
Crozier et al. 2006, pp. 766-767). As a result, it is difficult to 
determine whether northern spotted owls no longer occupy a site, or 
whether they may still be present but are not detected. The 2011 
Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl concludes that 
``barred owls are contributing to the population decline of spotted 
owls, especially in Washington, portions of Oregon, and the northern 
coast of California.'' (USFWS 2011, p. B-12).
    British Columbia has a small population of northern spotted owls. 
This population has declined at least 49 percent since 1992 (Courtney 
et al. 2004, p. 8-14), and by as much as 90 percent since European 
settlement (Chutter et al. 2004, p. 6) to a 2004 breeding population 
estimated at about 23 birds (Sierra Legal Defence [sic] Fund and 
Western Canada Wilderness Committee 2005, p. 16) on 15 sites (Chutter 
et al. 2004, p. 26). Chutter et al. (2004, p. 30) suggested immediate 
action was required to improve the likelihood of recovering the spotted 
owl population in British Columbia. In 2007, the Spotted Owl Population 
Enhancement Team recommended to remove spotted owls from the wild in 
British Columbia. Personnel in British Columbia captured and brought 
into captivity the remaining 16 known wild spotted owls. Prior to 
initiating the captive-breeding program, the population of spotted owls 
in Canada was declining by as much as 35 percent per year (Chutter et 
al. 2004, p. 6). The amount of previous interaction between northern 
spotted owls in Canada and the United States is unknown (Chutter et al. 
2004, p. 24). Although the status of the spotted owl in Canada is 
informative in terms of the overall declining trend of the northern 
spotted owl throughout its range, and consequently the increased need 
for conservation in those areas where it persists, the Service does not 
designate critical habitat in foreign countries (50 CFR 424.12(h)).
Life History
    Northern spotted owls are a long-lived species with relatively 
stable and high rates of adult survival, lower rates of juvenile 
survival, and highly variable reproduction. Franklin et al. (2000, p. 
576) suggested that northern spotted owls follow a ``bet-hedging'' 
life-history strategy, where natural selection favors individuals that 
reproduce only during favorable conditions. For such species, 
population growth rate is more susceptible to changes in adult survival 
than to recruitment of new individuals into the population. For 
northern spotted owls, recent demographic analyses have indicated 
declining trends in both adult survival and recruitment across much of 
the species range (Forsman et al. 2011, p. 64, Table 22).
    Northern spotted owls are highly territorial (Courtney et al. 2004, 
p. 2-7), though overlap between the outer portions of the home ranges 
of adjacent pairs is common (Forsman et al. 1984, pp. 5, 17, 22-24; 
Solis and Guti[eacute]rrez 1990, p. 742; Forsman et al. 2005, p. 374). 
Pairs are nonmigratory and remain on their home range throughout the 
year, although they often increase the area used for foraging during 
fall and winter (Forsman et al. 1984, p. 21; Sisco 1990, p. 9), likely 
in response to potential depletion of prey in the core of their home 
range (Carey et al. 1992, p. 245; Carey 1995, p. 649; but see Rosenberg 
et al. 1994, entire). The northern spotted owl shows strong year-round 
fidelity to its territory, even when not nesting (Solis 1983, pp. 23-
28; Forsman et al. 1984, pp. 52-53) or after natural disturbance alters 
habitat characteristics within the home range (Bond et al. 2002, pp. 
1024-1026). A discussion of northern spotted owl

[[Page 14079]]

home range size and use is included in the Primary Constituent Elements 
section of this proposed rule.
    Reproductive success of northern spotted owls has been 
characterized as a multi-stage process in which natal dispersal and 
survival to reproductive age are the most vulnerable stages (Carey and 
Peeler 1995, p. 236). Nomadic adults and juveniles dispersing from 
their natal area serve as sources of replacements for resident northern 
spotted owls that die or leave their home range (Thomas et al. 1990, p. 
295). Habitat supporting movements of northern spotted owls between 
large habitat blocks is essential for successful dispersal of both 
juvenile and adult owls (Thomas et al. 1990, p. 271). The ability of 
individuals to move among more isolated populations reduces potentially 
adverse genetic effects of inbreeding and provides demographic support 
to declining populations (Thomas et al. 1990, pp. 271-272). A 
discussion of northern spotted owl dispersal is included in the 
Physical and Biological Features and Primary Constituent Elements 
sections of this proposed rule.
Prey
    Northern spotted owl diets vary across owl territories, years, 
seasons, and geographical regions (Forsman et al. 2001, pp.146-148; 
2004, pp. 217-220). However, four to six species of nocturnal mammals 
typically dominate their diets (Forsman et al. 2004, p. 218), with 
northern flying squirrels being a primary prey species in all areas. In 
Washington, diets are dominated by northern flying squirrels, snowshoe 
hare (Lepus americanus), bushy-tailed woodrats (Neotoma cinerea), and 
boreal red-backed voles (Clethrionomys gapperi) (Forsman et al. 2001, 
p. 144). In Oregon and northern California, northern flying squirrels 
in combination with dusky-footed woodrats, bushy-tailed woodrats, red 
tree voles (Arborimus longicaudus), and deer mice (Peromyscus 
maniculatus) comprise the majority of diets (Courtney et al. 2004, pp. 
41-31 to 4-32; Forsman et al. 2004, p. 221). Northern spotted owls are 
also known to prey on insects, other terrestrial mammals, birds, and 
juveniles of larger mammals (e.g., mountain beaver (Aplodontia rufa) 
(Forsman et al. 2001, p. 146; 2004, p. 223).
    Northern flying squirrels are positively associated with late-
successional forests with high densities of large trees and snags 
(Holloway and Smith 2011, p. 671). Northern flying squirrels typically 
use cavities in large snags as den and natal sites, but may also use 
cavities in live trees, hollow branches of fallen trees, crevices in 
large stumps, stick nests of other species, and lichen and twig nests 
they construct (Carey 1995, p. 658). Fungi (mychorrhizal and epigeous 
types) are prominent in their diet; however, seeds, fruits, nuts, 
vegetation matter, insects, and lichens may also represent a 
significant proportion of their diet (summarized in Courtney et al. 
2004, App. 4 p. 3-12). Northern flying squirrel densities tend to be 
higher in older forest stands with ericaceous shrubs (e.g., Pacific 
rhododendron (Rhododendron macrophyllum)) and an abundance of large 
snags (Carey 1995, p. 654), likely because these older forests produce 
a higher forage biomass. Flying squirrel density tends to increase with 
stand age (Carey 1995, pp. 653-654; Carey 2000, p. 252), although 
managed and second-growth stands sometimes also show high densities of 
squirrels, especially when canopy cover is high (e.g., Rosenberg and 
Anthony 1992, p. 163; Lehmkuhl et al. 2006, pp. 589-591). The main 
factors that may limit northern flying squirrel densities are the 
availability of den structures and food, especially hypogeous (below 
ground) fungi or truffles (Gomez et al. 2005, pp. 1677-1678).
    For northern spotted owls in Oregon, both dusky-footed and bushy-
tailed woodrats are important prey items (Forsman et al. 2004, pp. 226-
227), whereas in Washington owls rely primarily on the bushy-tailed 
woodrat (Forsman et al. 2001, p. 144). Habitats that support bushy-
tailed woodrats usually include early seral mixed-conifer/mixed-
evergreen forests close to water (Carey et al. 1999, p. 77). Bushy-
tailed woodrats reach high densities in both old forests with openings 
and closed-canopy young forests (Sakai and Noon 1993, pp. 376-378; 
Carey et al. 1999, p. 73), and use hardwood stands in mixed-evergreen 
forests (Carey et al. 1999, p. 73). Bushy-tailed woodrats are important 
prey species south of the Columbia River and may be more limited by 
abiotic features, such as the availability of suitable rocky areas for 
den sites (Smith 1997, p. 4) or the presence of streams (Carey et al. 
1992, p. 234; 1999, p. 72). Dense woodrat populations in shrubby areas 
are likely a source of colonists to surrounding forested areas (Sakai 
and Noon 1997, p. 347), therefore forested areas with nearby open, 
shrubby vegetation generally support high numbers of woodrats. The main 
factors that may limit woodrats are access to stable, brushy 
environments that provide food, cover from predation, materials for 
nest construction, dispersal ability, and appropriate climatic 
conditions (Carey et al. 1999, p. 78).
Home Range and Habitat Use
    Territorial northern spotted owls remain resident on their home 
range throughout the year; therefore, these homes ranges must provide 
all the habitat components needed for the survival and successful 
reproduction of a pair of owls. Northern spotted owls exhibit central-
place foraging behavior (Rosenberg and McKelvey 1999, p. 1036), with 
much activity centered within a core area surrounding the nest tree 
during the breeding season. During fall and winter as well as in 
nonbreeding years, owls often roost and forage in areas of their home 
range more distant from the core. In nearly all studies of northern 
spotted owl habitat use, the amount of mature and old-growth forest was 
greater in core areas and home ranges than at random sites on the 
landscape (Courtney et al. 2004, pp. 5-6, 5-13; also see USFWS 2011, 
Appendix G for definitions of mature and old-growth forest), and 
forests were less fragmented within spotted owl home ranges (Hunter et 
al. 1995, p. 688). The amount of habitat at the core area scale shows 
the strongest relationships with home range occupancy (Meyer et al. 
1998, p. 34; Zabel et al. 2003, p. 1036), survival (Franklin et al. 
2000, p. 567; Dugger et al. 2005, p. 873), and reproductive success 
(Ripple et al. 1997, pp. 155-156; Dugger et al. 2005, p. 871). A more 
complete description of the home range is presented in the Physical or 
Biological Features section of this document, under ``Population 
Spatial Requirements.''
    The size, configuration, and characteristics of vegetation patches 
within home ranges affect northern spotted owl survival and 
reproduction, a concept referred to as habitat fitness potential 
(Franklin et al. 2000, p. 542). Among studies that have estimated 
habitat fitness potential, the effects of forest fragmentation and 
heterogeneity vary geographically. In the California Klamath Province, 
locations for nesting and roosting tend to be centered in larger 
patches of old forest, but edges between forest types may provide 
increased prey abundance and availability (Franklin et al. 2000, p. 
579). In the central Oregon Coast Range, northern spotted owls appear 
to benefit from a mixture of older forests with younger forest and 
nonforested areas in their home range (Olson et al. 2004, pp. 1049-
1050), a pattern similar to that found in the California Klamath 
Province. Courtney et al. (2004, p. 5-23) suggest that although in 
general large

[[Page 14080]]

patches of older forest appear to be necessary to maintain stable 
populations of northern spotted owls, home ranges composed 
predominantly of old forest may not be optimal for northern spotted 
owls in the California Klamath Province and Oregon Coast Ranges 
Province.
    The northern spotted owl inhabits most of the major types of 
coniferous forests across its geographical range, including Sitka 
spruce (Picea sitchensis), western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), mixed 
conifer and mixed evergreen, grand fir (Abies grandis), Pacific silver 
fir (A. amabilis), Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), redwood 
(Sequoia sempervirens)/Douglas-fir (in coastal California and 
southwestern Oregon), white fir (A. concolor), Shasta red fir 
(A.magnifica var. shastensis), and the moist end of the ponderosa pine 
(Pinus ponderosa) zone (Forsman et al. 1984, pp. 15-16; Thomas et al. 
1990, p. 145). Habitat for northern spotted owls has traditionally been 
described as consisting of four functional types: Nesting, roosting, 
foraging, and dispersal habitats. Recent studies continue to support 
the practical value of discussing northern spotted owl habitat usage by 
classifying it into these functional habitat types (Irwin et al. 2000, 
p. 183; Zabel et al. 2003, p. 1028; Buchanan 2004, p. 1334; Davis and 
Lint 2005, p. 21; Forsman et al. 2005, p. 372), and data from studies 
are available to describe areas used for these types of activities, so 
we retain it here to structure our discussion of the physical or 
biological features of habitat essential to the conservation of the 
northern spotted owl.
    Recent habitat modeling efforts have also accounted for differences 
in habitat associations across regions, which have often been 
attributed to regional differences in forest environments and factors 
including available prey species (USFWS 2011, p. C-7). These recent 
advances allowed for modeling of northern spotted owl habitat by 
regions to account for: (1) The degree of similarity between nesting/
roosting and foraging habitats based on prey availability; (2) 
latitudinal patterns of topology and climate; (3) regional patterns of 
topography, climate, and forest communities; and (4) geographical 
distribution of habitat elements that influence the range of conditions 
occupied by northern spotted owls (USFWS 2011, p. C-8). Detailed 
characterizations of each of these functional habitat types and their 
relative distribution are described in the Physical or Biological 
Features and Primary Constituent Elements section of this document.
Climate Change
    There is growing evidence that recent climate change has impacted a 
wide range of ecological systems (Stenseth et al. 2002, entire; Walther 
et al. 2002, entire; Adahl et al. 2006, entire; Karl et al. 2009, 
entire). Climate change, combined with effects from past management 
practices, is exacerbating changes in forest ecosystem processes and 
dynamics to a greater degree than originally anticipated under the 
NWFP. Environmental variation affects all wildlife populations; 
however, climate change presents new challenges as systems may change 
beyond historical ranges of variability. In some areas, changes in 
weather and climate may result in major shifts in vegetation 
communities that can persist in particular regions.
    Climate change will present unique challenges to the future of 
northern spotted owl populations and their habitats. Northern spotted 
owl distributions (Carroll 2010, entire) and population dynamics 
(Franklin et al. 2000, entire; Glenn et al. 2010, entire; 2011a, 
entire; 2011b, entire) may be directly influenced by changes in 
temperature and precipitation. In addition, changes in forest 
composition and structure as well as prey species distributions and 
abundance resulting from climate change may impact availability of 
habitat across the historical range of the subspecies. The Revised 
Recovery Plan provides a detailed discussion of the possible 
environmental impacts to the habitat of the northern spotted owl from 
the projected effects of climate change (USFWS 2011, pp. III-5 to III-
11).
    Because both spotted owl population dynamics and forest conditions 
are likely to be influenced by large-scale changes in climate in the 
future, we have attempted to account for these influences in our 
designation of critical habitat by recognizing that forest composition 
may change beyond the range of historical variation and that climate 
changes may have unpredictable consequences for both Pacific Northwest 
forests and northern spotted owls. This proposed critical habitat 
designation recognizes that forest management practices that promote 
ecosystem health under changing climate conditions will be essential 
for spotted owl conservation.

Previous Federal Actions

    The northern spotted owl was listed as a threatened species on June 
26, 1990 (55 FR 26114); a description of the relevant previous Federal 
actions up to the time of listing can be found in that final rule. On 
January 15, 1992, we published a final rule designating 6,887,000 acres 
(ac) (2,787,000 hectares (ha)) of Federal lands in Washington, Oregon, 
and California as critical habitat for the northern spotted owl (57 FR 
1796). On January 13, 2003, we entered into a settlement agreement with 
the American Forest Resources Council, Western Council of Industrial 
Workers, Swanson Group Inc., and Rough & Ready Lumber Company, to 
conduct a 5-year status review of the northern spotted owl and consider 
potential revisions to its critical habitat (Western Council of 
Industrial Workers (WCIW) v. Secretary of the Interior, Civ. No. 02-
6100-AA (D. Or.)). On April 21, 2003, we published a notice initiating 
the 5-year review of the northern spotted owl (68 FR 19569), and 
published a second information request for the 5-year review on July 
25, 2003 (68 FR 44093). We completed the 5-year review on November 15, 
2004, concluding that the northern spotted owl should remain listed as 
a threatened species under the Act (USFWS 2004, entire). On November 
24, 2010, we published a notice initiating a new 5-year review for the 
northern spotted owl (75 FR 71726); the information solicitation period 
for this review was reopened from April 20, 2011 through May 20, 2011 
(76 FR 22139), and the completed review was signed on September 29, 
2011, concluding that the northern spotted owl was appropriately listed 
as a threatened species.
    In compliance with the settlement agreement, as amended in the WCIW 
case, we published a proposed revised critical habitat rule in the 
Federal Register on June 12, 2007 (72 FR 32450). On May 21, 2008, we 
published a notice announcing the availability of a draft economic 
analysis and the reopening of the public comment period on the proposed 
revised critical habitat designation (73 FR 29471). This notice also 
alerted the public of the opportunity to comment on the proposed 
revision of critical habitat in the context of the recently released 
Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl, which was released on May 
16, 2008, and announced in the Federal Register on May 21, 2008 (73 FR 
29471). The 2008 recovery plan formed the basis for the current 
designation of northern spotted owl critical habitat, which we 
published in the Federal Register on August 13, 2008 (73 FR 47325).
    Both the 2008 critical habitat designation and the 2008 recovery 
plan were challenged in court (Carpenters' Industrial Council v. 
Salazar, Case No. 1:08-cv-01409-EGS (D.DC)). In addition, on December 
15, 2008, the

[[Page 14081]]

Inspector General of the Department of the Interior issued a report 
entitled ``Investigative Report of The Endangered Species Act and the 
Conflict between Science and Policy,'' which concluded that the 
integrity of the agency decision-making process for the spotted owl 
recovery plan was potentially jeopardized by improper political 
influence. As a result, the Federal Government filed a motion in the 
lawsuit for remand of the 2008 recovery plan and the critical habitat 
designation that was based on it. On September 1, 2010, the Court 
issued an opinion remanding the 2008 recovery plan to us for issuance 
of a revised plan within 9 months. On September 15, 2010, we published 
a Federal Register notice (75 FR 56131) announcing the availability of 
the Draft Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl, and 
opened a 60-day comment period through November 15, 2010. On November 
12, 2010, we announced by way of press release an extension of the 
comment period until December 15, 2010.
    On November 30, 2010, we announced in the Federal Register the 
reopening of the public comment period until December 15, 2010 (75 FR 
74073). At that time we also announced the availability of a synopsis 
of the population response modeling results for public review and 
comment. The supporting information regarding the modeling process was 
posted on our Web site. Of the approximately 11,700 comments received 
on the Draft Revised Recovery Plan, many requested the opportunity to 
review and comment on more detailed information on the habitat modeling 
process in Appendix C. On April 22, 2011, we reopened the comment 
period on Appendix C of the draft revised recovery plan (76 FR 22720); 
this comment period closed on May 23, 2011. On May 6, 2011, the Court 
granted our request for an extension of the due date for issuance of 
the final revised recovery plan until July 1, 2011. We published the 
notice of availability of the final Revised Recovery Plan for the 
Northern Spotted Owl in the Federal Register on July 1, 2011 (76 FR 
38575).
    On October 12, 2010, the Court remanded the 2008 critical habitat 
designation, which had been based on the 2008 Recovery Plan for the 
Northern Spotted Owl, and adopted the Service's proposed schedule to 
issue a new proposed revised critical habitat rule for public comment 
by November 15, 2011, and a final rule by November 15, 2012. The Court 
has subsequently extended the date for delivery of the proposed rule to 
the Federal Register to February 28, 2012; the due date of November 15, 
2012, for issuance of the final revised rule remains unchanged. This 
proposed revision of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl is 
in response to the Court's order.

Critical Habitat

Background

    Critical habitat is defined in section 3 of the Act as:
    (1) The specific areas within the geographical area occupied by the 
species, at the time it is listed in accordance with the Act, on which 
are found those physical or biological features;
    (a) Essential to the conservation of the species; and
    (b) Which may require special management considerations or 
protection; and
    (2) Specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by the 
species at the time it is listed, upon a determination that such areas 
are essential for the conservation of the species.
    Conservation, as defined under section 3 of the Act, means to use 
and the use of all methods and procedures that are necessary to bring 
an endangered or threatened species to the point at which the measures 
provided pursuant to the Act are no longer necessary. Such methods and 
procedures include, but are not limited to, all activities associated 
with scientific resources management such as research, census, law 
enforcement, habitat acquisition and maintenance, propagation, live 
trapping, and transplantation, and, in the extraordinary case where 
population pressures within a given ecosystem cannot be otherwise 
relieved, may include regulated taking.
    Critical habitat receives protection under section 7 of the Act 
through the requirement that Federal agencies ensure, in consultation 
with the Service, that any action they authorize, fund, or carry out is 
not likely to result in the destruction or adverse modification of 
critical habitat. The designation of critical habitat does not affect 
land ownership or establish a refuge, wilderness, reserve, preserve, or 
other conservation area. Such designation does not allow the government 
or public to access private lands. Such designation does not require 
implementation of restoration, recovery, or enhancement measures by 
non-Federal landowners. Where a landowner requests Federal agency 
funding or authorization for an action that may affect a listed species 
or critical habitat, the consultation requirements of section 7(a)(2) 
of the Act would apply, but even in the event of a destruction or 
adverse modification finding, the obligation of the Federal action 
agency and the landowner is not to restore or recover the species, but 
to implement reasonable and prudent alternatives to avoid destruction 
or adverse modification of critical habitat.
    Under the first prong of the Act's definition of critical habitat, 
areas within the geographical area occupied by the species at the time 
it was listed are included in a critical habitat designation if they 
contain physical or biological features: (1) Which are essential to the 
conservation of the species, and (2) which may require special 
management considerations or protection. For these areas, critical 
habitat designations identify, to the extent known using the best 
scientific and commercial data available, those physical or biological 
features that are essential to the conservation of the species (such as 
space, food, cover, and protected habitat). In identifying those 
physical and biological features within an area, we focus on the 
principal biological or physical constituent elements (primary 
constituent elements such as roost sites, nesting grounds, rainfall, 
canopy cover, soil type) that are essential to the conservation of the 
species.
    Under the second prong of the Act's definition of critical habitat, 
we can designate critical habitat in areas outside the geographical 
area occupied by the species at the time it is listed, upon a 
determination that such areas are essential for the conservation of the 
species. For example, an area that was not occupied at the time of 
listing but is essential to the conservation of the species may be 
included in the critical habitat designation. We designate critical 
habitat in areas outside the geographical area occupied by a species 
only when a designation limited to its range would be inadequate to 
ensure the conservation of the species (50 CFR 424.12(e)).
    Section 4 of the Act requires that we designate critical habitat on 
the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available. 
Further, our Policy on Information Standards Under the Endangered 
Species Act (published in the Federal Register on July 1, 1994 (59 FR 
34271)), the Information Quality Act (section 515 of the Treasury and 
General Government Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2001 (Pub. L. 
106-554; H.R. 5658)), and our associated Information Quality 
Guidelines, provide criteria, establish procedures, and provide 
guidance to ensure that our decisions are based on the best scientific 
data

[[Page 14082]]

available. They require our biologists, to the extent consistent with 
the Act and with the use of the best scientific data available, to use 
primary and original sources of information as the basis for 
recommendations to designate critical habitat.
    When we are determining which areas should be designated as 
critical habitat, our primary source of information is generally the 
information developed during the listing process for the species. 
Additional information sources may include the recovery plan for the 
species, articles in peer-reviewed journals, conservation plans 
developed by States and counties, scientific status surveys and 
studies, biological assessments, other unpublished materials, or 
experts' opinions or personal knowledge.
    Habitat is dynamic, and northern spotted owls may move from one 
area to another over time. We recognize that critical habitat 
designated at a particular point in time may not include all of the 
habitat areas that we may later determine are necessary for the 
recovery of the species. For these reasons, a critical habitat 
designation does not signal that habitat outside the designated area is 
unimportant or may not be needed for recovery of the species. Areas 
that are important to the conservation of the species, both inside and 
outside the critical habitat designation, will continue to be subject 
to: (1) Conservation actions implemented under section 7(a)(1) of the 
Act, (2) regulatory protections afforded by the requirement in section 
7(a)(2) of the Act for Federal agencies to insure their actions are not 
likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered or 
threatened species, and (3) the prohibitions of section 9 of the Act. 
Federally funded or permitted projects affecting listed species outside 
their designated critical habitat areas may still result in jeopardy 
findings in some cases. These protections and conservation tools will 
continue to contribute to recovery of this species. Similarly, critical 
habitat designations made on the basis of the best available 
information at the time of designation will not control the direction 
and substance of future recovery plans, habitat conservation plans 
(HCPs), or other species conservation planning efforts if new 
information available at the time of these planning efforts calls for a 
different outcome.

Physical or Biological Features

    In accordance with section 3(5)(A)(i) and 4(b)(1)(A) of the Act and 
regulations at 50 CFR 424.12, in determining which areas within the 
geographical area occupied by the species at the time of listing to 
designate as critical habitat, we consider the physical or biological 
features essential to the conservation of the species and which may 
require special management considerations or protection. These include, 
but are not limited to:
    (1) Space for individual and population growth and for normal 
behavior;
    (2) Food, water, air, light, minerals, or other nutritional or 
physiological requirements;
    (3) Cover or shelter;
    (4) Sites for breeding, reproduction, or rearing (or development) 
of offspring; and
    (5) Habitats that are protected from disturbance or are 
representative of the historical, geographical, and ecological 
distributions of a species.
    For the northern spotted owl, the physical or biological features 
essential to the owl are forested areas that are used or likely to be 
used by northern spotted owl for nesting, roosting, foraging, or 
dispersing. The specific characteristics or components that comprise 
these features include, for example, specific ranges of forest stand 
density and tree size distribution; coarse woody debris; and specific 
resources, such as food (prey and suitable prey habitat), nest sites, 
cover, and other physiological requirements required by northern 
spotted owls and considered essential for the conservation of the 
species. We consider these specific primary constituent elements (PCEs) 
later; here we describe the life-history needs of the owl and the 
physical and biological features essential to the conservation of the 
northern spotted owl, which informed our identification of the PCEs. 
The following information is based on studies of the habitat, ecology, 
and life history of the species as described in the final listing rule 
published in the Federal Register on June 26, 1990 (55 FR 26114), the 
Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl released on June 30, 
2011, the Background section of this proposal, and the following 
information.
    Although the northern spotted owl is typically considered a habitat 
and prey specialist, it uses a relatively broad array of forest types 
for nesting, roosting, foraging, and dispersal. The diversity of forest 
types used is a reflection of the large geographical range of this 
subspecies and strong gradation in annual precipitation and temperature 
associated with both coastal mountain ranges and the Cascade Range. 
While the northern spotted owl is unquestionably associated with old-
growth forests, habitat selection and population performance involves 
many additional features (Loehle et al. 2011, p. 20). This description 
of physical and biological features summarizes both variation in 
habitat use and particular features or portions of the overall gradient 
of variation that spotted owls preferentially select, and that we, 
therefore, consider essential to their conservation. We begin by 
considering the broad-scale patterns of climate, elevation, topography, 
and forest community type that act to influence spotted owl 
distributions and space for population growth and dispersal, and then 
discuss the abundance and pattern of habitats used for nesting, 
roosting, and foraging at the landscape scale that influence the 
availability and occupancy of breeding sites and the survival and 
fecundity of spotted owls. Thus, we begin by considering factors that 
operate at broader spatial scales and proceed to factors that influence 
habitat quality at the stand scale. When we discuss the physical or 
biological features, we focus on features that are common rangewide, 
but also summarize specific features or patterns of habitat selection 
that characterize particular regions.

Physical Influences Related to Features Essential to the Northern 
Spotted Owl

    Climate, elevation, and topography are features of the physical 
environment that influence the capacity of a landscape to support 
habitat with high value for spotted owls and the type of habitat needed 
by the species. The distribution and amount of habitat on the landscape 
reflects interactions among these physical elements. Several studies 
have found that physical aspects of the environment such as topographic 
position, aspect, and elevation influence spotted owl habitat selection 
(e.g., Clark 2007, pp. 97-111; Stalberg et al. 2009, p. 80). They also 
are a factor in determining the type of habitats essential to spotted 
owl conservation.
Climate
    Population processes for spotted owls are affected by both large-
scale fluctuations in climate conditions and by local weather variation 
(Glenn 2009, pp. 246-248). The influence of weather and climate on 
spotted owl populations has been documented in northern California 
(Franklin et al. 2000, pp. 559-583), Oregon (Olson et al. 2004, pp. 
1047-1052; Dugger et al. 2005, pp. 871-877; Glenn et al. 2010, pp. 
2546-2551), and Washington (Glenn et al. 2010, pp. 2546-2551). Climate 
and weather effects on spotted owls are mediated by vegetation 
conditions, and the combination of climate and vegetation

[[Page 14083]]

variables improves models designed to predict the distribution of 
spotted owls (e.g., Carroll 2010, pp. 1434-1437).
    Climate niche models for the spotted owl identified winter 
precipitation as the most important climate variable influencing 
ability to predict the distribution of spotted owl habitat (Carroll 
2010, p. 1434), a finding consistent with previous demographic studies 
that suggest negative effects of winter and spring precipitation on 
survival, recruitment, and dispersal (Franklin et al. 2000; pp. 559-
583). Niche modeling suggested that precipitation variables, both in 
winter and in summer, were more influential than winter and summer 
temperatures (Carroll 2010, p. 1434-1436).
    Wet, cold weather during the winter or nesting season, particularly 
the early nesting season, has been shown to negatively affect spotted 
owl reproduction (Olson et al. 2004, p.1039; Dugger et al. 2005, p.863; 
Glenn et al. 2011b, p. 1279), survival (Franklin et al. 2000, p. 539;, 
Olson et al. 2004, p. 1039; Glenn et al. 2011a, p. 159), and 
recruitment (Franklin et al. 2000 p. 559; Glenn et al. 2010, p. 2546). 
Cold, wet weather may reduce reproduction and/or survival during the 
breeding season due to declines or decreased activity in small mammal 
populations so that less food is available during reproduction when 
metabolic demands are high (Glenn et al. 2011b, pp. 1290-1294). Wet, 
cold springs or intense storms during this time may increase the risk 
of starvation in adult birds (Franklin et al. 2000, pp. 559-590). Cold, 
wet weather may also reduce the male spotted owl's ability to bring 
food to incubating females or nestlings (Franklin et al. 2000, pp. 559-
590). Cold, wet nesting seasons have been shown to increase the 
mortality of nestlings due to chilling (Franklin et al. 2000, pp. 559-
590) and reduce the number of young fledged per pair per year (Franklin 
et al. 2000, p. 559, Olson et al. 2004, p. 1047; Glenn et al. 2011b, 
1279). Wet, cold weather may decrease survival of dispersing juveniles 
during their first winter, thereby reducing recruitment (Franklin et 
al. 2000, pp.559-590).
    Franklin et al. (2000, pp. 582-583) argued that spotted owl 
populations are regulated or limited by both habitat quality and 
environmental factors such as weather. Abundance and availability of 
prey may ultimately limit spotted owl populations, and prey are 
strongly associated with habitat conditions. As habitat quality 
decreases, other factors such as weather have a stronger influence on 
demographic performance. In essence, the presence of high-quality 
habitat appears to buffer the negative effects of cold, wet springs and 
winters on survival of spotted owls as well as ameliorate the effects 
of heat. High-quality spotted owl habitat was defined in a northern 
California study area as a mature or old growth core within a mosaic of 
old and younger forest (Franklin et al. 2000, p.559). The high-quality 
habitat can help maintain a stable prey base, thereby reducing the cost 
of foraging during the early breeding season when energetic needs are 
high (Carey et al. 1992, pp. 223-250; Franklin et al. 2000, p. 559). In 
addition, mature and old forest with high canopy closure typically 
remains cooler during summer months than younger stands.
    Drought or hot temperatures during the previous summer have also 
been associated with reduced spotted owl recruitment and survival 
(Glenn et al. 2010, p. 2546). Drier, warmer summers and drought 
conditions during the growing season strongly influence primary 
production in forests, food availability, and the population sizes of 
small mammals (Glenn et al. 2010, p. 2546). Northern flying squirrels, 
for example, forage primarily on ectomycorrhizal fungi (truffles), many 
of which grow better under moist conditions (Lehmkuhl et al. 2004, pp. 
58-60). Drier, warmer summers, or the high-intensity fires, which such 
conditions support, may change the range or availability of these 
fungi, affecting northern flying squirrels and the spotted owls that 
prey on them. Periods of drought are associated with declines in annual 
survival rates for other raptors due to a presumed decrease in prey 
availability (Glenn et al. 2010, pp. 2546-2551).
    Mexican spotted owls (S. o. lucida) and California spotted owls (S. 
o. occidentalis) have a narrow temperature range where body temperature 
can be maintained without additional metabolic energy expenditure 
(Ganey et al. 1993, pp. 653-654; Weathers et al. 2001, pp. 682-686). 
Others (e.g., Franklin et al. 2000, entire) have assumed the northern 
spotted owl to be similar in this regard. While winter temperatures are 
relatively mild across much of the northern spotted owl's range, heat 
stress has been identified as a potential stressor at temperatures 
exceeding 30 [deg]C (86[emsp14][deg]F; Weathers et al. 2001, p. 678). 
The spotted owl's selection for areas with older-forest characteristics 
has been hypothesized to be related, in part, to its needing cooler 
areas in summer to avoid heat stress (Barrows and Barrows 1978, 
entire).
Elevation and Topography
    Elevation and corresponding changes in temperature/moisture regimes 
constrain the development of vegetation communities selected by spotted 
owls, and may exceed the bounds of physiological tolerance of spotted 
owls or their prey. Several studies have noted the avoidance or absence 
of spotted owls above location-specific elevational limits (Blakesley 
et al. 1992, pp. 390-391; Hershey et al. 1998, p. 1406; LaHaye and 
Guti[eacute]rrez 1999, pp. 326, 328). In some locations, elevational 
limits occur despite the presence of forests that appear to have the 
structural characteristics typically associated with spotted owl 
habitat. Where forest structure is not the apparent cause of 
elevational limits, the mechanistic bases of these limits are unknown, 
but they could be related to prey availability, competitors, or 
extremes of temperature or precipitation. Habitat for spotted owls can 
occur from sea level to the lower elevation limit of subalpine 
vegetation types. This elevation varies with latitude from about 3,000 
feet (ft) (900 meters (m)) above sea level in coastal Washington and 
Oregon (Davis and Lint 2005, p. 32) to about 6,000 ft (1,800 m) above 
sea level near the southern edge of the range (derived from Davis and 
Lint 2005, p. 32).
    Topography also influences the distribution of spotted owl habitat 
and patterns of habitat selection. The effects of topography are 
strongest in drier forests where aspect and insolation (amount of solar 
radiation received in an area) contribute to moisture stress that can 
limit forest density and tree growth. In drier forests east of the 
Cascades and in the Klamath region, suitable habitat can be 
concentrated at intermediate topographic positions, on north-facing 
aspects, and in concave landforms that retain moisture. This leads to a 
distribution of suitable habitat characterized by ribbon-like bands and 
discrete patches. Ribbons occur along drainages and valley bottoms, 
along the north faces of ridges that trend from east to west, and at 
intermediate topographic positions between drier pine-dominated forests 
at lower elevations and subalpine forest types at higher elevations. 
Discrete patches occur on top of higher plateaus and in concave 
landforms. Spotted owl populations inhabiting drier forests have higher 
fecundity and lower survival rates than owls in other regions (Hicks et 
al. 2003, pp. 61-62; Anthony et al. 2006, pp. 28, 30;). The naturally 
fragmented distribution of suitable habitat in drier forests and 
increased predation risk associated with traversing this

[[Page 14084]]

landscape may be one of many features that contributed to the evolution 
of these life-history characteristics.
    Slope may also influence the distribution of suitable habitat. 
Intermediate slopes have been associated with spotted owl sites in some 
studies (e.g., Gremel 2005, p. 37; Gaines et al. 2010, pp. 2048-2050; 
USFWS 2011, Appendix C), but the mechanisms underlying this association 
are unclear, potentially including a variety of features from soil 
depth to competition with barred owls.

Biological Influences Related to Features Essential to the Northern 
Spotted Owl

Forest Community Type (Composition)
    Across their geographical range, spotted owl use of habitat spans 
several scales, with increasing levels of habitat selection specificity 
at each scale. We refer to these scales as the ``landscape,'' ``home 
range,'' and ``core area'' scales. Nest stands within core areas are 
even more narrowly selected (see Functional Categories of Spotted Owl 
Habitat, in the Background section, above).
    Landscapes supporting populations of spotted owls are the broadest 
scale we will consider, encompassing areas sufficient to support 
numerous reproductive pairs (roughly 20,000 to 200,000 ac (8,100 to 
81,000 ha). Within landscapes, the northern spotted owl inhabits most 
of the major types of coniferous forests across its geographical range, 
including Sitka spruce, western hemlock, mixed conifer and mixed 
evergreen, grand fir, Pacific silver fir, Douglas-fir, redwood/Douglas-
fir (in coastal California and southwestern Oregon), white fir, Shasta 
red fir, and the moist end of the ponderosa pine zone (Forsman et al. 
1984, pp. 8-9; Franklin and Dyrness 1988, numerous pages; Thomas et al. 
1990, p. 145). These forest types may be in early-, mid-, or late-seral 
stages, and must occur in concert with at least one of the physical or 
biological features characteristic of breeding and nonbreeding 
(dispersal) habitat, described below.
    Landscape-level patterns in tree species composition and topography 
can influence the distribution and density of spotted owls. These 
differences in spotted owl distribution occur even when different 
forest types have similar structural attributes, suggesting that 
spotted owls may prefer specific plant associations or tree species. 
Some forest types, such as pine-dominated and subalpine forests, are 
infrequently used, regardless of their structural attributes. In areas 
east of the Cascade Crest, spotted owls select forests with high 
proportions of Douglas-fir trees. The effects of tree species 
composition on habitat selection also extend to hardwoods within 
conifer-dominated forests (e.g., Meyer et al. 1998, p. 35). For 
example, our habitat association modeling indicated that habitat value 
in the central Western Cascades was negatively related to proportion of 
hardwoods present. At the home range and core area scales, locations 
occupied by spotted owls consistently have greater amounts of mature 
and old-growth forest compared to random locations or unused areas. The 
proportion of older forest within the home range varies greatly by 
geographical region, but typically falls between 30 and 78 percent 
(Courtney et al. 2004, p. 5-6). The only exception to this pattern 
occurred in drier forests of Washington, where development of a dense 
understory of shade-tolerant trees may have reduced suitability of 
older forests subjected to prolonged fire exclusion (Irwin et al. 2004, 
p. 20). In studies where circles of different sizes were compared, 
differences between spotted owl sites and random locations diminished 
as circles of increasing size were evaluated (Courtney et al. 2004, p. 
5-7), suggesting habitat selection is stricter at the core area scale 
than at the home range and landscape scales.
Disturbance Regimes
    Natural disturbances and anthropogenic (human-caused) activities 
continuously shape the amount and distribution of spotted owl habitat 
on the landscape. In moist forests west of the Cascades in Washington 
and Oregon, and in the Redwood region, anthropogenic activities have a 
dominant influence on distribution patterns of remaining habitat, with 
natural disturbances typically playing a secondary role. In contrast, 
drier forests east of the Cascades and in the Klamath region have 
dynamic disturbance regimes that continue to exert a strong influence 
on spotted owl habitat. Climate change may modify disturbance regimes 
across the range of the spotted owl, resulting in substantial changes 
to the frequency and extent of habitat disruption by natural events.
    In drier forests, low- and mixed-severity fires historically 
contributed to a high level of spatial and temporal variability in 
landscape patterns of disturbed and recovering vegetation. However, 
anthropogenic activities have so altered these historic patterns of 
vegetation and fuels and associated disturbance regimes that 
contemporary landscapes no longer function as they did historically 
(Hessburg et al. 2000a, pp. 77-78; Hessburg and Agee 2003, pp. 44-51; 
Hessburg et al. 2005, pp. 122-127, 134-136; Skinner et al. 2006, pp. 
176-179; Skinner and Taylor 2006, pp. 201-203).
    Fire exclusion, combined with the removal of fire-tolerant 
structures (e.g., large, fire-tolerant tree species such as ponderosa 
pine, western larch (Larix occidentalis), and Douglas-fir), have 
reduced the resiliency of the landscape to fire and other disturbances, 
especially in those forest types outside of the wetter, higher severity 
fire regime types (Agee 1993, pp. 280-319; Hessburg et al. 2000a, pp. 
71-80; Hessburg and Agee 2003, pp. 44-46). Understory vegetation in 
these forests has shifted in response to fire exclusion from grasses 
and shrubs to shade-tolerant conifers, reducing fire tolerance of these 
forests and increasing drought stress on dominant tree species.
    Anthropogenic activities have also fundamentally changed the 
spatial distribution of fire intolerant-stands among the fire-tolerant 
stands, changing the pattern of fire activity across the landscape. 
Past management has homogenized the formerly patchy vegetative network 
and reduced the complexity that was more prevalent during the pre-
settlement era (Skinner 1995, pp. 224-226; Hessburg and Agee 2003, pp. 
44-45; Hessburg et al. 2007, p. 21; Kennedy and Wimberly 2009, pp. 564-
565). Patches of fire-intolerant vegetation that had been spatially 
separated have become more contiguous and are more prone to conducting 
fire, insects, and diseases across larger swaths of the landscape 
(Hessburg et al. 2005, pp. 71-74, 77-78). This homogenized landscape 
may be altering the size and intensity of current disturbances and 
further altering landscape functionality (e.g., Everett et al. 2000, 
pp. 221-222). This alteration in the disturbance regime further affects 
forest structure and composition.
    The intensity and spatial extent of natural disturbances that 
affect the amount, distribution, and quality of spotted owl habitat in 
dry forests are also influenced by local topographic features, 
elevation, and climate (Swanson et al. 1988, entire). At local scales 
these factors can be used to identify refugia that are insulated from 
existing disturbance and consequently tend to persist for longer 
periods (Camp et al. 1997, entire). These disturbance refugia are 
locations where spotted owl habitat has a higher likelihood of 
developing and persisting in drier forests. As a result of these 
disturbance regimes, especially in the drier forests within its range, 
habitat for the northern

[[Page 14085]]

spotted owl naturally occurs in a patchy mosaic in various stages of 
suitability in these regions. Sufficient area to provide for these 
habitat dynamics and to allow for the maintenance of adequate 
quantities of suitable habitat on the landscape at any one point in 
time is, therefore, essential to the conservation of the northern 
spotted owl in the dry forest regions.
Pattern and Distribution of Habitat
    Historically, forest types occupied by the northern spotted owl 
were fairly continuous, particularly in the wetter parts of its range 
in coastal northern California and most of western Oregon and 
Washington. Suitable forest types in the drier parts of the range 
(interior northern California, interior southern Oregon, and east of 
the Cascade crest in Oregon and Washington) occur in a mosaic pattern 
interspersed with infrequently used vegetation types such as open 
forests, shrubby areas, and grasslands. As described above, natural 
disturbance processes in these drier regions likely contributed to a 
pattern in which patches of habitat in various stages of suitability 
shift positions on the landscape through time. In the Klamath Mountains 
Provinces of Oregon and California, and to a lesser extent in the Coast 
and Cascade Provinces of California, large areas of serpentine soils 
exist that are typically not capable of supporting northern spotted owl 
habitat (Davis and Lint 2005, pp. 31-33).
Population Spatial Requirements
    We have described a range of climatic, elevational, topographic, 
and compositional factors, and associated disturbance dynamics typical 
of different regions, that constrain the amount and distribution of 
spotted owl habitat across landscapes. Within this context, areas that 
contain the physical and biological features described below must 
provide habitat in an amount and distribution sufficient to support 
persistent populations, including metapopulations of reproductive 
pairs, and opportunities for nonbreeding and dispersing owls to move 
among populations to be considered essential to the conservation of the 
northern spotted owl.
    Spotted owls are territorial, defending areas that vary across 
nearly an order of magnitude, from about 1,400 to 14,000 ac (570 to 
5,700 ha), depending on latitude and prey resources (see Home Range 
Requirements, below). Overlap occurs among adjoining territories, but 
the large size of territories nonetheless means that populations of 
spotted owls require landscapes with large areas of habitat suitable 
for nesting, roosting, and foraging. For example, in the northern parts 
of the subspecies' range where territories are largest, a population of 
20 resident pairs would require at least 100,000 ac (about 40,500 ha) 
when habitat is relatively densely distributed and of high-quality.
    As described in the Background section above, several studies have 
examined patterns of spotted owl habitat selection at the territory 
scale and the consequences of habitat configuration within a territory 
on fitness. We do not know if the features that contribute to enhancing 
spotted owl occupancy and reproductive success at the territory scale 
can be scaled up to predict what landscape-scale patterns of habitat 
are most conducive to stable or increasing spotted owl populations. 
Studies that use populations as units of analysis in order to 
investigate the effects of the landscape-scale configuration of habitat 
on the performance of spotted owl populations have only begun. Past 
models of spotted owl population dynamics have included predictions 
about the effects of habitat configuration on population performance, 
but these predictions have not been tested or validated by empirical 
studies (Franklin and Guti[eacute]rrez 2002; p. 215). Recent 
demographic analyses suggested that recruitment was positively related 
to the proportion of study areas covered by suitable habitat (see 
Forsman et al. 2011, pp. 59-62), but this covariate was not associated 
with other aspects of demographic performance, and few other covariates 
were investigated.
    When the spotted owl was listed as threatened in 1990 (55 FR 
26114), habitat loss and fragmentation of old-growth forest were 
identified as major factors contributing to declines in spotted owl 
populations. As older forests were reduced to smaller and more isolated 
patches, the ability of spotted owls to successfully disperse and 
establish territories was likely reduced (Lamberson et al. 1992, pp. 
506, 508, 510-511). Lamberson et al. (1992, pp. 509-511) identified 
that there appeared to be a sharp threshold in the amount of habitat 
below which spotted owl population viability plummeted. Lamberson et 
al. (1994, pp. 185-186, 192-194) concluded that size, spacing and shape 
of reserved areas all had strong influence on population persistence, 
and reserves that could support a minimum of 20 spotted owl territories 
were more likely to maintain spotted owl populations than smaller 
reserves. They also found that juvenile dispersal was facilitated in 
areas large enough to support at least 20 spotted owl territories. In 
addition to size, spacing between reserves had a strong influence on 
successful dispersal (Lamberson et al. 1992, pp. 508, 510-511). Forsman 
et al. (2002, pp. 15-16) reported dispersal distances of 1,475 spotted 
owls in Oregon and Washington for 1985 to 1996. Median maximum 
dispersal distance (the straight-line distance between the natal site 
and the farthest location) for radio-marked juvenile male spotted owls 
was 12.7 miles (mi) (20.3 kilometers (km)), and that of female spotted 
owls was 17.2 mi. (27.5 km) (Forsman et al. 2002: Table 2). Dispersal 
data and other studies on the amount and configuration of habitat 
necessary to sustain spotted owls provided the foundation for 
developing previous spotted owl habitat reserve systems. Given the 
range-wide declining trends in northern spotted owl populations as well 
as declining trends in the recruitment of new individuals into 
territorial populations (Forsman et al. 2011, pp. 59-66, Table 22), we 
have determined that, to be essential, physical and biological features 
must be positioned on the landscape to enable populations to persist 
and individual owls to disperse among populations.
    In contrast to earlier designations of critical habitat, we did not 
develop an a priori rule set to identify those areas that provide the 
physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the 
owl, using factors such as minimum size of habitat blocks, targeted 
numbers of owl pairs, or maximum distance between blocks of habitat. 
Instead, we determined the spatial extent and placement of the areas 
providing the physical or biological features that are essential to the 
conservation of the owl based on the relative demographic performance 
of various habitat models tested. This process is summarized in 
Criteria Used to Identify Critical Habitat, below, and is presented in 
detail in our supporting documentation (Dunk et al. 2012, entire).
Home Range Requirements
    Northern spotted owls remain on their home range throughout the 
year; therefore, their home range must provide all the habitat 
components and prey needed for the survival and successful reproduction 
of a territorial pair. The home range of a northern spotted owl is 
relatively large, but varies in size across the range of the subspecies 
(Courtney et al. 2004, p. 5-24; 55 FR 26117, June 26, 1991). Home range 
sizes are largest in Washington (Olympic Peninsula: 14,271 ac (5775 ha) 
(USDI 1992, p. 23; USFWS 1994 in litt., p. 1) and generally decrease 
along a north-south gradient to approximately 1,430 ac (580 ha) in the 
Klamath region

[[Page 14086]]

of northwestern California and southern Oregon (Zabel et al. 1995, p. 
436). Northern spotted owl home ranges are generally larger where 
northern flying squirrels are the predominant prey and smaller where 
woodrats are the predominant prey (Zabel et al. 1995, p. 436). Home 
range size also increases with increasing forest fragmentation (Carey 
et al. 1992, p. 235; Franklin and Guti[eacute]rrez 2002, p. 212; Glenn 
et al. 2004, p. 45) and decreasing proportions of nesting habitat on 
the landscape (Carey et al. 1992, p. 235; Forsman et al. 2005, p. 374), 
suggesting that northern spotted owls increase the size of their home 
ranges to encompass adequate amounts of suitable forest types (Forsman 
et al. 2005, p. 374).
    Meta-analysis of features associated with occupancy at the 
territory-scale indicated that spotted owls consistently occupy areas 
having larger patches of older forests (which contained more interior 
forest) that were more numerous and closer together than random sites 
(Franklin and Guti[eacute]rrez 2002; p. 212). In the Klamath and 
Redwood regions owls also consistently occupy sites with higher forest 
heterogeneity than random sites. Occupied sites in the Klamath region, 
in particular, show a high degree of vegetative heterogeneity, with 
more variable patch sizes and more perimeter edge than in other regions 
(Franklin and Guti[eacute]rrez 2002; p. 212). In the Klamath region, 
ecotones, or edges between older forests and other seral stages, may 
contribute to improved access to prey (Franklin and Guti[eacute]rrez 
2002, p. 215). Several studies in the Klamath region and the Redwood 
region have found that variables describing the relationship between 
habitat core area and edge length improve the ability of models to 
predict spotted owl occupancy (e.g., Folliard et al. 2000, pp. 79-81; 
Zabel et al 2003, pp. 1936-1038). In contrast, spotted owl sites in the 
Oregon Coast Range had a more even distribution of cover types than 
random locations, and nest stands had a higher ratio of core to edge 
and more complex stand shapes than non-nest stands (Courtney et al. 
2004, p. 5-9).
    A home range provides the habitat components essential for the 
survival and successful reproduction of a resident breeding pair of 
northern spotted owls. The exact amount, quality, and configuration of 
these habitat types required for survival and successful reproduction 
varies according to local conditions and factors such as the degree of 
habitat fragmentation, proportion of available nesting habitat, and 
primary prey species (Courtney et al. 2004, p. 5-2).
Core Area Requirements
    Northern spotted owls often use habitat within their home ranges 
disproportionally, and exhibit central-place foraging behavior 
(Rosenberg and McKelvey 1999, p. 1028), with much activity centered 
within a core area surrounding the nest tree during the breeding 
season. During fall and winter, as well as in nonbreeding years, owls 
often roost and forage in areas of their home range more distant from 
the core. The size of core areas varies considerably across the 
subspecies' geographical range following a pattern similar to that of 
home range size (Bingham and Noon 1997, p. 133), varying from over 
4,057 ac (1,642 ha) in the northernmost (flying squirrel prey) 
provinces (Forsman et al. 2005, pp. 370, 375) to less than 500 ac (202 
ha) in the southernmost (dusky-footed woodrat prey) provinces (Pious 
1995, pp. 9-10, Table 2; Zabel et al. 2003, pp. 1036-1038). Owls often 
switch nest trees and use multiple core areas over time, possibly in 
response to local prey depletion or loss of a particular nest tree.
    Core areas contain greater proportions of mature/old forest than 
random or nonuse areas (Courtney et al. 2004, p. 5-13), and the amount 
of high-quality habitat at the core area scale shows the strongest 
relationships with occupancy (Meyer et al. 1998, p. 34; Zabel et al. 
2003, pp. 1027, 1036), survival (Franklin et al. 2000, p. 567; Dugger 
et al. 2005, p. 873), and reproductive success (Ripple et al. 1997, pp. 
155 to 156; Dugger et al. 2005, p. 871). In some areas, edges between 
forest types within northern spotted owl home ranges may provide 
increased prey abundance and availability (Franklin et al. 2000, p. 
579). For successful reproduction, core areas need to contain one or 
more forest stands that have both the structural attributes and the 
location relative to other features in the home range that allow them 
to fulfill essential nesting, roosting, and foraging functions (Carey 
and Peeler 1995, pp. 233-236; Rosenberg and McKelvey 1999, pp. 1035-
1037).
Areas To Support Dispersal and Nonbreeding Owls
    Northern spotted owls regularly disperse through highly fragmented 
forested landscapes that are typical of the mountain ranges in western 
Washington and Oregon, and have dispersed from the Coastal Mountains to 
the Cascades Mountains in the broad forested regions between the 
Willamette, Umpqua, and Rogue Valleys of Oregon (Forsman et al. 2002, 
p. 22). Corridors of forest through fragmented landscapes serve 
primarily to support relatively rapid movement through such areas, 
rather than colonization or residency of nonbreeding owls.
    During the transience (movement) phase, dispersers used mature and 
old-growth forest slightly more than its availability; during the 
colonization phase, mature and old-growth forest was used at nearly 
twice its availability (Miller et al. 1997, p. 144). Closed pole-
sapling-sawtimber habitat was used roughly in proportion to 
availability in both phases and may represent the minimum condition for 
movement. Open sapling and clearcuts were used less than expected based 
on availability during colonization (Miller et al. 1997, p. 145). This 
indicates that transient dispersers can use a greater variety of 
forested habitats relative to those subadults or nonbreeding adults 
that are residents; the latter individuals will require habitats that 
are more similar to the nesting, roosting, and foraging habitats 
utilized by breeding pairs.
    We currently do not have sufficient information to permit formal 
modeling of dispersal habitat and the influence of dispersal habitat 
condition on dispersal success (USFWS 2011, p. C-15). We expect that 
dispersal success is highest when dispersers move through forests that 
have the characteristics of nesting-roosting and foraging habitats. 
Spotted owls can also disperse successfully through forests with less 
complex structure, but risk of starvation and predation likely increase 
with increasing divergence from the characteristics of suitable 
(nesting, roosting, foraging) habitat.
    Relatively little information is currently available about the 
features of habitats used by dispersing spotted owls, or the 
effectiveness of different approaches to managing dispersal habitat. 
The suitability of habitat to contribute to successful dispersal of 
spotted owls is likely related to the degree to which it ameliorates 
heat stress, provides abundant and accessible prey, limits predation 
risk, and resembles habitat in natal territories (Carey 1985, pp. 105-
107; Buchanan 2004, pp. 1335-1341).
    Dispersal habitat is habitat that owls use when dispersing. 
Although no formal studies have been completed to characterize 
dispersal habitat, a widely-accepted rule of thumb is that while 
dispersal habitat would optimally be the same as suitable nesting, 
roosting, or foraging habitat (mature and old-growth stands), if 
necessary owls can also make use of young stands of trees approximately 
11 inches (in) (28 centimeters (cm)) diameter at breast

[[Page 14087]]

height (dbh) or greater with roughly a minimum 40 percent canopy 
closure. Dispersal habitat consists of forest types described above 
that provide one or both of the habitat components described below that 
are essential to the dispersal of juvenile and nonterritorial northern 
spotted owls. Dispersal habitat can occur between larger blocks of 
nesting, foraging, and roosting habitat or within blocks of nesting, 
roosting, and foraging habitat. Dispersal habitat is essential to 
maintaining stable populations by promoting rapid filling of 
territorial vacancies when resident northern spotted owls die or leave 
their territories, and to providing adequate gene flow across the range 
of the species.
Regional Variation in Habitat Use
    Differences in patterns of habitat associations across the range of 
the spotted owl suggest four different broad zones of habitat use, 
which we characterize as the West Cascades/Coast Ranges of Oregon and 
Washington, East Cascades, Klamath and Northern California Interior 
Coast Ranges, and Redwood Coast (Figure 4). We configured these zones 
based on a qualitative assessment of similarity among ecological 
conditions and habitat associations within the 11 different regions 
analyzed, as these four zones efficiently capture the range in 
variation of some of the physical or biological features essential to 
the conservation of the northern spotted owl. We summarize the physical 
or biological features for each of these four zones, emphasizing zone-
specific features that are distinctive within the context of general 
patterns that apply across the entire range of the northern spotted 
owl.

[[Page 14088]]

[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP08MR12.003

West Cascades/Coast Ranges of Oregon and Washington

    This zone includes five regions west of the Cascade crest in 
Washington and Oregon (Western Cascades North, Central and South; North 
Coast Ranges and Olympic Peninsula; and Oregon Coast Ranges; USFWS 
2011, p. C-13). Climate in this zone is characterized by high rainfall 
and cool to moderate temperatures. Variation in elevation between 
valley bottoms and ridges is

[[Page 14089]]

relatively low in the Coast Ranges, creating conditions favorable for 
development of contiguous forests. In contrast, the Olympic and Cascade 
ranges have greater topographic variation, with many high-elevation 
areas supporting permanent snowfields and glaciers. Douglas-fir and 
western hemlock dominate forests used by spotted owls. Root diseases 
and wind-throw are important natural disturbance mechanisms that form 
gaps in forested areas. Flying squirrels are the dominant prey, with 
voles and mice also representing important items in the spotted owl's 
diet.
    Our habitat association modeling indicated that vegetation 
structure had a dominant influence on owl population performance, with 
habitat pattern and topography also contributing. High canopy cover, 
high density of large trees, high numbers of sub-canopy vegetation 
layers, and low to moderate slope positions were all important 
features.
    Nesting habitat in this zone is mostly limited to areas with large 
trees with defects such as mistletoe brooms, cavities, or broken tops. 
The subset of foraging habitat that is not nesting/roosting habitat 
generally had slightly lower values than nesting habitat for canopy 
cover, tree size and density, and canopy layering. Prey species in this 
zone are associated with mature to late-successional forests, resulting 
in small differences between nesting, roosting, and foraging habitat.

East Cascades

    This zone includes the Eastern Cascades North and Eastern Cascades 
South regions (USFWS 2011, p. C-13). This zone is characterized by a 
continental climate (cold, snowy winters and dry summers) and a high 
frequency of natural disturbances due to fires and outbreaks of forest 
insects and pathogens. Flying squirrels are the dominant prey species, 
but the diet of spotted owls also includes relatively large proportions 
of bushy-tailed woodrats, snowshoe hare, pika, and mice (Forsman et al. 
2001, pp. 144-145).
    Our modeling indicates that habitat associations in this zone do 
not show a pattern of dominant influence by one or a few variables 
(USFWS 2011, Appendix C). Instead, habitat association models for this 
zone included a large number of variables, each making a relatively 
modest contribution (20 percent or less) to the predictive ability of 
the model. The features that were most useful in predicting habitat 
quality were vegetation structure and composition, and topography, 
especially slope position in the north. Other efforts to model habitat 
associations in this zone have yielded similar results (e.g., Gaines et 
al. 2010, pp. 2048-2050; Loehle et al. 2011, pp. 25-28).
    Relative to other portions of the subspecies' range, nesting and 
roosting habitat in this zone includes relatively younger and smaller 
trees, likely reflecting the common usage of dwarf mistletoe brooms 
(dense growths) as nesting platforms (especially in the north). Forest 
composition that includes high proportions of Douglas-fir is also 
associated with this nesting structure. Additional foraging habitat in 
this zone generally resembles nesting and roosting habitat, with 
reduced canopy cover and tree size, and reduced canopy layering. High 
prey diversity suggests relatively diverse foraging habitats are used. 
Topographic position was an important variable, particularly in the 
north, possibly reflecting competition from barred owls (Singleton et 
al. 2010, pp. 289, 292). Barred owls, which have been present for over 
30 years in northern portions of this zone, preferentially occupy 
valley-bottom habitats, possibly compelling spotted owls to establish 
territories on less productive, mid-slope locations (Singleton et al. 
2010, pp. 289, 292).

Klamath and Northern California Interior Coast Ranges

    This zone includes the Klamath-Siskiyou West, Klamath-Siskiyou 
East, and Interior California Coast regions (USFWS 2011, p. C-13). This 
region in southwestern Oregon and northwestern California is 
characterized by very high climatic and vegetative diversity resulting 
from steep gradients of elevation, dissected topography, and large 
differences in moisture from west to east. Summer temperatures are 
high, and spotted owls occur at elevations up to 1,768 m (5,800 ft). 
Western portions of this zone support a diverse mix of mesic forest 
communities interspersed with drier forest types. Forests of mixed 
conifers and evergreen hardwoods are typical of the zone. Eastern 
portions of this zone have a Mediterranean climate with increased 
occurrence of ponderosa pine. Douglas-fir dwarf mistletoe (Arceuthobium 
douglasii) is rarely used for nesting platforms in the west, but 
commonly used in the east. The prey base for spotted owls in this zone 
is correspondingly diverse, but dominated by dusky-footed woodrats, 
bushy-tailed woodrats, and flying squirrels. Spotted owls have been 
well studied in the Klamath portion of this zone, but relatively little 
is known about spotted owl habitat use in the California Interior Coast 
Range portion of the zone. Our habitat association models for this zone 
suggest that vegetation structure and topographic features are nearly 
equally important in influencing owl population performance, 
particularly in the Klamath. High canopy cover, high levels of canopy 
layering, and the presence of very large dominant trees were all 
important features of nesting and roosting habitat. Compared to other 
zones, additional foraging habitat for this zone showed greater 
divergence from nesting habitat, with much lower canopy cover and tree 
size. Low to intermediate slope positions were strongly favored. In the 
eastern Klamath, presence of Douglas-fir was an important compositional 
variable in our habitat model (USFWS 2011, Appendix C).

Redwood Coast

    This zone is confined to the northern California coast, and is 
represented by the Redwood Coast region (USFWS 2011, p. C-13). It is 
characterized by a maritime climate with moderate temperatures and 
generally mesic conditions. Near the coast, frequent fog delivers 
consistent moisture during the summer. Terrain is typically low-lying 
(0 to 900 m (0 to 3,000 ft)). Forest communities are dominated by 
redwood, Douglas-fir--tanoak (Lithocarpus densiflorus) forest, coast 
live oak (Quercus agrifolia), and tanoak series. Dusky footed woodrats 
are dominant prey items in this zone.
    Habitat association models for this zone diverged strongly from 
models for other zones. Topographic variables (slope position and 
curvature) had a dominant influence with vegetation structure having a 
secondary role. Low position on slopes was strongly favored, along with 
concave landforms.
    Several studies of spotted owl habitat relationships suggest that 
stump-sprouting and rapid growth of redwood trees, combined with high 
availability of woodrats in patchy, intensively managed forests, 
enables spotted owls to occupy a wide range of vegetation conditions 
within the redwood zone. Rapid growth rates enable young stands to 
develop structural characteristics typical of older stands in other 
regions. Relatively small patches of large remnant trees can also 
provide nesting habitat structure in this zone.

Physical or Biological Features and Primary Constituent Elements

    Under the Act and its implementing regulations, we are required to 
identify the physical or biological features essential to the 
conservation of the spotted owl in areas occupied at the

[[Page 14090]]

time of listing, focusing on the features' primary constituent elements 
(PCEs). The physical or biological features essential to the 
conservation of the northern spotted owl are forested lands that are 
used or likely to be used for nesting, roosting, foraging, or 
dispersing. We have further determined that these physical or 
biological features may require special management considerations or 
protection, as described in the section Special Management 
Considerations or Protection, below. We consider the PCEs to be the 
specific elements that comprise the physical or biological features 
that are essential to the conservation of the species. For the northern 
spotted owl, the primary constituent elements are the specific 
characteristics that make areas suitable for nesting, roosting, 
foraging and dispersal habitat. To be essential to the conservation of 
the northern spotted owl, these features need to be distributed in a 
spatial configuration that is conducive to persistence of spotted owl 
populations, survival and reproductive success of resident pairs, and 
survival of dispersing individuals until they can recruit into a 
breeding population.

Physical or Biological Features by Life-History Function

    Each of the essential features--in this case, forested lands that 
provide the functional categories of northern spotted owl habitat--
comprises a complex interplay of structural elements, such as tree size 
and species, stand density, canopy diversity, and decadence. Spotted 
owls have been shown to exhibit strong associations with specific PCEs; 
however, the range of combinations of PCEs that may constitute habitat 
(particularly foraging habitat) is broad. In addition, the relative 
importance of specific habitat elements (and subsequently their 
relevance as PCEs) is strongly influenced by physical factors such as 
elevation and slope position, and the degree to which physical factors 
influence the role of individual PCEs varies geographically. In 
addition to forest type, the key elements of habitats with the physical 
or biological features essential for the conservation of the northern 
spotted owl may be organized as follows:
Nesting and Roosting Habitat
    Nesting and roosting habitat provides structural features for 
nesting, protection from adverse weather conditions, and cover to 
reduce predation risks for adults and young. Because nesting habitat 
provides resources critical for nest site selection and breeding, its 
characteristics tend to be conservative; stand structures at nest sites 
tend to vary little across the spotted owl's range. Nesting stands 
typically include a moderate to high canopy closure (60 to over 80 
percent); a multilayered, multispecies canopy with large (greater than 
30 in (76 cm) dbh) overstory trees; a high incidence of large trees 
with various deformities (e.g., large cavities, broken tops, mistletoe 
infections, and other evidence of decadence); large snags; large 
accumulations of fallen trees and other woody debris on the ground; and 
sufficient open space below the canopy for northern spotted owls to fly 
(Thomas et al. 1990, p. 164; 57 FR 1798, January 15, 1992). These 
findings were recently reinforced in rangewide models developed by 
Davis and Dugger (2011, Table 3-1, p. 39), who found that stands used 
for nesting (moderate to high suitability) exhibited high canopy cover 
of conifers (65 to 89 percent), large trees (mean diameter from 20 to 
36 in (51 to 91 cm)), with a forest density of 6 to 19 large trees 
(greater than 30 in dbh) per acre (15 to 47 large trees (greater than 
76 cm dbh) per hectare), and high diameter diversity.
    Recent studies have found that northern spotted owl nest stands 
tend to have greater tree basal area, number of canopy layers, density 
of broken-top trees, number or basal area of snags, and volume of logs 
(Courtney et al. 2004, pp. 5-16 to 5-19, 5-23) than non-nest stands. In 
some forest types, northern spotted owls nest in younger forest stands 
that contain structural characteristics of older forests (legacy 
features from previous stands before disturbance). In the portions of 
the spotted owl's range where Douglas-fir dwarf mistletoe occurs, 
infected trees provide an important source of nesting platforms 
(Buchanan et al. 1993, pp. 4-5). Nesting northern spotted owls 
consistently occupy stands having a high degree of canopy cover that 
may provide thermoregulatory benefits (Weathers et al. 2001, p. 686), 
allowing northern spotted owls a wider range of choices for locating 
thermally neutral roosts near the nest site. A high degree of canopy 
closure may also conceal northern spotted owls, reducing potential 
predation. Studies of roosting locations found that northern spotted 
owls tended to use stands with greater vertical canopy layering (Mills 
et al.1993, pp. 318-319), canopy closure (King 1993, p. 45), snag 
diameter (Mills et al. 1993, pp. 318-319), diameter of large trees 
(Herter et al. 2002, pp. 437, 441), and amounts of large woody debris 
(Chow 2001, p. 24; reviewed in Courtney et al. 2004, pp. 5-14 to 5-16, 
5-23). Northern spotted owls use the same habitat for both nesting and 
roosting; the characteristics of roosting habitat differ from those of 
nesting habitat only in that roosting habitat need not contain the 
specific structural features used for nesting (Thomas et al.1990, p. 
62). Aside from the presence of the nest structure, nesting and 
roosting habitat are generally inseparable.
    Habitat modeling developed for the Revised Recovery Plan (USFWS 
2011, Appendix C) and used as one means of helping us identify 
potential critical habitat for the northern spotted owl supports 
previous descriptions of nesting habitat (57 FR 1796, January 15, 1992; 
73 FR 47326, August 13, 2008), and suggests a high degree of similarity 
among the 11 ecological regions across the range of the species. Across 
regions, moderate to high suitability nesting habitat was characterized 
as having high canopy cover (65 to over 80 percent) and high basal area 
(240 ft\2\/ac; (55 m\2\/ha), mean dbh of conifers at least 16.5 to 24 
in (42 to 60 cm), and a significant component of larger trees (greater 
than 30 in (75 cm)).
Foraging Habitat
    Habitats used for foraging by northern spotted owls vary widely 
across the spotted owl's range, in accordance with ecological 
conditions and disturbance regimes that influence vegetation structure 
and prey species distributions. In general, spotted owls select old 
forests for foraging in greater proportion than its availability at the 
landscape scale (Carey et al. 1992, pp. 236 to 237; Carey and Peeler 
1995, p. 235; Forsman et al. 2005, pp. 372-373), but will forage in 
younger stands and brushy openings with high prey densities and access 
to prey (Carey et al. 1992, p. 247; Rosenberg and Anthony 1992, p. 165; 
Thome et al. 1999, pp. 56-57). Throughout much of the owl's range, the 
same habitat that provides for nesting and roosting also provides for 
foraging, although northern spotted owls have greater flexibility in 
utilizing a variety of habitats for foraging than they do for nesting 
and roosting. That is, habitats that meet the species' needs for 
nesting and roosting generally also provide for foraging (and 
dispersal) requirements of the owl. However, in some areas owls may use 
other types of habitats for foraging in addition to those used for 
nesting and roosting, thus habitat that supports foraging (or 
dispersal) does not always support the other PCEs and does not 
necessarily provide for nesting or roosting.

[[Page 14091]]

Variation in the potential use of various foraging habitats throughout 
the range of the northern spotted owl is described here.

West Cascades/Coast Ranges of Oregon and Washington

    In the West Cascades/Coast Ranges of Oregon and Washington, high-
quality foraging habitat is also nesting/roosting habitat. Foraging 
activity is positively associated with tree height diversity (North et 
al. 1999, p. 524), canopy closure (Irwin et al. 2000, p. 180; Courtney 
et al. 2004, p. 5-15), snag volume, density of snags greater than 20 in 
(50 cm) dbh (North et al. 1999, p. 524; Irwin et al. 2000, pp. 179-180; 
Courtney et al. 2004, p. 5-15), density of trees greater than or equal 
to 31 in (80 cm) dbh (North et al. 1999, p. 524) density of trees 20 to 
31 in (51 to 80 cm) dbh (Irwin et al. 2000, pp. 179-180), and volume of 
woody debris (Irwin et al. 2000, pp. 179-180).
    While the majority of studies reported strong associations with 
old-forest characteristics, younger forests with some structural 
characteristics (legacy features) of old forests (Carey et al. 1992, 
pp. 245 to 247; Irwin et al. 2000, pp. 178 to 179), hardwood forest 
patches and edges between old forest and hardwoods (Glenn et al. 2004, 
pp. 47-48) are also used by foraging spotted owls.

East Cascades

    Foraging habitats used by spotted owls in the East Cascades of 
Oregon, Washington and California were similar to those used in the 
Western Cascades, but can also encompass forest stands that exhibit 
somewhat lower mean tree sizes (quadratic mean diameter 16-22 in (40-55 
cm) (Irwin et al. 2012, p. 207). However, foraging activity was still 
positively associated with densities of large trees (greater than 26 in 
(66 cm)) and increasing basal area (Irwin et al. 2012, p. 206). Stands 
composed of Douglas-fir and white fir/Douglas-fir mix were preferred in 
some regions, whereas stands dominated by ponderosa pine were avoided 
(Irwin et al. 2012, p. 207).

Klamath and Northern California Interior Coast Ranges

    Because diets of northern spotted owls in the Klamath and Northern 
California Interior Coast Ranges consist predominantly of both northern 
flying squirrels and dusky-footed woodrats, habitats used for foraging 
spotted owls are much more variable than in northern portions of the 
species' range. As in other regions, foraging spotted owls select 
stands with mature and old-forest characteristics such as increasing 
mean stand diameter and densities of trees greater than 26 in (66 cm) 
(Irwin et al. 2012, p. 206) and mean stand diameter greater than 21 in 
(52.5 cm) (Solis and Gutierrez 1990, p. 747), high canopy cover (87 
percent at frequently used sites; Solis and Gutierrez 1990, p. 74, 
Table 3), and multiple canopy layers (Solis and Gutierrez 1990, p. 74; 
Anthony and Wagner 1999, pp. 14, 17). However, other habitat elements 
are disproportionately used, particularly forest patches within 
riparian zones of low-order streams (Solis and Gutierrez 1990, p. 747; 
Irwin et al. 2012, p. 208) and edges between conifer and hardwood 
forest stands (Zabel et al 1995, pp. 436-437; Ward et al. 1998, pp. 86, 
88-89). Foraging use is positively influenced by conifer species, 
including incense-cedar (Calocedrus decurrens), sugar pine (P. 
lambertiana), Douglas-fir, and hardwoods such as bigleaf maple (Acer 
macrophyllum), California black oak (Q. kelloggii), live oaks, and 
Pacific madrone (Arbutus menziesii) as well as shrubs (Sisco 1990, p. 
20; Irwin et al. 2012, pp. 206-207, 209-210), presumably because they 
produce mast important for prey species. Within a mosaic of mature and 
older forest habitat, brushy openings and dense young stands or low-
density forest patches also receive some use (Sisco 1990, pp. 9, 12, 
14, 16; Zabel et al. 1993, p. 19; Irwin et al. 2012, pp. 209-210).

Redwood Coast

    The preponderance of information regarding habitats used for 
foraging by spotted owls in the Redwood Coast zone comes from 
intensively managed industrial forests. In these environments, which 
comprise the majority of the redwood region, interspersion of foraging 
habitat and prey-producing habitat appears to be an important element 
of habitat suitability. Foraging habitat is used by owls to access prey 
and is characterized by a wide range of tree sizes and ages. Foraging 
activity by owls is positively associated with density of small to 
medium sized trees (10 to 22 in (25 to 56 cm)) and trees greater than 
26 in (66 cm) in diameter (Irwin et al. 2007b, p. 19) or greater than 
41 years of age (MacDonald et al. 2006, p. 381). Foraging was also 
positively associated with hardwood species, particularly tanoak 
(MacDonald et al. 2006, pp. 380-382; Irwin et al. 2007a, pp. 1188-
1189). Prey-producing habitats occur within early-seral habitats 6 to 
20 years old (Hamm and Diller 2009, p. 100, Table 2), typically 
resulting from clearcuts or other intensive harvest methods. Habitat 
elements within these openings include dense shrub and hardwood cover, 
and woody debris.
    Models developed for the Revised Recovery Plan (USFWS 2011, 
Appendix C) to assess habitat suitability for the northern spotted owl 
across the range of the species and applied here to help identify 
potential critical habitat were based on habitat conditions within 500-
acre (200-ha) core areas. Because core areas support a mix of nesting, 
roosting, and foraging habitats, their characteristics provide a basis 
for identification and quantification of PCEs.
Nonbreeding and Dispersal Habitat
    Although the term ``dispersal'' frequently refers to post fledgling 
movements of juveniles, for the purposes of this rule we are using the 
term to include all movement during both the transience and 
colonization phase, and to encompass important concepts of linkage and 
connectivity among owl subpopulations. Population growth can only occur 
if there is adequate habitat in an appropriate configuration to allow 
for the dispersal of owls across the landscape. Although habitat that 
allows for dispersal may currently be marginal or unsuitable for 
nesting, roosting, or foraging, it provides an important linkage 
function among blocks of nesting habitat both locally and over the 
owl's range that is essential to its conservation. However, as noted 
above, we expect dispersal success is highest when dispersers move 
through forests that have the characteristics of nesting-roosting and 
foraging habitats. Although spotted owls may be able to move through 
forests with less complex structure, survivorship is likely decreased. 
Dispersal habitat, at a minimum, consists of stands with adequate tree 
size and canopy closure to provide protection from avian predators and 
at least minimal foraging opportunities; there may be variations over 
the owl's range (e.g., drier site in the east Cascades or northern 
California). This may include younger and less diverse forest stands 
than foraging habitat, such as even-aged, pole-sized stands, but such 
stands should contain some roosting structures and foraging habitat to 
allow for temporary resting and feeding during the transience phase.
    Habitat supporting nonbreeding spotted owls or the colonization 
phase of dispersal is generally equivalent to nesting, roosting, and 
foraging habitat and is described above, although it may be in smaller 
amounts than that needed to support nesting pairs.

[[Page 14092]]

Primary Constituent Elements for the Northern Spotted Owl

    Based on our current knowledge of the life history, biology, and 
ecology of the northern spotted owl and the requirements of the habitat 
to sustain its essential life-history functions, as described above, we 
have determined that the PCEs for the northern spotted owl are:
    (1) Forest types that may be in early-, mid-, or late-seral stages 
and that support the northern spotted owl across its geographical 
range; these forest types are primarily:
    (a) Sitka spruce,
    (b) Western hemlock,
    (c) Mixed conifer and mixed evergreen,
    (d) Grand fir,
    (e) Pacific silver fir,
    (f) Douglas-fir,
    (g) White fir,
    (h) Shasta red fir,
    (i) Redwood/Douglas-fir (in coastal California and southwestern 
Oregon), and
    (j) The moist end of the ponderosa pine coniferous forests zones at 
elevations up to approximately 3,000 ft (900 m) near the northern edge 
of the range and up to approximately 6,000 ft (1,800 m) at the southern 
edge.
    (2) Habitat that provides for nesting and roosting. In many cases 
the same habitat also provides for foraging (PCE (3)). Nesting and 
roosting habitat provides structural features for nesting, protection 
from adverse weather conditions, and cover to reduce predation risks 
for adults and young. This PCE is found throughout the geographical 
range of the northern spotted owl, because stand structures at nest 
sites tend to vary little across the spotted owl's range. These 
habitats must provide:
    (a) Sufficient foraging habitat to meet the home range needs of 
territorial pairs of northern spotted owls throughout the year.
    (b) Stands for nesting and roosting that are generally 
characterized by:
    (i) Moderate to high canopy closure (60 to over 80 percent),
    (ii) Multilayered, multispecies canopies with large (20-30 in (51-
76 cm) or greater dbh) overstory trees,
    (iii) High basal area (greater than 240 ft\2\/acre (55 m\2\/ha)),
    (iv) High diversity of different diameters of trees,
    (v) High incidence of large live trees with various deformities 
(e.g., large cavities, broken tops, mistletoe infections, and other 
evidence of decadence),
    (vi) Large snags and large accumulations of fallen trees and other 
woody debris on the ground, and
    (vii) Sufficient open space below the canopy for northern spotted 
owls to fly.
    (3) Habitat that provides for foraging, which varies widely across 
the northern spotted owl's range, in accordance with ecological 
conditions and disturbance regimes that influence vegetation structure 
and prey species distributions. Across most of the owl's range, nesting 
and roosting habitat is also foraging habitat, but in some regions 
northern spotted owls may additionally use other habitat types for 
foraging as well. The specific foraging habitat PCEs for the four 
ecological zones within the geographical range of the northern spotted 
owl are the following:
(a) West Cascades/Coast Ranges of Oregon and Washington
    (i) Stands of nesting and roosting habitat; additionally, owls may 
use younger forests with some structural characteristics (legacy 
features) of old forests, hardwood forest patches, and edges between 
old forest and hardwoods;
    (ii) Moderate to high canopy closure (60 to over 80 percent);
    (iii) A diversity of tree diameters and heights;
    (iv) Increasing density of trees greater than or equal to 31 in (80 
cm) dbh increases foraging habitat quality (especially above 12 trees 
per ac (30 trees per ha));
    (v) Increasing density of trees 20 to 31 in (51 to 80 cm) dbh 
increases foraging habitat quality (especially above 24 trees per ac 
(60 trees per ha));
    (vi) Increasing snag basal area, snag volume (the product of snag 
diameter, height, estimated top diameter, and including a taper 
function (North et al. 1999, p. 523)), and density of snags greater 
than 20 in (50 cm) dbh all contribute to increasing foraging habitat 
quality, especially above 4 snags per ac (10 snags per ha);
    (vii) Large accumulations of fallen trees and other woody debris on 
the ground; and
    (viii) Sufficient open space below the canopy for northern spotted 
owls to fly.
(b) East Cascades
    (i) Stands of nesting and roosting habitat;
    (ii) Stands composed of Douglas-fir and white fir/Douglas-fir mix;
    (iii) Mean tree size greater than 16.5 in (42 cm) quadratic mean 
diameter;
    (iv) Increasing density of large trees (greater than 26 in (66 cm)) 
and increasing basal area (the total area covered by trees measured at 
breast height) increases foraging habitat quality;
    (v) Large accumulations of fallen trees and other woody debris on 
the ground; and
    (vi) Sufficient open space below the canopy for northern spotted 
owls to fly.
(c) Klamath and Northern California Interior Coast Ranges
    (i) Stands of nesting and roosting habitat; in addition, other 
forest types with mature and old-forest characteristics;
    (ii) Presence of the conifer species, incense-cedar, sugar pine, 
Douglas-fir, and hardwood species such as bigleaf maple, black oak, 
live oaks, and madrone, as well as shrubs;
    (iii) Forest patches within riparian zones of low-order streams and 
edges between conifer and hardwood forest stands;
    (iv) Brushy openings and dense young stands or low-density forest 
patches within a mosaic of mature and older forest habitat;
    (v) High canopy cover (87 percent at frequently used sites);
    (vi) Multiple canopy layers;
    (vii) Mean stand diameter greater than 21 in (52.5 cm);
    (viii) Increasing mean stand diameter and densities of trees 
greater than 26 in (66 cm) increases foraging habitat quality;
    (ix) Large accumulations of fallen trees and other woody debris on 
the ground; and
    (x) Sufficient open space below the canopy for northern spotted 
owls to fly.
(d) Redwood Coast
    (i) Nesting and roosting habitat; in addition, stands composed of 
hardwood tree species, particularly tanoak;
    (ii) Early-seral habitats 6 to 20 years old with dense shrub and 
hardwood cover and abundant woody debris; these habitats produce prey, 
and must occur in conjunction with nesting, roosting, or foraging 
habitat;
    (iii) Increasing density of small-to-medium sized trees (10 to 22 
in (25 to 56 cm)) increases foraging habitat quality;
    (iv) Trees greater than 26 in (66 cm) in diameter or greater than 
41 years of age; and
    (v) Sufficient open space below the canopy for northern spotted 
owls to fly.
    (4) Habitat to support the transience and colonization phases of 
dispersal, which in all cases would optimally be composed of nesting, 
roosting, or foraging habitat (PCEs (2) or (3)), but which may also be 
composed of other forest types that occur between larger blocks of 
nesting, roosting, and foraging

[[Page 14093]]

habitat. In cases where nesting, roosting, or foraging habitats are 
insufficient to provide for dispersing or nonbreeding owls, the 
specific dispersal habitat PCEs for the northern spotted owl may be 
provided by the following:
    (a) Habitat supporting the transience phase of dispersal, which 
includes:
    (i) Stands with adequate tree size and canopy closure to provide 
protection from avian predators and minimal foraging opportunities; in 
general this may include, but is not limited to, trees with at least 11 
in (28 cm) dbh and a minimum 40 percent canopy closure; and
    (ii) Younger and less diverse forest stands than foraging habitat, 
such as even-aged, pole-sized stands, if such stands contain some 
roosting structures and foraging habitat to allow for temporary resting 
and feeding during the transience phase.
    (b) Habitat supporting the colonization phase of dispersal, which 
is generally equivalent to nesting, roosting, and foraging habitat as 
described in PCEs (2) and (3), but may be smaller in area than that 
needed to support nesting pairs.
    This proposed revised designation describes the physical or 
biological features and their primary constituent elements essential to 
support the life-history functions of the northern spotted owl. We have 
determined that all of the units and subunits proposed for designation 
were most likely occupied by the northern spotted owl at the time of 
listing, with the exception of one subunit, and that, depending on the 
scale at which occupancy is considered, some smaller areas within the 
subunits may have been unoccupied at the time of listing. In such 
cases, we have evaluated those areas and determined that they are 
essential to the conservation of the species, as described in Criteria 
Used to Identify Critical Habitat. The Criteria section also describes 
our evaluation of the amount and configuration of the physical or 
biological features on the landscape to determine where those features 
are essential to the conservation of the spotted owl. We have further 
determined that the physical or biological features essential to the 
conservation of the northern spotted owl require special management 
considerations or protection, as described below.
    In areas occupied at the time of listing, not all of the proposed 
revised critical habitat will contain all of the PCEs, because not all 
life-history functions require all of the PCEs. Some subunits contain 
all PCEs and support multiple life processes, while some subunits may 
contain only those PCEs necessary to support the species' particular 
use of that habitat. However, all of the areas proposed for designation 
support at least the first PCE described (forest-type), in conjunction 
with at least one other PCE. Thus PCE (1) must always occur in concert 
with at least one additional PCE (PCE 2, 3, or 4).

Special Management Considerations or Protection

    The term critical habitat is defined in section 3(5)(A) of the Act, 
in part, as geographical areas on which are found those physical or 
biological features essential to the conservation of the species and 
``which may require special management considerations or protection.'' 
Accordingly, in identifying critical habitat in areas occupied at the 
time of listing, we determine whether the features essential to the 
conservation of the species on those areas may require any special 
management actions or protection. Here we present a discussion of the 
special management considerations or protections that may be required 
throughout the proposed critical habitat for the northern spotted owl.
    An effective critical habitat strategy needs to conserve extant, 
high-quality northern spotted owl habitat in order to reverse declining 
population trends and address the threat from barred owls. The northern 
spotted owl was initially listed as a threatened species due largely to 
both historical and ongoing habitat loss and degradation. The recovery 
of the northern spotted owl therefore requires both protection of 
habitat and management where necessary to provide sufficient high-
quality habitat to allow for population growth and to provide a buffer 
against threats such as competition with the barred owl. Recovery 
Criterion 3 in the Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl 
is the ``Continued Maintenance and Recruitment of Spotted Owl 
Habitat,'' which is further described as the achievement of a stable or 
increasing trend in spotted owl nesting, roosting, and foraging habitat 
throughout the range of the species. Meeting this recovery criterion 
will require special management considerations or protection of the 
physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the 
northern spotted owl in all of the proposed critical habitat units and 
subunits, as described here.
    The 2011 Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl 
describes the three main threats to the spotted owl as competition from 
barred owls, past habitat loss, and current habitat loss (USFWS 2011, 
p. III-42). As the barred owl is present throughout the range of the 
northern spotted owl, special management considerations or protections 
may be required in all of the proposed critical habitat units and 
subunits to ensure the northern spotted owl has sufficient habitat 
available to withstand competitive pressure from the barred owl (Dugger 
et al. 2011, pp. 2459, 2467). In addition, scientific peer reviewers 
and Forsman et al. (2011, p. 77) recommended that we address currently 
observed downward demographic trends in spotted owl populations by 
protecting currently occupied sites as well as historically occupied 
sites, and by maintaining and restoring older and more structurally 
complex multi-layered conifer forests on all lands (USFWS 2011, pp. 
III-42 to III-43). The types of management or protections that may be 
required to achieve these goals and maintain the physical or biological 
features essential to the conservation of the owl in occupied areas 
vary across the range of the species. Some areas of northern spotted 
owl habitat, particularly in wetter forest types, are unlikely to be 
enhanced by active management activities but instead need protection of 
the essential features, whereas other forest areas would likely benefit 
from more proactive forestry management. For example, in drier, more 
fire-prone regions of the owl's range, habitat conditions will likely 
be more dynamic, and more active management may be required to reduce 
the risk of the essential physical or biological features from fire, 
insects, disease, and climate change as well as to promote regeneration 
following disturbance.
    As discussed in detail in the Revised Recovery Plan (USFWS 2011, 
pp. III-11 to III-39), long-term spotted owl recovery could benefit 
from forest management where the basic goals are to restore or maintain 
ecological processes and resilience. Special management considerations 
or protections may be required throughout the proposed critical habitat 
to achieve these goals and benefit the conservation of the owl. The 
natural ecological processes and landscape that once provided large 
areas of relatively contiguous spotted owl habitat have been altered by 
a history of anthropogenic activities such as timber harvest, road 
construction, development, agricultural conversion, and fire 
suppression. The resilience of these systems is now additionally 
challenged by the effects of climate change. As recommended in the 
Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl, active forest 
management may be

[[Page 14094]]

required throughout the range of the owl with the goal of maintaining 
or restoring forest ecosystem structure, composition, and processes so 
they are sustainable and resilient under current and future climate 
conditions to provide for the long-term conservation of the species 
(USFWS 2011, p. III-13). For example, in some areas past management 
practices have decreased age-class diversity and altered the structure 
of forest patches; in these areas, management such as targeted 
vegetation treatments could simultaneously reduce fuel loads and 
increase canopy and age-class diversity (USFWS 2011, p. III-18). 
Special management considerations or protections may be required in 
areas with regeneration harvest in moist forests to enhance within-
stand structural diversity, by emphasizing the retention of larger and 
older trees, or any trees with characteristics that create stand 
diversity, and may even require specific actions to maintain or develop 
suitable nest structures (USFWS 2011, p. III-20). In dry forest 
regions, where natural disturbance regimes and vegetation structure, 
composition, and distribution have been substantially altered since 
Euro-American settlement, vegetation management may be required to 
retain spotted owl habitat on the landscape by altering fire behavior 
and severity, and potentially to restore a more natural balance between 
forest vegetation and disturbance regimes. Special management 
considerations may be required to maintain adequate spotted owl habitat 
in the near term to allow spotted owls to persist in the face of 
threats from barred owl expansion and habitat alterations from fire and 
other disturbances, and to restore landscapes that are more resilient 
to alterations projected to occur with ongoing climate change (USFWS 
2011, p. III-32).
    Because the specific management approaches and types of forest 
where they should be applied in order to maintain sufficient suitable 
habitat across the range of the owl will vary geographically, here we 
provide more detailed recommendations of the types of management 
considerations or protections that may be required to preserve or 
enhance the essential physical or biological features for the northern 
spotted owl in the West Cascades/Coast Ranges of Oregon and Washington, 
East Cascades, Klamath and Northern California Interior Coast Ranges, 
and the Redwood Coast.

West Cascades/Coast Ranges of Oregon and Washington

    Special management considerations or protection may be required in 
areas of moist forests to conserve or protect older stands that contain 
northern spotted owl sites (RA10: USFWS 2011, p. 43) or contain high-
value northern spotted owl habitat (RA32: USFWS 2011, p. 67). 
Silvicultural treatments are generally not needed to maintain existing 
old-growth forests on moist sites (Wimberly et al. 2004, p. 155; 
Johnson and Franklin 2009, pp. 3, 39). In contrast to dry and mesic 
forests, short-term fire risk is generally lower in the moist forests 
that dominate on the west side of the Cascade Range, and occur east of 
the Cascades as a higher-elevation band or as peninsulas or inclusions 
in mesic forests. Disturbance-based management for forests and northern 
spotted owls in moist forest areas should be different from that 
applied in dry or mesic forests. Efforts to alter either fuel loading 
or potential fire behavior in these sites could have undesirable 
ecological consequences as well (Johnson and Franklin 2009, p. 39; 
Mitchell et al. 2009, pp. 653-654; USFWS 2011, p. III-17).
    In general, to advance long-term northern spotted owl recovery and 
ecosystem restoration in moist forests in the face of climate change 
and past management practices, special management considerations or 
protections may be required that follow these principles as recommended 
in the 2011 Revised Recovery Plan (USFWS 2011, p. III-18):
    (1) Conserve older stands that have occupied or high-value northern 
spotted owl habitat as described in Recovery Actions 10 and 32 (USFWS 
2011, pp. III-43, III-67). On Federal lands this recommendation applies 
to all land-use allocations outside of Congressionally reserved Areas 
(see also Thomas et al. 2006, pp. 284-285).
    (2) Management emphasis needs to be placed on meeting northern 
spotted owl recovery goals and long-term ecosystem restoration and 
conservation. When there is a conflict between these goals, actions 
that would disturb or remove the essential physical or biological 
features of northern spotted owl critical habitat need to be minimized 
and reconciled with long-term ecosystem restoration goals to avoid 
adverse modification (see Adverse Modification section for specific 
details).
    (3) Continue to manage for large, continuous blocks of late-
successional forest.
    (4) Regeneration harvest, if carried out, should consider 
ecological forestry principles. One example that could be utilized is 
Franklin et al. (2002, pp. 417-421; 2007, entire), Drever et al. (2006, 
entire), Johnson and Franklin (2009, pp. 39-41), Swanson et al. (2010, 
entire), and others cited in the Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern 
Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011, pp. III-14, III-17 to III-19).
    These special management considerations or protections apply to 
Units 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6 of the proposed revised critical habitat.

East Cascades

    Special management considerations or protection may be required in 
the East Cascades to address the effects of past activities associated 
with Euro-American settlement, such as timber harvest, livestock 
grazing, fire suppression, and fire exclusion, that have substantially 
altered the inland northwest, modifying the patterns of vegetation and 
fuels, and subsequent disturbance regimes to the degree that 
contemporary landscapes no longer function as they did historically 
(Hessburg et al. 2000a, pp. 74-81; Hessburg and Agee 2003, pp. 44-46; 
Hessburg et al. 2005, pp. 134-135; Skinner et al. 2006, pp. 178-179; 
Skinner and Taylor 2006, pp. 201-203). This has affected not only the 
existing forest and disturbance regimes, but the quality, amount, and 
distribution of northern spotted owl habitat on the landscape. In order 
to preserve the essential physical or biological features, these 
dynamic, disturbance-prone forests must be managed in a way that 
promotes northern spotted owl conservation, responds to climate change, 
and restores dry forest ecological structure, composition and 
processes, including wildfire and other disturbances (USFWS 2011, p. 
III-20). The following restoration principles apply to the management 
that may be required in this dry forest region (USFWS 2011, pp. III-34 
to III-35):
    (1) Emphasize vegetation management treatments outside of northern 
spotted owl core areas or high-value habitat where consistent with 
overall landscape project goals;
    (2) Design and implement restoration treatments at the landscape 
level;
    (3) Retain and restore key structural components, including large 
and old trees, large snags, and downed logs;
    (4) Retain and restore heterogeneity within stands;
    (5) Retain and restore heterogeneity among stands;
    (6) Manage roads to address fire risk; and
    (7) Use wildfires to meet vegetation management objectives where 
appropriate.
    The above principles will result in treatments that have a variety 
of effects on northern spotted owl habitat in the short and long term. 
For example, some

[[Page 14095]]

restoration treatments may have an immediate neutral or beneficial 
effect on existing northern spotted owl habitat (e.g., roads 
management, some prescribed fire prescriptions). Other treatments, 
however, may involve reductions in stand densities, canopy closure, or 
ladder fuels (understory vegetation that has the potential to carry up 
into a crown fire)--and thus affect the physical or biological features 
needed by the species. At the stand scale, this can result in a level 
of conflict between conserving existing northern spotted owl habitat 
and restoring dry-forest ecosystems. We typically cannot expect to meet 
both objectives on the same acre if that acre currently functions as 
suitable northern spotted owl habitat. We can reconcile this conflict, 
however, by managing at the landscape scale.
    Land managers need to move away from implementing many small, 
uncoordinated and independent fuel-reduction and restoration 
treatments. Instead, coordinated and strategic efforts that link 
individual projects to the larger objectives of restoring landscapes 
while conserving and recovering northern spotted owl habitat are needed 
(sensu Sisk et al. 2005, entire; Prather et al. 2008, entire; Gaines et 
al. 2010, entire).
    The special management considerations or protections identified 
here apply to Units 7 and 8 of the proposed revised critical habitat.

Klamath and Northern California Interior Coast Ranges

    The special management considerations or protections that may be 
required in the Klamath and Northern California Interior Coast Ranges 
represent a mix of the requirements needed to maintain or enhance the 
essential physical or biological features in mesic and dry forest 
types. This region in southwestern Oregon and northwestern California 
is characterized by very high climatic and vegetative diversity 
resulting from steep gradients of elevation, dissected topography, and 
large differences in moisture from west to east. Summer temperatures 
are high, and northern spotted owls occur at elevations up to 1,768 m 
(5,800 ft). Western portions of this zone support a diverse mix of 
mesic forest communities interspersed with drier forest types. Forests 
of mixed conifers and evergreen hardwoods are typical of the zone. 
Eastern portions of this zone have a Mediterranean climate with 
increased occurrence of ponderosa pine. Douglas-fir dwarf mistletoe is 
rarely used for nesting platforms in the west, but commonly used in the 
east. The prey base for northern spotted owls in this zone is 
correspondingly diverse, but is dominated by dusky-footed woodrats, 
bushy-tailed woodrats, and flying squirrels. Northern spotted owls have 
been well studied in the Klamath portion of this zone, but relatively 
little is known about northern spotted owl habitat use in the 
California Interior Coast Range portion of the zone.
    High canopy cover (65 to 75 percent), high levels of canopy 
layering, and the presence of very large dominant trees were all 
important features of nesting and roosting habitat. Compared to other 
zones, models of foraging habitat for this zone showed greater 
divergence from nesting habitat, with much lower canopy cover and tree 
size. Low to intermediate slope positions were strongly favored. In the 
eastern Klamath, presence of Douglas-fir was an important compositional 
variable. Habitat associations in the Klamath zone are diverse and 
unique, reflecting the climate, topography, and vegetation of this 
area. Nesting and roosting habitat somewhat resembles that of other 
zones, with a greater emphasis on topography that provides some relief 
from high temperatures. Foraging habitat in this zone includes more 
open forests. Consequently, management actions consistent with 
maintaining and developing northern spotted owl habitat need to 
consider local conditions. In some areas, appropriate management will 
be more consistent with dry forest management strategies, while in 
other areas wet forest management strategies will be more appropriate.
    This region contains habitat characteristics of both moist and dry 
forests interspersed across a highly diverse landscape (Halofsky et al. 
2011, p. 1). The special management recommendations from the moist and 
dry forest sections, above, apply to the management actions or 
protections that may be required in the Klamath and Northern California 
Interior Coast Ranges. Similar to the discussion in moist forests 
concerning conservation of small patches of early seral habitat, Perry 
et al. (2011, p. 715) noted that replacement of early successional 
shrub-hardwood communities by closed forests in the absence of fire 
significantly impacts landscape diversity. Restoration of appropriate 
fire regimes and use of targeted silvicultural intervention may be 
effective where the goal is to restore or maintain this diversity 
(Halofsky et al. 2011, p. 15).
    The special management considerations or protections identified 
here apply to Units 9, 10, and 11 of the proposed revised critical 
habitat.

Redwood Coast

    Special management considerations or protection may be needed in 
the Redwood Coast Zone to maintain or enhance the essential physical or 
biological features for the owl. Although the Redwood Coast zone of 
coastal northern California is considered part of the wet/moist forest 
region within the range of the northern spotted owl, there are distinct 
differences in northern spotted owl habitat use and diet within this 
zone. The long growing season in this region, combined with redwood's 
ability to resprout from stumps, allows redwood stands to attain 
suitable stand structure for nesting in a relatively short period of 
time (40-60 years) if legacy structures are present. Late-successional 
forest is an important component of nesting and roosting habitat in the 
Redwood Zone, and demographic productivity on northern spotted owl 
breeding sites has been positively correlated with the density of 
legacy trees in proximity to owl nest sites (Thome et al. 1999, p. 57). 
In contrast to the large, contiguous, older stands desired in other wet 
provinces, some degree of fine-scale fragmentation in redwood forests 
appears to benefit northern spotted owls. Forest openings aged 5-20 
years (e.g., harvest units or burns), with dense shrub and hardwood 
cover, and abundant food sources, provide high-quality habitat for the 
northern spotted owl's primary prey, the dusky-footed woodrat. 
Relatively secure from owl predation, woodrats tend to overpopulate 
these openings and the demographic pressure drives surplus individuals 
into nearby older stands with sparse understories where they are highly 
vulnerable to owl predation. Woodrat populations within recent openings 
probably peak by about stand age 10. Food sources and understory cover 
decline steadily through about stand age 20, when the woodrat 
population-source diminishes. In northern spotted owl territories 
within the Redwood Zone, active management that creates small openings 
in proximity to nesting, roosting, or foraging habitat may be required 
to enhance northern spotted owl foraging opportunities.
    The special management considerations or protections identified 
here apply to Unit 3 of the proposed revised critical habitat.
Summary of Special Management Considerations or Protection
    We find that each of the areas occupied at the time of listing that 
we are proposing as critical habitat contains features essential to the 
conservation of the species that may require special

[[Page 14096]]

management considerations or protection to ensure the conservation of 
the northern spotted owl. These special management considerations or 
protection are required to preserve and enhance the essential features 
needed to achieve the conservation of the northern spotted owl. 
Additional information on management activities compatible with spotted 
owl conservation can be found within the Section 7 Consultation section 
in the proposed rule.

Criteria Used To Identify Critical Habitat

    As required by section 4(b)(1)(A) of the Act, we use the best 
scientific and commercial data available to designate critical habitat. 
We have reviewed the available information pertaining to the habitat 
requirements of the species. In accordance with the Act and its 
implementing regulations at 50 CFR 424.12(e), based on this review, we 
have identified the specific areas within the geographical area 
occupied by the species at the time it was listed on which are found 
those physical or biological features essential to the conservation of 
the species, and which may require special management considerations or 
protection. In addition, we considered whether any additional areas 
outside those occupied at the time of listing are essential for the 
conservation of the species.

Occupied Areas

    For the purpose of developing and evaluating this proposed revised 
critical habitat for the northern spotted owl, we used a definition of 
``geographical area occupied by the species'' at the time it was listed 
consistent with the species' distribution, population ecology, and use 
of space. We based our identification of ``occupied'' geographical area 
on: (1) The distribution of verified spotted owl locations and (2) 
scientific information regarding spotted owl population structure and 
habitat associations.
    Our proposed critical habitat is based in part on the distribution 
of approximately 4,000 spotted owl territories verified as occupied at 
the time of listing, across the geographical range of the species 
(USFWS 2011, p. C-62). We use the term ``verified'' here to represent 
locations for which we have records indicating the presence of spotted 
owls at the time of listing. These data are the result of surveys 
conducted by Federal and State agencies, private timber companies, and 
researchers between 1987 and 1996. We consider this time period to 
reasonably represent the time of listing because spotted owls are 
relatively long-lived and exhibit a high degree of fidelity to 
territory core areas; their territory locations are therefore 
relatively stable through time unless substantial changes occur to 
territory habitat. For this reason, we consider it highly likely that 
locations occupied between 1987-1990 and 1990-1996 were also occupied 
at the time of listing in 1990.
    However, because large areas within the species' geographical range 
had not been surveyed, the distribution of northern spotted owl 
populations was incompletely known at the time the species was listed, 
and remains so today. For this reason, designating critical habitat 
based solely on the locations of territories identified through surveys 
would exclude a substantial proportion of the area that was likely 
occupied by the species at the time of listing and that provides the 
physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the 
species. To address this we developed and tested a habitat suitability 
model based on habitat selected by the approximately 4,000 known owl 
pairs. This enables us to reliably identify other areas that were 
likely supporting spotted owl territories at the time of listing, based 
on habitat value (USFWS 2011, Appendix C).
    Furthermore, restricting a definition of occupancy to areas known 
to be used by resident territorial owls overlooks a large segment of 
the owl population that is not generally reflected in standard survey 
methodologies, as described below. Spotted owl populations consist of 
the territorial, resident owls for which we have documentation of 
occupancy throughout much of the owl's range, described above, but also 
includes nonterritorial adult `floaters' and dispersing subadult owls. 
Both dispersing subadults and nonterritorial floaters are consistently 
present on the landscape and require suitable habitat to support 
dispersal and survival until they recruit into the breeding population; 
this habitat requirement is in addition to that already utilized by 
resident territorial owls. Non-territorial owls are difficult to detect 
in surveys because most surveys rely on territorial defense behavior of 
resident owls (responding to owl calls) to determine their presence. 
Because they are difficult to detect, the number and distribution of 
nonterritorial and dispersing owls is poorly known for any given 
spotted owl population. However, they constitute essential elements of 
spotted owl populations, and can reliably be assumed to occur in 
suitable habitat within the same landscapes occupied by territorial 
owls. Therefore, if suitable habitat to support northern spotted owls 
was present at the time the species was listed, and if the presence of 
northern spotted owls was documented in the same landscape, it is 
highly likely that non-territorial adults or dispersing subadults were 
also present at the time of listing.
    Based on the best available scientific information regarding 
population structure of northern spotted owls, we define ``occupied'' 
as encompassing (1) home ranges of resident, territorial spotted owls 
known from surveys to be present at the time of listing, (2) home 
ranges of territorial owls determined likely to have been present at 
the time of listing based on a model developed specifically to predict 
owl presence based on relative habitat suitability, and (3) 
nonterritorial and dispersing owls that were likely to be present 
within the matrix of territories in a given landscape known to be 
occupied by resident owl pairs.
    Having determined our working definition of the term ``occupied,'' 
we then defined ``specific areas'' as used in the definition of 
critical habitat, 16 U.S.C. 1532(5)(A)(i), to conform with known 
patterns of space-use and distribution exhibited by spotted owls. 
Spotted owls are wide-ranging organisms that maintain large home ranges 
and disperse relatively long distances. As described earlier, 
territorial northern spotted owls cover home ranges from roughly 1,400 
ac (570 ha) at the southern end of their range (Zabel et al. 1995, p. 
436) up to over 14,000 ac (5,700 ha) (USDI 1992, p. 23; USFWS 1994 in 
litt., p. 1) in the northern portion of the species' range. These large 
home ranges often overlap with those of neighboring spotted owls, such 
that large landscapes may be fully occupied by population clusters in 
areas where suitable habitat is well distributed. While this was more 
the case when the northern spotted owl was first listed, prior to 
extensive colonization of the species' range by the barred owl, many 
demographic study areas still exhibit a pattern of overlapping home 
ranges over large landscapes.
    To evaluate the proportion of each subunit proposed for designation 
that was comprised of areas known to be occupied by northern spotted 
owls at the time of listing, we calculated the area within estimated 
home ranges (USFWS 2011, p. C-63 Table C-24) for all verified spotted 
owl locations known at the time of listing, as described above. 
Overall, 84.5 percent of the area proposed for designation is within 
home ranges of verified territorial spotted owl located through surveys 
at the time of listing; this area is entirely representative of 
verified owl locations,

[[Page 14097]]

and does not include habitat likely to be occupied based on habitat 
suitability or non-resident owls. Twenty-two (35 percent) of the 63 
subunits proposed for designation have at least 90 percent of their 
area within verified known home ranges; 51 (66 percent) have at least 
70 percent. As explained above, given that these areas represent 
occupancy by verified resident owls only, and considering the suitable 
habitat available at the time of listing in these same landscapes, the 
remainder of these areas were likely occupied by other resident owls, 
non-territorial adult owls (floaters) or dispersing subadults.
    To help us identify and map potential critical habitat for the owl, 
we used a three-step modeling framework developed as part of the 
Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl that integrates a 
spotted owl habitat model, a habitat conservation planning model, and a 
population simulation model. The details of this modeling framework are 
presented in Appendix C of the Revised Recovery Plan (USFWS 2011), and 
a detailed technical description of the modeling and habitat network 
selection process we used in this proposed revised designation of 
critical habitat is provided in Dunk et al. (2011, entire). Both of 
these supporting documents are available at http://www.regulations.gov 
(see ADDRESSES), or by contacting the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office 
(see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). Each of the three models helped 
identify an important element of the statutory definition of critical 
habitat: The identification of physical or biological features needed 
by the species; the distribution of those features across the 
geographical range of the species occupied at the time of listing; and 
the identification of a landscape configuration where these features, 
as well as any necessary unoccupied areas, are essential to the 
conservation of the species.
    The overall approach for critical habitat modeling consisted of 
three main steps (USFWS 2011, Appendix C, p. C-3) to help refine, 
select, and evaluate a series of alternative critical habitat networks 
for the northern spotted owl. These steps are summarized here, and then 
each is described in further detail.
    Step 1: At the outset, the attributes of forest composition and 
structure and characteristics of the physical environment associated 
with nesting, roosting, and foraging habitat--physical and biological 
features used by the species--were identified based on the habitat 
selection exhibited by nearly 4,000 known owl pairs (USFWS 2011, pp. C-
20 to C-28). We then used these physical and biological features of 
nesting, roosting, and foraging habitats to create a range-wide map of 
(relative) habitat suitability (MaxEnt) (Phillips et al. 2006, entire; 
Phillips and Dudik 2008, entire). In addition to providing a map of 
relative habitat suitability, this process allowed us to evaluate an 
area's suitability and determine whether the presence of the species 
was likely based on an assessment of known species-habitat 
relationships.
    Step 2: We developed northern spotted owl habitat networks based on 
the relative habitat suitability map using the Zonation conservation 
planning model (Moilanen and Kujala 2008, entire). The Zonation model 
used a hierarchical prioritization of the landscape based on relative 
habitat suitability and other user-specified criteria (e.g., land 
ownership) to develop the most efficient solutions for incorporating 
high value habitat. Zonation analyses were conducted separately for 
each region to ensure that reserves would be well-distributed across 
the range of the owl. Zonation also allowed for consideration of land 
ownership in development of reserve designs.
    Step 3: In the last step, we determined where the physical and 
biological features, as well as unoccupied areas, are essential to the 
conservation of the species. To do this we used a spatially-explicit 
northern spotted owl population model (HexSim) (Schumaker 2008, entire) 
to predict relative responses of northern spotted owl populations to 
different habitat network designs, and evaluated these responses 
against the recovery objectives and criteria for the northern spotted 
owl using a rule set based on those criteria. Simulations from these 
models are not meant to be estimates of what will occur in the future, 
but rather provide information on trends predicted to occur under 
different network designs; this allowed us to compare the relative 
performance of various habitat scenarios.
    In Step 1 of the modeling framework, we created a series of spotted 
owl habitat models that provide the basis for mapping spotted owl 
habitat. Based on published research, input from individual experts, 
and analysis of spotted owl location and habitat data, we developed 
relative habitat suitability models. These relative habitat suitability 
models identify areas with habitat that provides the combination of 
variables (forest composition and structure, and abiotic factors such 
as elevation, precipitation, and temperature) with a high predictive 
probability of supporting spotted owls, based on data gathered from 
known owl sites. Applying these models enables the Service to identify 
and describe the physical or biological features essential to the 
conservation of the owl by correlating these features with the nesting, 
roosting, and foraging habitats known to be utilized by resident owls, 
and to map their distribution across the range of the owl (USFWS 2011, 
pp. C-27 to C-42, C-62). Because the models are based on data from 
nearly 4,000 owl sites occupied at the time of listing (USFWS 2011, p. 
C-62), model outputs highlight surveyed and known to be occupied 
habitat. However, they also identify areas with habitat likely to have 
supported owls at the time of listing, based on habitat suitability, 
and areas that may have been unoccupied at the time of listing, but 
that may be essential to the conservation of the species based on their 
relative habitat suitability and potential to provide areas with the 
habitat characteristics needed for population growth or dispersal (see 
below). To ensure that the variety of physical or biological features 
used by spotted owls across their range is represented in the models, 
we applied separate habitat models for each of 11 ecological regions 
based on differences in forest environments, spotted owl habitat use 
and prey distribution, and variation in ecological conditions. (USFWS 
2011, C-7 to C-13).
    In Step 2 of the modeling framework, we used a habitat conservation 
planning model (Zonation) (Moilanen et al. 2005, entire; Moilanen and 
Kujala 2008, entire) to develop a spotted owl conservation planning 
model. We used this in the critical habitat process to aggregate areas 
of greatest relative habitat suitability (areas that provide the 
physical or biological features, or essential unoccupied habitat) from 
Step 1 into discrete units. This process provided a series of maps 
representing a range of alternative critical habitat networks, each 
containing a different amount and distribution of spotted owl habitat 
quality. The Zonation model seeks to provide the most efficient design 
(most habitat value on smallest land area) and allowed us to maximize 
reliance on public lands to achieve recovery goals.
    In Step 3 of the modeling framework, we developed a spotted owl 
population simulation model that allowed us to simulate the relative 
population responses of spotted owls to various habitat conservation 
network scenarios (HexSim) (Schumaker 2011, entire). In developing this 
proposed rulemaking, we used this spotted owl population simulation 
model to compare alternative critical habitat networks and evaluate

[[Page 14098]]

each design's ability to meet the recovery goals and criteria for the 
northern spotted owl (described further below). This step of the 
process enabled us to determine the amount and configuration of 
physical or biological features on the landscape that are essential to 
the conservation of the owl. It also helped us to determine which 
unoccupied areas are essential to the conservation of the species. By 
evaluating spotted owl population metrics such as relative population 
size, population trend, and extinction risk that resulted from each 
scenario evaluated, we believe we are proposing the most efficient 
habitat network to conserve the northern spotted owl, with the 
potential to support an increasing or stable population trend of 
northern spotted owls; that exhibits relatively low extinction risk, 
both rangewide and at the recovery unit scale (recovery units, as 
identified in the Revised Recovery Plan, are defined by physiographic 
provinces (USFWS 2011, pp. III-1 to III-2)), and that achieves adequate 
connectivity among recovery units, while prioritizing reliance on 
public lands.
    We determined what is essential to recovery of the spotted owl by 
evaluating the performance of each potential critical habitat scenario 
considered against the recovery needs of the owl. In contrast with 
earlier conservation modeling efforts for the spotted owl, the modeling 
framework we utilized does not rely on a priori rule sets for features 
such as size of habitat blocks, number of owl pairs per block, or 
distance between blocks (USFWS 2011, p. C-4) to determine what is 
essential for the conservation of the species. Instead, we evaluated 
spotted owl population metrics such as relative population size and 
trend to determine what is essential to owl conservation, both in terms 
of where and how much of the physical or biological features are 
essential and how much unoccupied habitat is essential to meet the 
recovery objectives for the owl, as defined in the Revised Recovery 
Plan (USFWS 2011, p. ix) and detailed in our supporting documentation 
(Dunk et al. 2012, entire).
    To accomplish this, we developed a rule set for the identification 
of critical habitat based on the ability of that habitat to meet the 
recovery objectives and criteria set forth in the Revised Recovery Plan 
for the Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The recovery 
objectives for the northern spotted owl are:
    (1) Spotted owl populations are sufficiently large and distributed 
such that the species no longer requires listing under the Act;
    (2) Adequate habitat is available for spotted owls and will 
continue to exist to allow the species to persist without the 
protection of the Act; and
    (3) The effects of threats have been reduced or eliminated such 
that spotted owl populations are stable or increasing and spotted owls 
are unlikely to become threatened again in the foreseeable future.
    The recovery criteria for the northern spotted owl (aside from the 
requirement for post-delisting monitoring) are:
    Recovery Criterion 1--Stable Population Trend: The overall 
population trend of spotted owls throughout the range is stable or 
increasing over 10 years, as measured by a statistically reliable 
monitoring effort.
    Recovery Criterion 2--Adequate Population Distribution: Spotted owl 
subpopulations within each province (i.e., recovery unit), excluding 
the Willamette Valley Province) achieve viability, as informed by the 
HexSim population model or some other appropriate quantitative measure.
    Recovery Criterion 3--Continued Maintenance and Recruitment of 
Spotted Owl Habitat: The future range-wide trend in spotted owl 
nesting/roosting and foraging habitat is stable or increasing 
throughout the range, from the date of Revised Recovery Plan approval, 
as measured by effectiveness monitoring efforts or other reliable 
habitat monitoring programs.
    We used the following rule set to compare and evaluate the 
potential of various habitat scenarios to meet these recovery 
objectives and criteria for the northern spotted owl, and thus 
determine what is essential to the conservation of the northern spotted 
owl:
    (1) Ensure sufficient habitat to support population viability 
across the range of the species.
    (a) Habitat can support an increasing or stable population trend, 
as measured by a population growth rate of 1.0 or greater.
    (b) Habitat will be sufficient to insure a low risk of extinction.
    (2) Support demographically stable populations in each recovery 
unit.
    (a) Habitat can support an increasing or stable population trend in 
each recovery unit.
    (b) Habitat will be sufficient to insure a low risk of extinction 
in each recovery unit.
    (c) Conserve or enhance connectivity within and among recovery 
units.
    (d) Conserve genetic diversity.
    (e) Ensure sufficient spatial redundancy in critical habitat within 
each recovery unit.
    (i) Accommodate habitat disturbance due to fire, insects, disease, 
and catastrophic events.
    (3) Ensure distribution of spotted owl populations across 
representative habitats.
    (a) Maintain distribution across the full ecological gradient of 
the historical range.
    (4) Acknowledge uncertainty associated with both future habitat 
conditions and spotted owl population performance--including influence 
of barred owls, climate change, fire/disturbance risk, and demographic 
stochasticity--in assessment of critical habitat design.
    These critical habitat objectives of supporting population 
viability and demographically stable populations are intended to be met 
in concert with the implementation of recovery actions to address other 
non-habitat based threats to the owl.
    We applied this rule set to the outcome of HexSim runs on the 
various habitat scenarios considered (see Appendix C of the Revised 
Recovery Plan (USFWS 2011) and Dunk et al. 2012, entire, for all 
details). Each HexSim run began with a population of 10,000 females 
(all population metrics are in numbers of females), consisted of 100 
replicates and 350 time steps for each habitat scenario considered, and 
included the introduction of environmental stochasticity. We then 
evaluated the relative performance of each habitat scenario using 
numerous metrics to assess the ability of that scenario to meet the 
specified recovery goals for the northern spotted owl, as laid out in 
our rule set for identifying critical habitat; these metrics were 
evaluated at the scale of each region, as well as collectively 
rangewide. Our metrics of population performance resulting from each 
habitat scenario considered included:
     The percentage of simulations during which the rangewide 
population fell below 1,250 individuals.
     The percentage of simulations during which the rangewide 
population fell below 1,000 individuals.
     The percentage of simulations during which the rangewide 
population fell below 750 individuals.
     The percentage of simulations during which the population 
fell below 250 in each region (using 250 as a quasi-extinction 
threshold).
     The percentage of simulations during which the population 
fell below 100 in each region (using 100 as a quasi-extinction 
threshold).
     The percentage of simulations that went to extinction 
(population = 0) in each region.

[[Page 14099]]

     The mean population size from time step 150 to time step 
350 in each region.
     The mean population size at the last time step in each 
region.
     The mean population size at the last time step rangewide.
    These metrics were used to comparatively evaluate the ability of 
each scenario under consideration to meet the recovery goals for the 
species and as specified in our rule set for the identification of 
critical habitat (measures of extinction risk are used as an indirect 
measure of sufficient population abundance, as well as viability). We 
selected habitat scenarios for further evaluation if they outperformed 
the other scenarios under consideration in terms of being better able 
to meet the population abundance, viability, and trend criteria both 
across regions and rangewide. In all cases, we attempted to identify 
the most efficient (smallest total area) that would meet the population 
goals essential to recovery. Our proposed critical habitat is based on 
the habitat network that best met all of these criteria, and then was 
further refined, as described below.
    We also focused on public lands to the maximum extent possible (see 
Dunk et al. 2012, entire, for specific details). In this step, we 
compared scenarios that did not discriminate between various land 
ownerships, and those that prioritized publicly-owned lands. As Federal 
agencies have a mandate under Section 7(a)(1) of the Act to utilize 
their authorities in furtherance of the purposes of the Act by carrying 
out programs for the conservation of listed species, we looked first to 
Federal lands for critical habitat. However, in some areas of limited 
Federal ownership, State and private lands may provide areas determined 
to be essential to the northern spotted owl by contributing to 
demographic support and connectivity to facilitate dispersal and 
colonization. In all cases, if the scenarios under consideration 
provided equal contribution to recovery, as measured by the population 
metrics described above, we chose the scenario that prioritized 
publicly-owned lands. State and private lands were included only if 
they were necessary to achieve conservation of the species, and were 
determined to provide either occupied areas that support the PCEs or 
unoccupied areas essential to the conservation of the owl. For example, 
in Washington some State and private lands were identified in Spotted 
Owl Special Emphasis Areas (SOSEAs), which the Washington Forest 
Practices Board adopted in 1996 to complement the Federal recovery and 
conservation strategy for the spotted owl. We also considered Indian or 
Tribal lands in our evaluations; if habitat scenarios performed equally 
well with or without Indian lands, we did not include them (see Indian 
Lands, below).
    Following the application of this modeling framework, we further 
refined the model-based map units after considering land ownership 
patterns, interagency coordination, and best professional judgment with 
the objective of increasing the efficiency and effectiveness, of the 
critical habitat proposal. The process generally consisted of modifying 
boundaries to better conform to existing administrative and landscape 
features, removing small areas of relatively lower-suitability habitat, 
and incorporating additional areas that may have been unoccupied at the 
time of listing but that were determined to be essential for population 
connectivity, population growth, or to accommodate maintenance of 
suitable habitat on the landscape for owls in the face of natural 
disturbance regimes (e.g., fire) or competition with the barred owl, 
while retaining the overall configuration of the model-based maps. We 
used the population simulation model to evaluate whether this revised 
critical habitat network continued to provide what is essential to the 
conservation of the northern spotted owl.

Unoccupied Areas

    Based on the northern spotted owl's wide-ranging use of the 
landscape, and the distribution of known owl sites at the time of 
listing across the units and subunits proposed as critical habitat 
here, we believe all units and all subunits except one meet the Act's 
definition of being within the geographical area occupied by the 
species at the time of listing.
    Although we designed the units and subunits proposed for 
designation to consist predominantly of habitat occupied at the time of 
listing (or highly likely to be occupied), we know that one subunit was 
not occupied at that time. In addition, parts of most units contain a 
forested mosaic which includes younger forests that may not have been 
occupied at the time of listing. We also recognize that there may be 
some uncertainty regarding areas we believe were occupied based on the 
presence of suitable habitat or dispersing owls but for which we do not 
have survey information. Therefore, we have evaluated all of these 
areas as if they were unoccupied and deem them to be essential to the 
conservation of the species because they fulfill at least one of two 
functions essential to the conservation of the species: population 
connectivity, or space for population growth.
    First, there is one subunit and portions of two others that 
function primarily for connectivity. Although portions of these 
subunits may not have been occupied at the time of listing, these areas 
contain the dispersal and foraging habitat to support movement between 
adjacent subunits and are therefore essential to provide population 
connectivity. Many of these areas are also anticipated to develop into 
habitat capable of supporting nesting pairs in the future. In 1990, the 
Interagency Scientific Committee (ISC) (Thomas et al. 1990, entire) 
identified ``Areas of Special Concern'' in the Draft Strategy for the 
Conservation of the Northern Spotted Owl. The ISC defined Areas of 
Special Concern as lands where past natural occurrences and human 
actions had adversely affected habitat more than in the remainder of 
the physiographic province under consideration (Thomas et al. 1990, p. 
66). Within the Areas of Special Concern described by the ISC (Thomas 
et al. 1990, pp. 66-69), we identified areas that were strategically 
located between subunits that would otherwise be demographically 
isolated. Of 63 subunits proposed for designation, three (NCO-3, ORC-4, 
and ECS-3) are identified as functioning primarily for population 
connectivity with less than 70 percent of the subunit covered by 
survey-located owl sites. Only one subunit (NCO-3) is considered 
unoccupied and was identified primarily for connectivity and additional 
demographic support.
    Second, because the primary threat to the northern spotted owl at 
the time of listing was habitat loss and degradation, conservation and 
recovery of the species in some portions of its range is dependent on 
development of additional habitat to allow for population expansion and 
recovery. Therefore, portions of the habitat mosaic in some subunits 
proposed for designation within the geographical area occupied by the 
species at the time of listing consist of younger and/or partially-
harvested forest but are essential to conservation of the species 
because they are capable of developing the PCEs that support nesting, 
roosting, or foraging by spotted owls that will be necessary for 
population expansion. Typically the result of past timber harvest or 
wildfire, these areas of younger forest contain the elements conducive 
to fully developing the physical or biological features essential to 
the conservation of the owl (they are of suitable elevation, climate, 
and forest

[[Page 14100]]

community type) but may be lacking some element of the PCEs such as 
large trees or dense canopies that are associated with nesting habitat. 
In particular, of 63 subunits proposed for designation, four (NCO-4, 
NCO-5, ORC-1, and RDC-4) contain proportionally greater areas of 
younger forests that are essential to the conservation of the species 
because they can develop additional habitat necessary to support viable 
spotted owl populations in the future. These subunits are located 
within Southwestern Washington and Oregon Coast Ranges Areas of Special 
Concern (Thomas et al. 1990, pp. 66-69), areas described as exhibiting 
a scarcity of suitable habitat due to extensive timber harvest. The 
recovery goal of achieving viable populations distributed across the 
range of the owl cannot be achieved without these areas, therefore we 
have determined them to be essential to the conservation of the 
species.
    Third, each unit and subunit in this proposed revised designation 
of critical habitat consists of a forested mosaic comprised 
predominantly of habitat known from surveys and other documented 
sources to be occupied at the time of listing, as well as habitat that 
was highly likely to have been occupied at that time based on the 
presence of physical or biological features associated with occupancy 
by spotted owls or based on the likely presence of non-territorial 
owls. However, we recognize there is some uncertainty associated with 
occupancy in regard to areas that our habitat model or the population 
dynamics of non-territorial owls indicate were highly likely to have 
been occupied at the time of listing, but for which we do not 
specifically have documented owl sites based on surveys. In addition, 
within this mosaic, each subunit also contains areas of potentially 
suitable habitat anticipated to develop into suitable habitat in the 
future. These specific areas may or may not have been occupied at the 
time of listing. We therefore also evaluated all areas proposed for 
designation as if they were unoccupied at the time of listing, to 
determine whether such areas are essential to the conservation of the 
species.
    Thus, even if not occupied at the time of listing, all units and 
subunits proposed for designation are essential to the conservation of 
the species because, in addition to nesting, roosting, foraging, and 
dispersal habitat, they provide connectivity between occupied areas, 
room for population expansion or growth, and the ability to provide 
sufficient suitable habitat on the landscape for owls in the face of 
natural disturbance regimes (e.g., fire). In addition, recent work has 
confirmed that northern spotted owls require additional areas of 
habitat to persist in the face of competition with barred owls (Dugger 
et al. 2011, p. 2467). Finally, since the northern spotted owl was 
initially listed in large part due to the threat of habitat loss or 
degradation, there may be some areas of potentially suitable habitat 
that are currently in degraded condition and in need of restoration to 
provide the large, contiguous areas of nesting, roosting, and foraging 
habitat required to sustain viable spotted owl populations. Spotted 
owls require these large areas of habitat due to their expansive home 
range requirements and the need for connectivity between subpopulations 
to maintain genetic diversity and support stable, viable populations 
over the long term. Given the effects of past habitat loss and the 
increased habitat area needed to offset competition from the barred 
owl, our assessment indicates that large areas of habitat are required 
across the range of the northern spotted owl to meet recovery goals.
    In summary, our evaluation of the various habitat scenarios 
considered in the modeling process described above enabled us to 
determine the amount and configuration of habitat essential to the 
conservation of the owl, based on the relative ability of that habitat 
network to meet the recovery criteria of stable or increasing 
populations and adequate distribution of viable populations. Although 
this evaluation was primarily based on areas we know to have been 
occupied at the time of listing, our evaluation of what is essential to 
the conservation of the owl additionally identified areas that may not 
have been occupied at the time of listing if those areas were essential 
to meeting the recovery goals for the species. We have determined these 
areas to be essential to the conservation of the species, to provide 
for dispersal and connectivity between currently occupied areas, allow 
space for population growth, and to provide habitat replacement in the 
event of disturbances such as wildfires and competition with barred 
owls. We have also determined that a critical habitat designation that 
does not include these areas, even if they may not have been occupied 
at the time of listing, would be inadequate to ensure the conservation 
of the species. The resulting proposed revised critical habitat network 
represents the amount and spatial distribution of habitats that we have 
determined to be essential for the conservation of the northern spotted 
owl.
    This proposal is innovative in that it anticipates that in 
geographical regions with drier forests and more dynamic natural 
disturbance regimes, a landscape approach to managing critical habitat 
will occur. This landscape approach recognizes that large areas are 
essential in these regions to accommodate disturbance-driven shifts in 
the physical or biological features essential for the conservation of 
the northern spotted owl, and that restorative management actions may 
be needed across these landscapes to help manage for resilience in such 
a dynamic ecosystem. These large landscapes, although essential to 
provide for the conservation of the northern spotted owl, do include 
within their boundaries several particular types of areas which are not 
proposed as critical habitat because they cannot support northern 
spotted owl habitat. The following types of areas are not critical 
habitat for the northern spotted owl, and are not included in the 
proposed revised designation:
     Meadows and grasslands.
     Oak and aspen (Populus spp.) woodlands.
     Surface mine sites.
     Developed recreation sites, including a safety buffer for 
hazard tree management.
     Administrative sites, including a safety buffer for hazard 
tree management.
     Roadways, including a safety buffer for hazard tree 
management.
     Other manmade structures (such as buildings, aqueducts, 
runways, and other paved areas) and the land on which they are located.
    When determining proposed critical habitat boundaries, we made 
every effort to avoid including these areas because they lack physical 
or biological features for the northern spotted owl. Due to the 
limitations of mapping at such fine scales, however, we were often not 
able to segregate these areas from areas being proposed as critical 
habitat on critical habitat maps suitable for publication within the 
Code of Federal Regulations. Thus, we have included regulatory text 
clarifying that these areas are not included in the proposed 
designation even if within the mapped boundaries of critical habitat; 
if the critical habitat is finalized as proposed, a Federal action 
involving these lands would not trigger section 7 consultation with 
respect to critical habitat unless the specific action would affect the 
physical or biological features in the adjacent critical habitat.
    We are proposing for designation 11 units and 63 subunits based on 
sufficient elements of physical or

[[Page 14101]]

biological features being present to support the northern spotted owl's 
life-history processes. Some subunits contain all of the identified 
elements of physical or biological features and support multiple life-
history processes. Some subunits may contain only some elements of the 
physical or biological features necessary to support the northern 
spotted owl's particular use of that habitat.

Summary of Changes From Previously Designated Critical Habitat

    In 2008, we designated 5,312,300 ac (2,149,800 ha) of Federal lands 
in California, Oregon, and Washington as critical habitat for the 
northern spotted owl (73 FR 47326; August 13, 2008). In this revision, 
we are proposing that a total of 13,962,449 ac (5,649,660 ha) be 
designated as critical habitat for the northern spotted owl. We have 
proposed the revised designation of critical habitat for the northern 
spotted owl to be consistent with the most current assessment of the 
conservation needs of the species, as described in the 2011 Revised 
Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011, Appendix B). Of 
the proposed designation, 4,159,678 ac (1,683,362 ha) are the same as 
in the 2008 designation. Of the current proposed designation, 9,802,771 
ac (3,966,298 ha) are lands not formerly designated in 2008, and 
1,152,662 ac (466,438 ha) of lands that were included in the former 
designation are not proposed here, for reasons detailed below.
    The Service recognizes that this proposed revision of critical 
habitat represents an increase in the total land area identified from 
previous designations in 1992 and 2008. This increase in area is due, 
in part, to (a) the unanticipated steep decline of the spotted owl and 
the impact of the barred owl, requiring larger areas of habitat to 
maintain sustainable spotted owl populations in the face of competition 
with the barred owl (Dugger et al. 2011, p. 2467); (b) the 
recommendation from the scientific community that the conservation of 
more occupied and high-quality habitat is essential to the conservation 
of the species (Forsman et al. 2011, p. 77); (c) the need to maintain 
sufficient suitable habitat for northern spotted owls on a landscape 
level in areas prone to frequent natural disturbances, such as the 
drier, fire-prone regions of its range (Noss et al. 2006, p. 484; 
Thomas et al. 2006, p. 285; Kennedy and Wimberly 2009, p. 565); and (d) 
in contrast to the previous critical habitat designation, the inclusion 
of significant areas of Federal reserve lands (e.g., national parks and 
wilderness areas) and some State and private lands in areas where 
Federal lands were not sufficient to meet the conservation needs of the 
spotted owl.
    We expect to refine this proposed designation based on public 
comments, additional information from coordination with the land 
management agencies, scientific peer review, and consideration of 
exclusions and exemptions (per sections 4(b)(2) and 4(a)(3)(B) of the 
Act, respectively). Fine-scale adjustments to proposed critical habitat 
maps are also anticipated based on Service collaboration with Federal, 
State, and private land managers and receipt of site-specific 
information on habitat and landscape conditions.
    The new delineation of areas determined to provide the physical or 
biological features essential for the conservation of the northern 
spotted owl, or otherwise determined to be essential for the 
conservation of the species, was based, in part, on an improved 
understanding of the forest characteristics and spatial patterns that 
influence habitat usage by northern spotted owls which were 
incorporated into the latest population evaluation and mapping 
technology. The modeling process we used to evaluate alternative 
critical habitat scenarios differed fundamentally from the conservation 
planning approach used to inform the 1992 and 2008 designations of 
critical habitat for the northern spotted owl. These past designations 
relied on a priori rule sets derived from best expert judgment 
regarding the size of reserves or habitat conservation blocks, target 
number of spotted owl pairs per reserve or block, and targeted spacing 
between reserves or blocks (USFWS 2011, p. C-4), which we then assessed 
and refined using expert opinion. The current proposed revised 
designation reflects our use of a series of spatially explicit modeling 
processes to determine where biological features are essential to the 
conservation of the northern spotted owl, and in the case of unoccupied 
habitat, to determine the areas that are essential to the conservation 
of the owl, as described in Criteria Used to Identify Critical Habitat, 
below. These models enabled us to compare potential critical habitat 
scenarios in a repeatable and scientifically accepted manner (USFWS 
2011, p. C-4), using current tools that capitalize on new spatial 
information and algorithms for identifying efficient habitat networks 
essential for conservation.
    The areas proposed for designation are lands that were occupied at 
the time of listing and that currently provide suitable nesting, 
roosting, foraging, or dispersal habitat for northern spotted owls, or 
that are otherwise essential to the conservation of the species. 
However, as noted above, not every site of known owl occupancy is 
included in the proposed revised designation. We did not include owl 
sites if they were isolated from other known occurrences or in areas of 
marginal habitat quality such that they were unlikely to make a 
significant contribution to the conservation of the species, and 
therefore were not considered to provide the essential features.
    The habitat network development and evaluation strategy we used 
attempts to maximize the efficiency of the network by prioritizing 
lands for inclusion in the critical habitat network where management 
direction is more predictable and where resources are more available to 
conduct many of the ecosystem restoration projects the Service 
recommends within critical habitat. Utilization of new scientific 
information and advanced modeling techniques accounts for many of the 
changes in the proposed revised critical habitat, since the location of 
areas essential to northern spotted owls may have shifted based on the 
best information available regarding the spatial distribution of high-
value habitat. Late-successional reserves (LSRs) and Congressionally 
withdrawn lands (e.g., national parks) were not prioritized in this 
approach based solely on their status as a reserved land allocation, 
but were included only where the habitat quality was high enough to 
meet the selection criteria. LSRs were not originally designated solely 
to meet the needs of the northern spotted owl, but may include areas 
designated for other late-successional forest species. Therefore, not 
all LSRs contain habitat of sufficient quality to be included in the 
critical habitat network for the northern spotted owl.
    Table 2 shows a comparison of areas included in the 2008 
designation and those proposed in this proposed revision to critical 
habitat. The process we used to determine occupied areas containing 
essential features and unoccupied areas essential to the conservation 
of the species is described in Criteria Used to Identify Critical 
Habitat.

[[Page 14102]]



 Table 2--Comparison of Area Included in 2008 Critical Habitat and 2012 Proposed Critical Habitat by Region--The
        11 Regions Are Described in Details in the Proposed Revised Critical Habitat Designation Section
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                  2011 Proposed critical habitat    2008 Final critical habitat
                 Modeling region                 ---------------------------------------------------------------
                                                       Acres         Hectares          Acres         Hectares
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
North Coast Olympics............................       1,595,821         645,806         485,039         196,289
Oregon Coast....................................         891,154         360,637         507,082         205,209
Redwood Coast...................................       1,550,747         626,847          70,153          28,390
West Cascades North.............................         820,832         332,179         390,232         157,921
West Cascades Central...........................       1,353,045         547,558         546,333         221,093
West Cascades South.............................       1,624,836         657,548         700,421         283,450
East Cascades North.............................       1,919,469         776,781         687,702         278,303
East Cascades South.............................         526,810         213,192         207,291          83,888
Klamath West....................................       1,291,606         522,693         667,795         270,247
Klamath West....................................       1,111,679         449,881         667,795         270,247
Inner California Coast Ranges...................       1,276,450         516,537         535,863         216,856
                                                 ---------------------------------------------------------------
    Grand total.................................      13,962,449       5,649,660       5,312,327       2,149,823
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The reduction in number of critical habitat units from 33 in 2008 
to 11 in 2011 is a reflection, in part, of our decision to aggregate 
habitat by regions. The current designation includes 33 critical 
habitat units; the proposed revision includes 11 critical habitat units 
with 63 subunits.
    Our proposed determination of PCEs in this proposed revised 
designation incorporates new information resulting from research 
conducted since the last revision in 2008. This new information, along 
with relevant older studies, allowed us to include a higher level of 
specificity in the PCEs in this revision. This proposal also includes 
two changes in overall organization. The 2008 revised designation 
considered nesting and roosting habitat as separate PCEs. In this 
version, we have combined these habitat types. Spotted owls generally 
use the same habitat for both nesting and roosting; they are not 
separate habitat types, and function differs only based on whether a 
nest structure is present. These structures can be difficult to detect 
during field surveys in some portions of the subspecies range, and are 
virtually impossible to detect via remote sensing. Our models of 
spotted owl habitat relied on remotely sensed data. At the scale of a 
rangewide proposal of critical habitat, nesting and roosting habitats 
cannot be systematically distinguished, and, therefore, we combined 
them in our analysis and resulting proposal. For project planning and 
management of spotted owls at the local scale, the distinction between 
nesting and roosting habitat remains useful, especially in portions of 
the subspecies range where nesting structures are conspicuous (e.g., 
mistletoe brooms). The second organizational change was to subdivide 
the range of the subspecies into four separate regions, and to describe 
PCEs for foraging habitat separately for each of these regions.
    Finally, in this proposed rule we provide a more detailed and 
specific characterization of the PCEs for the northern spotted owl. 
Although described in more detail in the preamble, the actual 
rulemaking section of the 1992 designation described the PCEs only as 
``forested areas that are used or potentially used by northern spotted 
owl for nesting, roosting, foraging, or dispersing'' (57 FR 1838; 
January 15, 1992). Research since the 1992 designation of critical 
habitat has largely confirmed our understanding of the PCEs as 
presented in the discussion section of that final rule (Blakesley 2004, 
entire), but this revision seeks to incorporate the specific 
description of those PCEs, as described earlier in the Primary 
Constituent Elements section of this document, into the Proposed 
Regulation Promulgation Section. For example, the proposed rule 
describing the PCEs now includes a list of the specific forest types 
used by northern spotted owls, as well as a description of the 
particular habitat components (tree size, canopy closure, nest 
platforms, etc.) used by northern spotted owls for nesting, roosting, 
foraging, and dispersal. Furthermore, recognizing that not all PCEs 
apply universally throughout the broad range occupied by the northern 
spotted owl, we have provided descriptions of PCEs specific to each of 
the four major ecoregional divisions within the range of the species.

Proposed Revised Critical Habitat Designation

    Consistent with the standards of the Act, our regulations, and 
agency practice, we have identified 13,962,449 ac (5,649,660 ha) in 11 
units and 63 subunits as meeting the definition of critical habitat for 
the northern spotted owl. The 11 units we have identified as critical 
habitat are: (1) North Coast Olympics, (2) Oregon Coast Ranges, (3) 
Redwood Coast, (4) West Cascades North, (5) West Cascades Central, (6) 
West Cascades South, (7) East Cascades North, (8) East Cascades South, 
(9) Klamath West, (10) Klamath East, and (11) Interior California Coast 
Ranges. All of the critical habitat units were largely occupied at the 
time of listing, may include some smaller areas that were not known to 
be occupied at the time of listing but have been determined to be 
essential to the conservation of the species, and are presently 
occupied by the northern spotted owl. Land ownership of the proposed 
critical habitat includes Federal, State, and private lands (private 
lands are intended for inclusion in a critical habitat subunit only in 
those cases where private land is identified as a component of critical 
habitat in the subunit description). In Washington, some private lands 
have been identified in the Spotted Owl Special Emphasis Areas (SOSEAs) 
that the Washington Forest Practices Board adopted in 1996. We 
acknowledge that some additional private lands (e.g. subdivisions, 
small (typically less than 10 ac (4 ha)) properties owned by individual 
landowners) may have been inadvertently included on the map as an 
artifact of both the modeling process and limitations on map resolution 
and accuracy, but any such private lands are not intended to be 
included in the proposed designation. We are seeking public comments to 
help us make any needed corrections in the final rule. No Indian lands 
are included in the critical habitat designation. The approximate area 
of each proposed critical habitat

[[Page 14103]]

unit is shown in Table 3. Table 4 gives a total of critical habitat 
being proposed by land ownership.

    Table 3--Proposed Revised Critical Habitat Units for the Northern
                               Spotted Owl
      [Area estimates reflect all land within critical habitat unit
                               boundaries]
------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Critical habitat unit               Acres           Hectares
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Unit 1--North Coast Olympics:
    Federal.........................         1,457,564           589,855
    State...........................           137,318            55,571
    Private.........................               939               380
                                     -----------------------------------
        Total.......................         1,595,821           645,806
                                     -----------------------------------
Unit 2--Oregon Coast Ranges:
    Federal.........................           813,215           329,096
    State...........................            77,939            31,541
                                     -----------------------------------
        Total.......................           891,154           360,637
                                     -----------------------------------
Unit 3--Redwood Coast:
    Federal.........................           299,548           121,223
    State...........................           203,102            82,192
    Private.........................         1,048,097           423,431
                                     -----------------------------------
        Total.......................         1,550,747           626,847
                                     -----------------------------------
Unit 4--West Cascades North:
    Federal.........................           709,022           286,931
    State...........................           111,222            45,010
    Private:........................               588               238
                                     -----------------------------------
        Total.......................           820,832           332,179
                                     -----------------------------------
Unit 5--West Cascades Central:
    Federal.........................         1,248,708           505,334
    State...........................            57,400            23,229
    Private.........................            46,937            18,995
                                     -----------------------------------
        Total.......................         1,353,045           547,558
                                     -----------------------------------
Unit 6--West Cascades South:
    Federal.........................         1,624,836           657,548
Unit 7--East Cascades North:
    Federal.........................         1,725,491           698,281
    State...........................            58,911            23,840
    Private.........................           135,067            54,660
                                     -----------------------------------
        Total.......................         1,919,469           776,781
                                     -----------------------------------
Unit 8--East Cascades South:
    Federal.........................           526,810           213,192
Unit 9--Klamath West:
    Federal.........................         1,281,145           518,460
    State...........................            10,461             4,233
                                     -----------------------------------
        Total.......................         1,291,606           522,693
                                     -----------------------------------
Unit 10--Klamath East:
    Federal.........................         1,108,839           448,732
    State...........................             2,840             1,149
                                     -----------------------------------
        Total.......................         1,111,679           449,881
                                     -----------------------------------
Unit 11--Inner California Coast
 Ranges:
    Federal.........................         1,229,174           497,429
    State...........................            12,123             4,906
    Private.........................            35,153            14,202
                                     -----------------------------------
        Total.......................         1,276,450           516,537
                                     -----------------------------------
            Grand total.............        13,962,449         5,649,660
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Note: Area sizes may not sum due to rounding.


[[Page 14104]]


    Table 4--Proposed Revised Critical Habitat Units for the Northern
  Spotted Owl, Describing Area Included Under Different Landownerships
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                            Acres           Hectares
------------------------------------------------------------------------
USFS................................         9,527,128         3,855,492
BLM.................................         1,483,666           600,419
NPS.................................           998,585           404,113
State...............................           671,036           271,558
Private.............................         1,267,704           512,279
Other Federal (DOD).................            14,330             5,799
Indian..............................                 0                 0
                                     -----------------------------------
    Total...........................        13,962,449         5,649,660
------------------------------------------------------------------------

    We present brief descriptions of all units and their subunits 
below.

Unit 1: North Coast Ranges and Olympic Peninsula (NCO)

    Unit 1 consists of 1,595,821 ac (645, 806 ha), and contains five 
subunits. This unit consists of the Oregon and Washington Coast Ranges 
Section M242A, based on section descriptions of forest types from 
Ecological Subregions of the United States (McNab and Avers 1994a, 
Section M242A). This region is characterized by high rainfall, cool to 
moderate temperatures, and generally low topography (1,470 to 2,460 ft 
(448 to 750 m)). High elevations and cold temperatures occur in the 
interior portions of the Olympic Peninsula, but spotted owls in this 
area are limited to the lower elevations (less than 2,950 ft (900 m)). 
Forests in the NCO are dominated by western hemlock, Sitka spruce, 
Douglas-fir, and western red cedar (Thuja plicata). Hardwoods are 
limited in species diversity (consist mostly of bigleaf maple and red 
alder (Alnus rubra)) and distribution within this region, and typically 
occur in riparian zones. Root pathogens like laminated root rot 
(Phellinus weirii) are important gap formers, and vine maple (A. 
circinatum), among others, fills these gaps. Because Douglas-fir dwarf 
mistletoe is unusual in this region, spotted owl nesting habitat 
consists of stands providing very large trees with cavities or 
deformities. A few nests are associated with western hemlock dwarf 
mistletoe (Arceuthobium tsugense subsp. tsugense). Spotted owl diets 
are dominated by species associated with mature to late-successional 
forests (flying squirrels, red tree voles), resulting in similar 
definitions of habitats used for nesting/roosting and foraging by 
spotted owls.
Subunit Descriptions--Unit 1
    NCO-1. The NCO-1 subunit consists of approximately 747,000 ac 
(302,300 ha) in Clallam, Jefferson, Grays Harbor, and Mason Counties, 
Washington, and comprises lands managed by the National Park Service, 
Forest Service, State of Washington, and private landowners. Of this 
subunit, 421,078 ac (170,404 ha) are managed as part of the Olympic 
National Park as a Congressionally reserved or wilderness area under 
the NWFP and are proposed for exclusion in the final designation. The 
FS manages 233,116 ac (94,339 ha) as Late-successional Reserves to 
maintain functional, interactive, late-successional and old-growth 
forest ecosystems; 11,119 ac (4,500 ha) as Congressionally reserved or 
wilderness areas (proposed for exclusion); and 80,728 ac (32,669 ha) 
under the Matrix land use allocation where multiple uses occur, 
including most timber harvest and other silvicultural activities. 
Private landowners manage 939 ac (380 ha) for various uses within the 
Hoh-Clearwater Spotted Owl Special Emphasis Area (SOSEA), including 
maintenance of spotted owl habitat for demographic and dispersal 
support of habitat on Federal lands and will be considered for 
exclusion in the final designation. Threats in this subunit include 
current and past timber harvest, competition with barred owls, and 
isolation on a peninsula (along with subunit NCO-2). This subunit is 
expected to function primarily for demographic support of the overall 
population. NCO-1 is located primarily in the watersheds of Lyre, Hoko, 
Soleduck, Hoh, Quinault, Queets, and Clearwater rivers, and includes 
the northern part of the Lower Chehalis River watershed.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 94 percent of the area of NCO-1 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    NCO-2. The NCO-2 subunit consists of approximately 494,477 ac 
(200,108 ha) in Kitsap, Clallam, Jefferson, Grays Harbor, and Mason 
Counties, Washington, and comprises lands managed by the National Park 
Service, and Forest Service. Of this subunit, 226,223 ac (91,549 ha) 
are managed as part of the Olympic National Park as a Congressionally 
reserved or wilderness area under the NWFP and are proposed for 
exclusion in the final designation. The FS manages 171,649 ac (69,464 
ha) as Late-successional Reserves to maintain functional, interactive, 
late-successional and old-growth forest ecosystems; 50,713 ac (20,523 
ha) as Congressionally reserved or wilderness areas (also proposed for 
exclusion); and 45,909 ac (18,579 ha) under the Matrix land use 
allocation where multiple uses occur, including most timber harvest and 
other silvicultural activities. Threats in this subunit include current 
and past timber harvest, competition with barred owls, and isolation on 
a peninsula (along with subunit NCO-1). This subunit is expected to 
function primarily for demographic support of the overall population. 
NCO-2 is located primarily in the watersheds of the Elwha, Dungeness, 
Quilcene, Snow, Skokomish, and Dosewallips rivers.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 95 percent of the area of this subunit was 
covered by

[[Page 14105]]

verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When combined 
with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by non-
territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit to 
have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, there 
may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat mosaic 
of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We have 
determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in this 
subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet the 
recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    NCO-3. The NCO-3 subunit consists of approximately 14,313 ac (5,792 
ha) in Thurston and Grays Harbor Counties, Washington, and comprises 
lands managed by the Department of Defense as part of Joint Base Lewis-
McChord under their base management plan, which includes timber 
management. Threats in this subunit include current and past timber 
harvest, competition with barred owls, limited total habitat area, 
stand conversion, and isolation from surrounding subunits. This 
subunit, along with the Mineral Block SOSEA in the WCC-1 subunit and 
Federal lands adjacent to this SOSEA are meant to provide opportunities 
for demographic support between the West Cascades Central Unit and the 
North Coast Olympic Unit. In this subunit, we are considering exemption 
of lands on Joint Base Lewis-McChord under section 4(a)(3)(B) of the 
Act.
    Available information indicates that subunit NCO-3 was unoccupied 
by spotted owls at the time of listing. However, this subunit is 
essential to the conservation of the species because it provides 
essential habitat connectivity for owls dispersing between occupied 
habitats in the Olympic Peninsula and the Western Cascades. Populations 
in the Olympic Peninsula are currently-isolated, and require stepping-
stones containing both nesting and dispersal habitat to provide for 
genetic exchange with other owl populations. Proposed critical habitat 
in this subunit has the potential to develop sufficient nesting, 
roosting, and foraging habitat to support a limited number of nesting 
spotted owls. Opportunities to nest successfully in NCO-3 will increase 
the likelihood of successful movement of spotted owls between widely 
separated populations by providing an opportunity for dispersal to 
occur across generations. The designation of this subunit as critical 
habitat is necessary because limiting the designation to areas 
presently occupied by the species would be inadequate to achieve the 
conservation of the northern spotted owl. Without this subunit, 
connectivity and demographic support between the Olympic Peninsula and 
Western Cascades will be lacking, and the Olympic Peninsula population 
of spotted owls will remain isolated and potentially subject to 
inbreeding depression and other negative effects associated with 
isolated populations. The Western Cascades also has been identified as 
at risk due to low populations numbers and isolation from the Olympic 
Peninsula (Thomas et al. 1990, pp. 66-67). The achievement of a stable 
population and adequate population distribution, as required by 
Recovery Criteria 1 and 2 of the Revised Recovery Plan, cannot be met 
without this essential subunit.
    NCO-4. The NCO-4 subunit consists of approximately 132,086 ac 
(553,453ha) in Clatsop, Columbia, Tillamook, and Washington Counties, 
Oregon, and comprises Federal lands and lands managed by the State of 
Oregon. Of this subunit, 122,675 ac (49,645 ha) are managed as part of 
the Tillamook and Clatsop State Forests for multiple uses including 
timber revenue production, recreation, and wildlife habitat according 
to the Northwest Oregon State Forest Management Plan (ODF 2010a, 
entire) and may be considered for exclusion in the final designation. 
Federal lands encompass 9,410 ac (3,808 ha) of this subunit and are 
managed as directed by the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Special 
management considerations or protection are required in this subunit to 
address threats from current and past timber harvest and competition 
with barred owls. This subunit is expected to function primarily for 
demographic support to the overall population. This subunit is isolated 
from the nearest subunit to the north but is adjacent to subunit NCO-5 
to the south.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 63 percent of the area of NCO-4 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider a large part 
of this subunit to have been occupied at the time of listing. There are 
some areas of younger forest in this subunit that may have been 
unoccupied at the time of listing. We have determined that all of the 
unoccupied and likely occupied areas in this subunit are essential for 
the conservation of the species to meet the recovery criterion that 
calls for the continued maintenance and recruitment of spotted owl 
habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of spotted 
owl habitat in this subunit is especially important for providing for 
population expansion and additional demographic support in this region. 
The development of additional suitable habitat in this subunit is 
needed to support viable spotted owl populations over the long term. 
The recruitment of additional suitable habitat will also contribute to 
the successful dispersal of spotted owls, and serve to buffer spotted 
owls from competition with the barred owl.
    NCO-5. The NCO-5 subunit consists of approximately 213,024 ac 
(86,207 ha) in Yamhill, Lincoln, Tillamook, and Polk Counties, Oregon, 
and comprises lands managed by the State of Oregon, the BLM and the 
Forest Service. Of this subunit 14,643 ac (5,925 ha) are managed by the 
State of Oregon for multiple uses including timber revenue production, 
recreation, and wildlife habitat according to the Northwest Oregon 
State Forest Management Plan (ODF 2010a, entire), and may be considered 
for exclusion from the final critical habitat designation. Federal 
lands comprise 198,368 ac (80,277 ha) and are managed as directed by 
the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Special management 
considerations or protection are required in this subunit to address 
threats from current and past timber harvest and competition with 
barred owls. This subunit is expected to function primarily for 
demographic support to the overall population and north-south 
connectivity between subunits and CHUs.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 63 percent of the area of NCO-5 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider a large part 
of this subunit to have been occupied at the time of listing. There are 
some areas of younger forest in this subunit that may have been 
unoccupied at the time of listing. We have determined that all of the 
unoccupied and likely occupied areas in this subunit are essential for 
the conservation of the species to meet the recovery criterion that 
calls for the

[[Page 14106]]

continued maintenance and recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of spotted owl habitat in 
this subunit is especially important for providing for population 
expansion and additional demographic support in this region. The 
development of additional suitable habitat in this subunit is needed to 
support viable spotted owl populations over the long term. The 
recruitment of additional suitable habitat will also contribute to the 
successful dispersal of spotted owls, and serve to buffer spotted owls 
from competition with the barred owl.

Unit 2: Oregon Coast Ranges (OCR)

    Unit 2 consists of 891,166 ac (360,642 ha) and contains six 
subunits. This unit consists of the southern third of the Oregon and 
Washington Coast Ranges Section M242A, based on section descriptions of 
forest types from Ecological Subregions of the United States (McNab and 
Avers 1994a, Section M242A). We split the section in the vicinity of 
Otter Rock, OR, based on gradients of increased temperature and 
decreased moisture that result in different patterns of vegetation to 
the south. Generally this region is characterized by high rainfall, 
cool to moderate temperatures, and generally low topography (980 to 
2,460 ft (300 to 750 m)). Forests in this region are dominated by 
western hemlock, Sitka spruce, and Douglas-fir; hardwoods are limited 
in species diversity (largely bigleaf maple and red alder) and 
distribution, and are typically limited to riparian zones. Douglas-fir 
and hardwood species associated with the California Floristic Province 
(tanoak, Pacific madrone, black oak, giant chinquapin (Castanopsis 
chrysophylla)) increase toward the southern end of the OCR. On the 
eastern side of the Coast Ranges crest, habitats tend to be drier and 
dominated by Douglas-fir. Root pathogens like laminated root rot are 
important gap formers, and vine maple among others fills these gaps. 
Because Douglas-fir dwarf mistletoe is unusual in this region, spotted 
owl nesting habitat tends to be limited to stands providing very large 
trees with cavities or deformities. A few nests are associated with 
western hemlock dwarf mistletoe. Spotted owl diets are dominated by 
species associated with mature to late-successional forests (flying 
squirrels, red tree voles), resulting in similar definitions of 
habitats used for nesting/roosting and foraging by spotted owls. One 
significant difference between OCR and NCO is that woodrats comprise an 
increasing proportion of the diet in the southern portion of the 
modeling region.
Subunit Descriptions--Unit 2
    OCR-1. The OCR-1 subunit consists of approximately 116,576 ac 
(47,177 ha) in Polk, Benton and Lincoln Counties, Oregon, and comprises 
lands managed by the State of Oregon, the BLM, and the Forest Service. 
Of this subunit 7,296 ac (2,953 ha) are managed by the State of Oregon 
for multiple uses including timber revenue production, recreation, and 
wildlife habitat according to the Northwest Oregon State Forest 
Management Plan (ODF 2010a, entire) and may be considered for exclusion 
in the final critical habitat designation. Federal lands comprise 
109,279 ac (44,224 ha) and are managed as directed by the NWFP (USDA 
and USDI 1994, entire). Congressionally reserved Federal lands in this 
unit are proposed for exclusion. Special management considerations or 
protection are required in this subunit to address threats from current 
and past timber harvest and competition with barred owls. This subunit 
is expected to function primarily for demographic support to the 
overall population and north-south connectivity between subunits and 
CHUs.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 55 percent of the area of OCR-1 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider a large part 
of this subunit to have been occupied at the time of listing. There are 
some areas of younger forest in this subunit that may have been 
unoccupied at the time of listing. We have determined that all of the 
unoccupied and likely occupied areas in this subunit are essential for 
the conservation of the species to meet the recovery criterion that 
calls for the continued maintenance and recruitment of spotted owl 
habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of spotted 
owl habitat in this subunit is especially important for providing for 
population expansion and additional demographic support in this region. 
The development of additional suitable habitat in this subunit is 
needed to support viable spotted owl populations over the long term. 
The recruitment of additional suitable habitat will also contribute to 
the successful dispersal of spotted owls, and serve to buffer spotted 
owls from competition with the barred owl.
    OCR-2. The OCR-2 subunit consists of approximately 278,526 ac 
(112,715 ha) in Lane, Benton, and Lincoln Counties, Oregon, and 
comprises lands managed by the State of Oregon, the BLM and the Forest 
Service. Of this subunit 18,648 ac (7,547 ha) are managed by the State 
of Oregon for multiple uses including timber revenue production, 
recreation, and wildlife habitat according to the Northwest Oregon 
State Forest Management Plan (ODF 2010a, entire) and may be considered 
for exclusion in the final critical habitat designation. Federal lands 
comprise 259,878 ac (105,169 ha) and are managed as directed by the 
NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Congressionally reserved Federal 
lands in this unit are proposed for exclusion. Special management 
considerations or protection are required in this subunit to address 
threats from current and past timber harvest and competition with 
barred owls. This subunit is expected to function primarily for 
demographic support to the overall population and north-south 
connectivity between subunits.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 77 percent of the area of OCR-2 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    OCR-3. The OCR-3 subunit consists of approximately 198,497 ac 
(80,329 ha) in Lane and Douglas Counties, Oregon, and comprises lands 
managed by the State of Oregon, the BLM, and the Forest Service. Of 
this subunit 4,970 ac (2,011 ha) are managed by the State of Oregon for 
multiple uses including timber revenue production, recreation, and 
wildlife habitat according to the Northwest Oregon State Forest

[[Page 14107]]

Management Plan (ODF 2010a, entire) and may be considered for exclusion 
in the final critical habitat designation. Federal lands comprise 
193,526 ac (78,317 ha) and are managed as directed by the NWFP (USDA 
and USDI 1994, entire). Special management considerations or protection 
are required in this subunit to address threats from current and past 
timber harvest and competition with barred owls. This subunit is 
expected to function primarily for demographic support to the overall 
population and for both north-south and east-west connectivity between 
subunits.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 97 percent of the area of OCR-3 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    OCR-4. The OCR-4 subunit consists of approximately 9,305 ac (3,766 
ha) in Lane and Douglas Counties, Oregon, and comprises lands managed 
by the BLM as directed by the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). 
Special management considerations or protection are required in this 
subunit to address threats from current and past timber harvest and 
competition with barred owls. This subunit is expected to function 
primarily for east-west connectivity between subunits and CHUs, and 
between the Oregon coast and the western Cascades.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 43 percent of the area of OCR-4 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider a large part 
of this subunit to have been occupied at the time of listing. There are 
some areas of younger forest in this subunit that may have been 
unoccupied at the time of listing. We have determined that all of the 
unoccupied and likely occupied areas in this subunit are essential for 
the conservation of the species to meet the recovery criterion that 
calls for the continued maintenance and recruitment of spotted owl 
habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of spotted 
owl habitat in this subunit is especially important for providing 
essential connectivity between currently occupied areas to support the 
successful dispersal of spotted owls, and may also help to buffer 
spotted owls from competition with the barred owl.
    OCR-5. The OCR-5 subunit consists of approximately 184,248 ac 
(74,563 ha) in Coos and Douglas Counties, Oregon, and comprises lands 
managed by the State of Oregon, the BLM, and the Forest Service. Of 
this subunit 46,994 ac (19,018 ha) are managed by the State of Oregon 
for multiple uses including sustained economic benefit through timber 
harvest and management, recreation, and wildlife habitat according to 
the Elliot State Forest Management Plan (ODF 2011, entire) and may be 
considered for exclusion in the final critical habitat designation. 
Federal lands comprise 137,254 ac (55,545 ha) and are managed as 
directed by the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Special management 
considerations or protection are required in this subunit to address 
threats from current and past timber harvest and competition with 
barred owls. This subunit is expected to function primarily for 
demographic support to the overall population and for north-south, and 
potentially east-west, connectivity between subunits.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 94 percent of the area of OCR-5 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    OCR-6. The OCR-6 subunit consists of approximately 84,365 ac 
(34,141 ha) in Coos and Douglas Counties, Oregon, and comprises lands 
managed by the BLM as directed by the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, 
entire). Special management considerations or protection are required 
in this subunit to address threats from current and past timber harvest 
and competition with barred owls. This subunit is expected to function 
primarily for demographic support to the overall population and for 
north-south connectivity between subunits and CHUs.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 97 percent of the area of OCR-6 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.

Unit 3: Redwood Coast (RWC)

    Unit 3 contains 1,550,747 ac (626,847 ha) and five subunits. This 
unit consists of the Northern California Coast Ecological Section 263, 
based on section descriptions of forest types from Ecological 
Subregions of the United States (McNab and Avers 1994b, entire). This 
region is characterized by low-lying terrain (0 to 2,950 ft (0 to 900 
m)) with a maritime climate, generally mesic conditions, and moderate 
temperatures. Climatic conditions are rarely limiting to spotted owls 
at all elevations. Forest communities are dominated by redwood, 
Douglas-fir-

[[Page 14108]]

tanoak forest, coast live oak, and tanoak series. The vast majority of 
the region is in private ownership, dominated by a few large industrial 
timberland holdings. The results of numerous studies of spotted owl 
habitat relationships suggest stump-sprouting and rapid growth rates of 
redwoods, combined with high availability of woodrats in patchy, 
intensively-managed forests, enables spotted owls to maintain high 
densities in a wide range of habitat conditions within the Redwood 
zone.
Subunit Descriptions--Unit 3
    RDC-1. This subunit contains 877,193 ac (354,987 ha) in Curry 
County, Oregon and in Del Norte, Humboldt, and Trinity Counties, 
California. There are 188,056 ac (76,104 ha) of Federal lands in the 
subunit, managed by the Forest Service, National Park Service, and 
Bureau of Land Management. California State Park System lands make up 
110,163 ac (44,581 ha) and are proposed for exclusion in the final 
critical habitat designation. This subunit contains 578,974 ac (234,302 
ha) of private land. A large portion of these lands are included in two 
large private forests that have Habitat Conservation Plans with 
conservation strategies for northern spotted owls; these are Green 
Diamond Resource Company with 136,008 ac (55,041 ha) and Humboldt 
Redwood Company with 211,700 ac (85,672 ha) and both are proposed for 
exclusion in the final critical habitat designation. Special management 
considerations or protection are required in this subunit to address 
threats from the barred owl. Suitable habitat within the subunit is 
relatively contiguous north-to-south, and is capable of supporting a 
sustainable subpopulation of owls. We expect that this subunit will 
provide strong connectivity among the adjacent CHUs to the north (OCR) 
and east (KLW, ICC). The subunit is weakly connected to the adjacent 
subunit to the south (RDC-2).
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 78 percent of the area of RDC-1 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    RDC-2. This subunit contains 484,880 ac (196,224 ha) in Mendocino 
and southwestern Humboldt Counties, California. There are 32,021 ac 
(12,958 ha) of Federal lands in the subunit, managed by the Bureau of 
Land Management. California State Park System lands make up 19,115 ac 
(7,736 ha) and are proposed for exclusion in the final critical habitat 
designation. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection 
operates the Jackson Demonstration State Forest (48,652 ac (19,689 ha)) 
for multiple uses including timber production, water quality, wildlife 
habitat, and research and also may be considered for exclusion. 
Approximately 385,100 ac (155,845 ha) of private land is included in 
this subunit. Two large private forest land ownerships may be 
considered for exclusion. The first is Mendocino Redwood Company, which 
is in the process of developing a conservation strategy for northern 
spotted owls under a proposed Habitat Conservation Plan. The second 
holding is known as the Campbell-Hawthorne lands, owned by the Redwood 
Forest Foundation, Inc. (RWFI, non-profit) and managed by the Campbell 
Group, LLC (90,000 acres (36,423 ha)). The Campbell Group has 
approached us previously to explore the possibility of developing an 
HCP and more recently to explore a SHA. Three medium-sized private 
landholdings within this holding, Usal Forest, Big River Forest and 
Salmon Creek Forest, are under conservation easements and we propose to 
exclude these lands in the final critical habitat designation. 
Together, these easement holdings make up 66,513 ac (26,917 ha). 
Special management considerations or protection are required in this 
subunit to address threats from the barred owl. Suitable habitat within 
the subunit is relatively contiguous north-to-south, and is capable of 
supporting a sustainable subpopulation of owls. The subunit is weakly 
connected to the adjacent CHU to the east (ICC) and to the coastal 
subunit to the north (RDC-1); it is relatively well connected to the 
coastal subunit to the south (RDC-3).
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 85 percent of the area of RDC-2 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    RDC-3. This subunit contains 46,785 ac (18,933 ha) in southwestern 
Mendocino and northwestern Sonoma Counties, California. These lands are 
concentrated in the Garcia and Gualala River drainages. There are no 
Federal lands in the subunit. There are 243 ac (98 ha) of land in the 
California State Park System and are proposed for exclusion, and the 
remaining 46,541 ac (18,835 ha) is private land. Two management tracts 
of the Mendocino Redwood Company (discussed in RDC-2) are located in 
this subunit: Annapolis (7,044 ac (2,851 ha)) and Garcia River (15,634 
ac (6,327 ha)) and may be considered for exclusion in the final 
critical habitat designation. One medium-sized private landholding, 
Garcia River Forest (23,864 ac (9,658 ha)), is operated by a nonprofit 
organization under a conservation easement and we propose to exclude 
this forest in the final critical habitat designation. Special 
management considerations or protection are required in this subunit to 
address threats from the barred owl. Suitable habitat within the 
subunit is discontinuous from north-to-south, and may not be capable of 
supporting a self-sustaining subpopulation of owls without support from 
the subunit to the north (RDC-2). The subunit is poorly connected to 
the adjacent CHU to the east (ICC) and to the coastal subunit to the 
south (RDC-4).
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 80 percent of the area of RDC-3 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of

[[Page 14109]]

listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). 
The increase and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to 
provide for viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by 
providing for population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering 
from competition with the barred owl.
    RDC-4. This subunit contains 31.497 ac (12,746 ha) in southwestern 
Sonoma County, California. These lands are concentrated north of the 
Russian River. There are no Federal lands in the subunit, and there are 
13,421 ac (5,431 ha) of land in the California State Park system and 
are proposed for exclusion in the final critical habitat designation. 
Private lands total 18,074 ac (7,315 ha) of mixed forest and grazing 
land and may be considered for exclusion in the final designation of 
critical habitat. Developed and undeveloped residential subdivisions, 
commercially-zoned lands, and individual parcels less than 40 acres 
that may have been included in the mapped area are not being proposed 
as critical habitat. There are no industrial forest landholdings in 
this subunit. Special management considerations or protection are 
required in this subunit to address threats from the barred owl. 
Suitable habitat within the subunit is discontinuous throughout, 
interspersed with grassland, oak woodland, and chaparral, and may not 
be capable of supporting a self-sustaining subpopulation of owls 
without support from the subunit to the north (RDC-3). The subunit is 
poorly connected to the adjacent CHU to the east (ICC) and to the 
coastal subunit to the south (RDC-5).
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 65 percent of the area of RDC-4 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider a large part 
of this subunit to have been occupied at the time of listing. There are 
some areas of younger forest in this subunit that may have been 
unoccupied at the time of listing. We have determined that all of the 
unoccupied and likely occupied areas in this subunit are essential for 
the conservation of the species to meet the recovery criterion that 
calls for the continued maintenance and recruitment of spotted owl 
habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of spotted 
owl habitat in this subunit is especially important for providing for 
population expansion and additional demographic support in this region. 
The development of additional suitable habitat in this subunit is 
needed to support viable spotted owl populations over the long term. 
The recruitment of additional suitable habitat will also contribute to 
the successful dispersal of spotted owls, and serve to buffer spotted 
owls from competition with the barred owl.
    RDC-5. This subunit contains 77,798 acres (31,484 hectares) in 
southern Marin County, California and represents the southern range 
limit of the subspecies. No private lands are proposed for designation 
in this subunit. There are 44,866 ac (18,157 ha) of National Park land 
within the subunit, and an additional 11,524 ac (4,464 ha) of 
California State park lands both of which are proposed for exclusion. 
The Mount Tamalpais Watershed (18,900 ac (7,649 ha)) of the Marin 
Municipal Water District has been proposed for designation; as have six 
Open Space Preserves totaling 2,492 ac (1,008 ha) in the Marin County 
Parks system and may be considered for exclusion in the final 
designation. Special management considerations or protection are 
required in this subunit to address incipient threats from the barred 
owl. Suitable habitat within the subunit is continuous from east to 
west. It is unknown whether this subunit is capable of supporting a 
self-sustaining subpopulation of owls without support from the subunit 
to the north (RDC-4). The lands between this subunit and the nearest 
subunit to the east (ICC-6) are dominated by agricultural and urban 
land use, and are very weakly connected.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 82 percent of the area of RDC-5 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.

Unit 4: West Cascades North (WCN)

    This unit contains 802, 832 ac (332,179 ha) and two subunits. This 
unit coincides with the northern Western Cascades Section M242B, based 
on section descriptions of forest types from Ecological Subregions of 
the United States (McNab and Avers 1994a, Section M242B), combined with 
the western portion of M242D (Northern Cascades Section), extending 
from the U.S.-Canadian border south to Snoqualmie Pass in central 
Washington. It is similar to the Northern Cascades Province of Franklin 
and Dyrness (1988, pp. 17-20). This region is characterized by high 
mountainous terrain with extensive areas of glaciers and snowfields at 
higher elevation. The marine climate brings high precipitation (both 
annual and summer) but is modified by high elevations and low 
temperatures over much of this modeling region. The resulting 
distribution of forest vegetation is dominated by subalpine species, 
mountain hemlock and silver fir; the western hemlock and Douglas-fir 
forests typically used by spotted owls are more limited to lower 
elevations and river valleys (spotted owls are rarely found at 
elevations greater than 4,200 ft (1,280 m) in this region) grading into 
the mesic Puget lowland to the west.
Subunit Descriptions--Unit 4
    WCN-1. The WCN-1 subunit consists of approximately 613,375 ac 
(248,224 ha) in Whatcom, Skagit, and Snohomish Counties, Washington, 
and comprises lands managed by the National Park Service, Forest 
Service, State of Washington, and private landowners. Of this subunit, 
12,649 ac (5,119 ha) are managed as part of the North Cascades National 
Park and Recreation Area as a Congressionally reserved or wilderness 
area under the NWFP and we propose to exclude these lands in the final 
critical habitat designation. The Forest Service manages 433,592 ac 
(175,469

[[Page 14110]]

ha) as Late-successional Reserves to maintain functional, interactive, 
late-successional, and old-growth forest ecosystems; 66,653 ac (26,974 
ha) as Congressionally reserved or wilderness areas (propose to 
exclude); and 4,873 ac (1,972 ha) under the Matrix land use allocation 
where multiple uses occur, including most timber harvest and other 
silvicultural activities. The State of Washington, primarily the 
Department of Natural Resources manages 95,837 ac (38,784 ha) for 
multiple uses, including timber revenue production, water quality, 
recreation and wildlife habitat. Threats in this subunit include 
current and past timber harvest, competition with barred owls, steep 
topography with high-elevation ridges that separate relatively small, 
linear strips of suitable habitat in valley bottoms, and location at 
the northern limit of the subspecies range. This subunit is expected to 
function primarily for demographic support of the overall population 
and to maintain the subspecies distribution in the northernmost portion 
of its range. WCN-1 is located in the watersheds of the Stillaguamish, 
Skagit, and Nooksack rivers, and is bounded on the north by the 
international boundary with British Columbia, Canada. In this subunit, 
we propose to exclude lands covered under the Washington Department of 
Natural Resources State Lands HCP.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 92 percent of the area of WCN-1 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    WCN-2. The WCN-2 subunit consists of approximately 206,885 ac 
(83,723 ha) in King and Snohomish Counties, Washington, and comprises 
lands managed by the Forest Service, State of Washington, and private 
landowners. The Forest Service manages 104,821 ac (42,420 ha) as Late-
successional Reserves to maintain functional, interactive, late-
successional, and old-growth forest ecosystems; 86,274 ac (35,914 ha) 
as Congressionally reserved or wilderness areas (propose to exclude); 
and 296 ac (120 ha) under the Matrix land use allocation where multiple 
uses occur, including most timber harvest and other silvicultural 
activities. The State of Washington, primarily the Department of 
Natural Resources manages 15,569 ac (6,300 ha) for multiple uses, 
including timber revenue production, water quality, recreation, and 
wildlife habitat. Threats in this subunit include current and past 
timber harvest, competition with barred owls, and steep topography with 
high-elevation ridges that separate relatively small, linear strips of 
suitable habitat in valley bottoms. This subunit has a key role in 
maintaining connectivity between spotted owl populations, both north to 
south in the West Cascades and west to east between the West and East 
Cascades units. This role is shared with the WCC-1 subunit to the south 
and the ECN-4 subunit to the east. This subunit is also expected to 
provide demographic support of the overall population. WCN-2 is located 
in the watersheds of the Snohomish and Cedar/Sammamish rivers. In this 
subunit, we propose to exclude lands covered under the Washington 
Department of Natural Resources State Lands HCP.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 79 percent of the area of WCN-2 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.

Unit 5: West Cascades Central (WCC)

    This unit contains 1,353,045 ac (547,558 ha) and three subunits. 
This region consists of the midsection of the Western Cascades Section 
M242B, based on section descriptions of forest types from Ecological 
Subregions of the United States (McNab and Avers 1994a, Section M242B), 
extending from Snoqualmie Pass in central Washington south to the 
Columbia River. It is similar to the Southern Washington Cascades 
Province of Franklin and Dyrness (1988, pp. 21-23). We separated this 
region from the northern section based on differences in spotted owl 
habitat due to relatively milder temperatures, lower elevations, and 
greater proportion of western hemlock/Douglas-fir forest and occurrence 
of noble fir (A. procera) to the south of Snoqualmie Pass. Because 
Douglas-fir dwarf mistletoe occurs rarely in this region, spotted owl 
nest sites are largely limited to defects in large trees, and 
occasionally nests of other raptors.
Subunit Descriptions--Unit 5
    WCC-1. The WCC-1 subunit consists of approximately 384,797 ac 
(155,722 ha) in King, Pierce, Thurston, Lewis, Kittitas, and Yakima 
Counties, Washington, and comprises lands managed by the National Park 
Service, Forest Service, State of Washington, and private landowners. 
Of this subunit, 79,551 ac (32,193 ha) are managed as part of the Mount 
Rainier National Park as a Congressionally reserved or wilderness area 
under the NWFP and we propose to exclude these lands in the final 
critical habitat designation. The Forest Service manages 189,984 ac 
(76,884 ha) as Late-successional Reserves to maintain functional, 
interactive, late-successional, and old-growth forest ecosystems; 
35,175 ac (14,235 ha) as Congressionally reserved or wilderness areas 
(propose to exclude); and 31,329 ac (12,678 ha) under the Matrix land 
use allocation where multiple uses occur, including most timber harvest 
and other silvicultural activities. The State of Washington, primarily 
the Department of Natural Resources manages 3,322 ac (1,345 ha) for 
multiple uses, including timber revenue production, water quality, 
recreation, and wildlife habitat. Private landowners manage 45,463 ac 
(18,398 ha) for various uses within the I-90 West, I-90 East, and 
Mineral Block SOSEAs, including maintenance of spotted owl habitat for 
demographic and dispersal support of habitat on Federal lands and will 
be considered for exclusion in the final designation. Threats in this 
subunit include current

[[Page 14111]]

and past timber harvest, competition with barred owls, and stand 
conversion. This subunit is expected to provide demographic support of 
the overall population and to maintain demographic connectivity between 
the Cascade Range and the Olympic Peninsula in conjunction with subunit 
NCO-3. WCC-1 is located primarily in the watersheds of the Nisqually, 
Puyallup, White, Duwamish, and Green rivers, and also includes portions 
of the Cowlitz River watershed in the Mineral Block SOSEA. In this 
subunit, we propose to exclude lands covered under the Washington 
Department of Natural Resources State Lands HCP, the Cedar River 
Watershed HCP, the Plum Creek Timber Central Cascades HCP, the West 
Fork Timber HCP, and the Tacoma Water Green River Water Supply 
Operations and Watershed Protection HCP.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 96 percent of the area of WCC-1 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    WCC-2. The WCC-2 subunit consists of approximately 403,978 ac 
(163,484 ha) in Pierce, Lewis, Cowlitz, Skamania, and Yakima Counties, 
Washington, and comprises lands managed by the National Park Service, 
Forest Service, State of Washington, and private landowners. 
Congressionally reserved natural areas in Federal ownership are 
proposed for exclusion. Of this subunit, 44,453 ac (17,989 ha) are 
managed as part of the Mount Rainier National Park as a Congressionally 
reserved or wilderness area under the NWFP. The Forest Service manages 
116,982 ac (47,341 ha) as Late-successional Reserves to maintain 
functional, interactive, late-successional, and old-growth forest 
ecosystems; 78,191 ac (31,643 ha) as Congressionally reserved or 
wilderness areas; and 164,206 ac (66,452 ha) under the Matrix land use 
allocation where multiple uses occur, including most timber harvest and 
other silvicultural activities. Private landowners manage 195 ac (79 
ha) for various uses within the Mineral Block SOSEA, including 
maintenance of spotted owl habitat for demographic and dispersal 
support of habitat on Federal lands and will be considered for 
exclusion in the final designation. Threats in this subunit include 
current and past timber harvest and competition with barred owls. This 
subunit is expected to provide demographic support of the overall 
population. WCC-2 is located primarily in the Cowlitz River watersheds 
west of the Cascade Crest and the headwaters of the Naches River 
watershed east of the Crest. In this subunit, we propose to exclude 
lands covered under the Washington Department of Natural Resources 
State Lands HCP, the West Fork Timber HCP, and the Port Blakely Tree 
Farms L.P. (Morton Block) SHA, Landowner Option Plan, and Cooperative 
Habitat Enhancement Agreement in the final critical habitat 
designation.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 96 percent of the area of WCC-2 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    WCC-3. The WCC-3 subunit consists of approximately 499,449 ac 
(202,120 ha) in Clark, Skamania, and Yakima Counties, Washington, and 
comprises lands managed by the Forest Service, the State of Washington, 
and private landowners. The Forest Service manages 286,220 ac (115,829 
ha) as Late-successional Reserves to maintain functional, interactive, 
late-successional, and old-growth forest ecosystems; 32,862 ac (13,299 
ha) as Congressionally reserved or wilderness areas (propose to 
exclude); and 125,488 ac (50,783 ha) under the Matrix land use 
allocation where multiple uses occur, including most timber harvest and 
other silvicultural activities. The State of Washington, primarily the 
Department of Natural Resources, manages 63,504 ac (21,652 ha) in the 
Siouxon and Columbia Gorge SOSEAs for multiple uses, including timber 
revenue production, water quality, recreation and wildlife habitat. 
Private landowners manage 1,746 ac (706 ha) for various uses within the 
Siouxon and Columbia Gorge SOSEAs, including maintenance of spotted owl 
habitat for demographic and dispersal support of habitat on Federal 
lands and will be considered for exclusion in the final designation. 
Threats in this subunit include current and past timber harvest, 
competition with barred owls, and the Columbia River as an impediment 
to spotted owl dispersal. This subunit is expected to provide 
demographic support of the overall population and an opportunity for 
demographic exchange between the WCC Unit and the WCS Unit. WCC-3 is 
located primarily in the watersheds of the Lewis, Wind, and White 
Salmon rivers, and is bounded on the south by the Columbia River. In 
this subunit, we propose to exclude lands covered under the Washington 
Department of Natural Resources State Lands HCP.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 96 percent of the area of WCC-3 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and

[[Page 14112]]

buffering from competition with the barred owl.

Unit 6: West Cascades South (WCS)

    Unit 6 contains 1,624,900 ac (657,574 ha) and contains six 
subunits. This unit consists of the southern portion of the Western 
Cascades Section M242B, based on section descriptions of forest types 
from Ecological Subregions of the United States (McNab and Avers 1994a, 
Section M242B), and extends from the Columbia River south to the North 
Umpqua River. We separated this region from the northern section due to 
its relatively milder temperatures, reduced summer precipitation due to 
the influence of the Willamette Valley to the west, lower elevations, 
and greater proportion of western hemlock/Douglas-fir forest. The 
southern portion of this region exhibits a gradient between Douglas-
fir/western hemlock and increasing Klamath-like vegetation (mixed 
conifer/evergreen hardwoods) which continues across the Umpqua divide 
area. The southern boundary of this region is novel and reflects a 
transition to mixed-conifer forest (Franklin and Dyrness 1988, pp. 23-
24, 137-143). The importance of Douglas-fir dwarf mistletoe increases 
to the south in this region, but most spotted owl nest sites in 
defective large trees, and occasionally nests of other raptors.
Subunit Descriptions--Unit 6
    WCS-1. The WCS-1 subunit consists of approximately 177,738 ac 
(71,928 ha) in Multnomah, Hood River, and Clackamas Counties, Oregon, 
and comprises only Federal lands managed by the BLM and the Forest 
Service under the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Congressionally 
reserved natural areas in Federal ownership are proposed for exclusion. 
Special management considerations or protection are required in this 
subunit to address threats from current and past timber harvest and 
competition with barred owls. This subunit is expected to function 
primarily for demographic support to the overall population, as well as 
north-south and east-west connectivity between subunits and CHUs.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 88 percent of the area of WCS-1 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    WCS-2. The WCS-2 subunit consists of approximately 195,833 ac 
(79,251 ha) in Clackamas, Marion, and Wasco Counties, Oregon, and 
comprises only Federal lands managed by the BLM and the Forest Service 
under the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Congressionally reserved 
natural areas in Federal ownership are proposed for exclusion. Special 
management considerations or protection are required in this subunit to 
address threats from current and past timber harvest and competition 
with barred owls. This subunit is expected to function primarily for 
demographic support to the overall population, as well as north-south 
connectivity between subunits.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 82 percent of the area of WCS-2 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011 p. ix). The increase and 
enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for viable 
populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    WCS-3. The WCS-3 subunit consists of approximately 374,061 ac 
(151,377 ha) in Clackamas, Marion, Linn, and Lane Counties, Oregon, and 
comprises lands managed by the State of Oregon, the BLM, and the Forest 
Service. Congressionally reserved natural areas in Federal ownership 
are proposed for exclusion. Of this subunit, 183 ac (74 ha) are managed 
by the State of Oregon primarily for recreation (Oregon Administrative 
Rules, ch. 736, entire). The remaining 373,878 ac (151,303 ha) are 
Federal lands managed as directed by the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, 
entire). Special management considerations or protection are required 
in this subunit to address threats from current and past timber harvest 
and competition with barred owls. This subunit is expected to function 
primarily for demographic support to the overall population, as well as 
north-south connectivity between subunits.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 85 percent of the area of WCS-3 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    WCS-4. The WCS-4 subunit consists of approximately 453,146 ac 
(183,382 ha) in Lane and Douglas Counties, Oregon, and comprises only 
Federal lands managed by the BLM and the Forest Service under the NWFP 
(USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Congressionally reserved natural areas in 
Federal ownership are proposed for exclusion. Special management 
considerations or protection are required in this subunit to address 
threats from current and past timber harvest and competition with 
barred owls. This subunit is expected to function primarily for 
demographic support to the overall population, as well as north-south 
connectivity between subunits.

[[Page 14113]]

    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 86 percent of the area of WCS-4 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    WCS-5. The WCS-5 subunit consists of approximately 370,253 ac 
(149,836 ha) in Lane and Douglas Counties, Oregon, and comprises only 
Federal lands managed by the Forest Service under the NWFP (USDA and 
USDI 1994, entire). Congressionally reserved natural areas in Federal 
ownership are proposed for exclusion. Special management considerations 
or protection are required in this subunit to address threats from 
current and past timber harvest and competition with barred owls. This 
subunit is expected to function primarily for demographic support to 
the overall population, as well as north-south and east-west 
connectivity between subunits and CHUs.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 83 percent of the area of WCS-5 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    WCS-6. The WCS-6 subunit consists of approximately 104,650 ac 
(42,351 ha) in Lane, Klamath and Douglas Counties, Oregon, and is 
managed by the BLM and the Forest Service as directed by the NWFP (USDA 
and USDI 1994, entire). Special management considerations or protection 
are required in this subunit to address threats from current and past 
timber harvest and competition with barred owls. This subunit is 
expected to function primarily for east-west connectivity between 
subunits and CHUs, and between the Oregon coast and the western 
Cascades.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 97 percent of the area of WCS-6 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.

Unit 7: East Cascades North (ECN)

    Unit 7 contains 1,919,469 ac (776,781 ha) and nine subunits. This 
unit consists of the eastern slopes of the Cascade range, extending 
from the Canadian border south to the Deschutes National Forest near 
Bend, OR. Terrain in portions of this region is glaciated and steeply 
dissected. This region is characterized by a continental climate (cold, 
snowy winters and dry summers) and a high-frequency/low-mixed severity 
fire regime. Increased precipitation from marine air passing east 
through Snoqualmie Pass and the Columbia River has resulted in an 
increase of moist forest conditions in this region (Hessburg et al. 
2000b, p. 165). Forest composition, particularly the presence of grand 
fir and western larch, distinguishes this modeling region from the 
southern section of the eastern Cascades. While ponderosa pine forest 
dominates lower and middle elevations in both this and the southern 
section, the northern section supports grand fir and Douglas-fir 
habitat at middle elevations. Dwarf mistletoe provides an important 
component of nesting habitat, enabling spotted owls to nest within 
stands of relatively younger, small trees.
Subunit Descriptions--Unit 7
    ECN-1. The ECN-1 subunit consists of approximately 135,108 ac 
(54,676 ha) in Whatcom, Skagit, and Okanogan Counties, Washington, and 
comprises lands managed by the National Park Service and Forest 
Service. Of this subunit, 2,634 ac (1,066 ha) are managed as part of 
the North Cascades National Park and Recreation Area as a 
Congressionally reserved or wilderness area under the NWFP and we 
propose to exclude these lands from the final critical habitat 
designation. The Forest Service manages 78,681 ac (31,841 ha) as Late-
successional Reserves to maintain functional, interactive, late-
successional and old-growth forest ecosystems; 31,323 ac (12,676 ha) as 
Congressionally reserved or wilderness areas (propose to exclude); and 
22,480 ac (9,097 ha) under the Matrix land use allocation where 
multiple uses occur, including most timber harvest and other 
silvicultural activities. Threats in this subunit include current and 
past timber harvest; competition with barred owls; removal or 
modification of habitat by forest fires, insects, and diseases; steep 
topography with high-elevation ridges that separate relatively small, 
linear, strips of suitable habitat in valley bottoms; and location at 
the northeastern limit of the range of the subspecies. This subunit is 
expected to provide demographic support of the overall population and 
maintain the subspecies distribution in the northeastern portion of its 
range. ECN-1 is located primarily in the watershed of the Methow River 
and includes a small portion of the upper Skagit River watershed. It is 
bounded on the north by the international boundary with British 
Columbia, Canada.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 41 percent of the area of ECN-1 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and

[[Page 14114]]

occupancy by non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). 
The increase and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to 
provide for viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by 
providing for population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering 
from competition with the barred owl.
    ECN-2. The ECN-2 subunit consists of approximately 164,310 ac 
(66,494 ha) in Chelan County, Washington, and comprises lands managed 
by the National Park Service, and Forest Service. Of this subunit, 
48,922 ac (19,798 ha) are managed as part of the North Cascades 
National Park and Recreation Area as a Congressionally reserved or 
wilderness area under the NWFP and we propose to exclude these lands in 
the final critical habitat designation. The Forest Service manages 
41,999 ac (16,997 ha) as Late-successional Reserves to maintain 
functional, interactive, late-successional and old-growth forest 
ecosystems; 55,618 ac (22,508 ha) as Congressionally reserved or 
wilderness areas (propose to exclude); and 17,771 ac (7,192 ha) under 
the Matrix land use allocation where multiple uses occur, including 
most timber harvest and other silvicultural activities. Threats in this 
subunit include current and past timber harvest; competition with 
barred owls; steep topography with high-elevation ridges that separate 
relatively small, linear, strips of suitable habitat in valley bottoms; 
the combination of Lake Chelan and the Sawtooth Mountains acting as a 
barrier to dispersal; and removal or modification of habitat by forest 
fires, insects, and diseases. This subunit is expected to provide 
demographic support of the overall population. ECN-2 is located 
primarily in the watersheds of the Chelan and Entiat rivers.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 34 percent of the area of ECN-2 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    ECN-3. The ECN-3 subunit consists of approximately 423,801 ac 
(171,506 ha) in Chelan County, Washington, and comprises lands managed 
by the Forest Service, the State of Washington, and private landowners. 
The Forest Service manages 186,478 ac (75,465 ha) as Late-successional 
Reserves to maintain functional, interactive, late-successional and 
old-growth forest ecosystems; 97,131 ac (39,307 ha) as Congressionally 
reserved or wilderness areas (propose to exclude); and 112,267 ac 
(45,433 ha) under the Matrix land use allocation where multiple uses 
occur, including most timber harvest and other silvicultural 
activities. The State of Washington, primarily the Department of 
Natural Resources, manages 5,819 ac (2,355 ha) in the Entiat and North 
Blewett SOSEAs for multiple uses, including timber revenue production, 
water quality, recreation, and wildlife habitat. Private landowners 
manage 22,575 ac (9,136 ha) for various uses within the Entiat and 
North Blewett SOSEAs, including maintenance of spotted owl habitat for 
demographic and dispersal support of habitat on Federal lands and will 
be considered for exclusion in the final designation. Threats in this 
subunit include current and past timber harvest, competition with 
barred owls, and removal or modification of habitat by forest fires, 
insects, and diseases. This subunit is expected to provide demographic 
support of the overall population. ECN-3 is located primarily in the 
watershed of the Wenatchee River. In this subunit, we propose to 
exclude lands covered under the Washington Department of Natural 
Resources State Lands HCP and the Scofield Corporation HCP.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 71 percent of the area of ECN-3 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    ECN-4. The ECN-4 subunit consists of approximately 303,494 ac 
(123,224 ha) in Kittitas County, Washington, and comprises lands 
managed by the Forest Service, the State of Washington, and private 
landowners. The Forest Service manages 99,040 ac (40,080 ha) as Late-
successional Reserves to maintain functional, interactive, late-
successional, and old-growth forest ecosystems; 35,507 ac (14,369 ha) 
as Congressionally reserved or wilderness areas (propose to exclude) 
and 93,283 ac (37,750 ha) under the Matrix land use allocation where 
multiple uses occur, including most timber harvest and other 
silvicultural activities. The State of Washington, primarily the 
Department of Natural Resources, manages 9,781 ac (3,958 ha) mostly in 
the I-90 East SOSEA for multiple uses, including timber revenue 
production, water quality, recreation, and wildlife habitat. Private 
landowners manage 66,814 ac (27,039 ha) for various uses within the I-
90 East SOSEA, including maintenance of spotted owl habitat for 
demographic and dispersal support of habitat on Federal lands and will 
be considered for exclusion in the final designation. Threats in this 
subunit include current and past timber harvest, competition with 
barred owls, and removal or modification of habitat by forest fires, 
insects, and diseases. This subunit is expected to provide demographic 
support of the overall population. This subunit also has a key role in 
maintaining connectivity between spotted owl populations, both north to 
south in the East Cascades North Unit and west to east between the West 
and East Cascades units. This role

[[Page 14115]]

is shared with the WCN-2 subunit and the WCC-1 subunit to the west. 
ECN-4 is located primarily in the Upper Yakima River watershed. In this 
subunit, we propose to exclude lands covered under the Washington 
Department of Natural Resources State Lands HCP and the Plum Creek 
Timber Central Cascades HCP.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 78 percent of the area of ECN-4 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    ECN-5. The ECN-5 subunit consists of approximately 300,384 ac 
(121,561 ha) in Kittitas and Yakima Counties, Washington, and comprises 
lands managed by the Forest Service, the State of Washington, and 
private landowners. The Forest Service manages 115,583 ac (46,775 ha) 
as Late-successional Reserves to maintain functional, interactive, 
late-successional, and old-growth forest ecosystems; 95,351 ac (38,587 
ha) as Congressionally reserved or wilderness areas (propose to 
exclude); and 83,692 ac (33,869 ha) under the Matrix land use 
allocation where multiple uses occur, including most timber harvest and 
other silvicultural activities. The State of Washington, primarily the 
Department of Natural Resources, manages 3,400 ac (1,376 ha) mostly in 
the I-90 East SOSEA for multiple uses, including timber revenue 
production, water quality, recreation, and wildlife habitat. Private 
landowners manage 2,322 ac (940 ha) for various uses within the I-90 
East SOSEA, including maintenance of spotted owl habitat for 
demographic and dispersal support of habitat on Federal lands and will 
be considered for exclusion in the final designation. Threats in this 
subunit include current and past timber harvest, competition with 
barred owls, and removal or modification of habitat by forest fires, 
insects, and diseases. This subunit is expected to provide demographic 
support of the overall population. ECN-5 is located primarily in the 
watershed of the Naches River. In this subunit, we propose to exclude 
lands covered under the Washington Department of Natural Resources 
State Lands HCP and the Plum Creek Timber Central Cascades HCP.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 85 percent of the area of ECN-5 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    ECN-6. The ECN-6 subunit consists of approximately 169,139 ac 
(68,448 ha) in Skamania, Yakima, and Klickitat Counties, Washington, 
and comprises lands managed by the Forest Service, the State of 
Washington, and private landowners. Of this subunit, 4,466 ac (1,807 
ha) are managed as part of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic 
Area as a Congressionally reserved area under the NWFP which we propose 
to exclude in the final critical habitat designation. The Forest 
Service manages 32,430 ac (13,124 ha) as Late-successional Reserves to 
maintain functional, interactive, late-successional, and old-growth 
forest ecosystems; and 49,338 ac (19,967 ha) under the Matrix land use 
allocation where multiple uses occur, including most timber harvest and 
other silvicultural activities. The State of Washington, primarily the 
Department of Natural Resources, manages 39,555 ac (16,007 ha), mostly 
in the White Salmon SOSEA for multiple uses, including timber revenue 
production, water quality, recreation, and wildlife habitat. Private 
landowners manage 43,392 ac (17,560 ha) for various uses within the 
White Salmon SOSEA, including maintenance of spotted owl habitat for 
demographic and dispersal support of habitat on Federal lands and will 
be considered for exclusion in the final designation. Threats in this 
subunit include current and past timber harvest, competition with 
barred owls, and the Columbia River as an impediment to spotted owl 
dispersal. This subunit is expected to provide demographic support of 
the overall population. ECN-6 is located primarily in the watersheds of 
the Klickitat and White Salmon rivers, and is bounded on the south by 
the Columbia River. In this subunit, we propose to exclude lands 
covered under the Washington Department of Natural Resources State 
Lands HCP.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 88 percent of the area of ECN-6 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    ECN-7. The ECN-7 subunit consists of approximately 174,949 ac 
(70,799 ha) in Hood River and Wasco Counties, Oregon, and comprises 
only Federal lands managed by the Forest Service under the NWFP (USDA 
and USDI 1994, entire). Congressionally reserved natural areas in 
Federal ownership are proposed for exclusion. Special management 
considerations or protection are required in this subunit to address 
threats from current and past timber harvest, losses due to wildfire 
and the effects on vegetation from fire exclusion, and competition with 
barred owls. This subunit is expected to function primarily for 
demographic

[[Page 14116]]

support to the overall population, as well as north-south and east-west 
connectivity between subunits and CHUs.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that nearly 100 percent of the area of ECN-7 was covered by 
verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When combined 
with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by non-
territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit to 
have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, there 
may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat mosaic 
of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We have 
determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in this 
subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet the 
recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    ECN-8. The ECN-8 subunit consists of approximately 157,877 ac 
(63,891 ha) in Jefferson and Deschutes Counties, Oregon, of Federal 
lands managed by the Forest Service under the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, 
entire). Congressionally reserved natural areas in Federal ownership 
are proposed for exclusion. Special management considerations or 
protection are required in this subunit to address threats from current 
and past timber harvest, losses due to wildfire and the effects on 
vegetation from fire exclusion, and competition with barred owls. This 
subunit is expected to function primarily for demographic support to 
the overall population, as well as north-south connectivity between 
subunits.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 61 percent of the area of ECN-8 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    ECN-9. The ECN-9 subunit consists of approximately 158,126 ac 
(63,991 ha) in Deschutes and Klamath Counties, Oregon, and comprises 
only Federal lands managed by the Forest Service under the NWFP (USDA 
and USDI 1994). Congressionally reserved natural areas in Federal 
ownership are proposed for exclusion. Special management considerations 
or protection are required in this subunit to address threats from 
current and past timber harvest, losses due to wildfire and the effects 
on vegetation from fire exclusion, and competition with barred owls. 
This subunit is expected to function primarily for demographic support 
to the overall population, as well as north-south connectivity between 
subunits and CHUs.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 45 percent of the area of ECN-9 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.

Unit 8: East Cascades South (ECS)

    Unit 8 contains 526,815 ac (213,195 ha) and three subunits. This 
unit incorporates the Southern Cascades Ecological Section M261D, based 
on section descriptions of forest types from Ecological Subregions of 
the United States (McNab and Avers 1994c, Section M261D) and the 
eastern slopes of the Cascades from the Crescent Ranger District of the 
Deschutes National Forest south to the Shasta area. Topography is 
gentler and less dissected than the glaciated northern section of the 
eastern Cascades. A large expanse of recent volcanic soils (pumice 
region) (Franklin and Dyrness 1988, pp. 25-26), large areas of 
lodgepole pine, and increasing presence of red fir (A. magnifica) and 
white fir (and decreasing grand fir) along a south-trending gradient 
further supported separation of this region from the northern portion 
of the eastern Cascades. This region is characterized by a continental 
climate (cold, snowy winters and dry summers) and a high-frequency/low-
mixed severity fire regime. Ponderosa pine is a dominant forest type at 
mid-to-lower elevations, with a narrow band of Douglas-fir and white 
fir at middle elevations providing the majority of spotted owl habitat. 
Dwarf mistletoe provides an important component of nesting habitat, 
enabling spotted owls to nest within stands of relatively younger, 
smaller trees.
Subunit Descriptions--Unit 8
    ECS-1. The ECS-1 subunit consists of approximately 192,523 ac 
(77,911 ha) in Klamath, Jackson, and Douglas Counties, Oregon, and 
comprises lands managed by the BLM, the National Park Service, and the 
Forest Service. Of these acres 21,129 ac (8,550 ha) are under 
management of the National Park Service and are proposed for exclusion 
in the final critical habitat designation, while the remaining 170,394 
ac (69,361 ha) are BLM and Forest Service lands managed as directed by 
the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Special management 
considerations or protection are required in this subunit to address 
threats from current and past timber harvest, losses due to wildfire 
and the effects on vegetation from fire exclusion, and competition with 
barred owls. This subunit is expected to function primarily for 
demographic support to the overall population, as well as north-south 
and east-west connectivity between subunits and CHUs. This subunit is 
adjacent to ECS-2 to the south.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 78 percent of the area of ECS-1 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger

[[Page 14117]]

forest within the habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied 
at the time of listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied 
and likely occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the 
conservation of the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls 
for the continued maintenance and recruitment of spotted owl habitat 
(USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of spotted owls 
over the long term by providing for population expansion, successful 
dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred owl.
    ECS-2. The ECS-2 subunit consists of approximately 90,012 ac 
(36,427 ha) in Klamath and Jackson Counties, Oregon, and Siskiyou 
County, California, all of which are Federal lands managed by the BLM 
and Forest Service per the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). 
Congressionally reserved natural areas in Federal ownership are 
proposed for exclusion in the final critical habitat designation. 
Special management considerations or protection are required in this 
subunit to address threats from current and past timber harvest, losses 
due to wildfire and the effects on vegetation from fire exclusion, and 
competition with barred owls. This subunit is expected to function 
primarily for north-south connectivity between subunits, but also for 
demographic support in this area of sparse Federal land and sparse 
high-quality nesting habitat.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 77 percent of the area of ECS-2 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    ECS-3. The ECS-3 subunit consists of approximately 112,960 ac 
(45,713 ha) in Siskiyou County, California, all of which are Federal 
lands managed by the Forest Service per the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, 
entire). Special management considerations or protection are required 
in this subunit to address threats from current and past timber 
harvest, losses due to wildfire and the effects on vegetation from fire 
exclusion, and competition with barred owls. The function of this 
subunit is to provide demographic support in this area of sparsely 
distributed high-quality habitat and Federal land, and to provide for 
population connectivity between subunits to the north and south.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 69 percent of the area of ECS-3 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider a large part 
of this subunit to have been occupied at the time of listing. There are 
some areas of younger forest in this subunit that may have been 
unoccupied at the time of listing. We have determined that all of the 
unoccupied and likely occupied areas in this subunit are essential for 
the conservation of the species to meet the recovery criterion that 
calls for the continued maintenance and recruitment of spotted owl 
habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of spotted 
owl habitat in this subunit is especially important for providing 
essential connectivity between currently occupied areas to support the 
successful dispersal of spotted owls, and may also help to buffer 
spotted owls from competition with the barred owl.

Unit 9: Klamath West (KLW)

    Unit 9 contains 1,290,687 ac (522,322 ha) and nine subunits. This 
unit consists of the western portion of the Klamath Mountains 
Ecological Section M261A, based on section descriptions of forest types 
from Ecological Subregions of the United States (McNab and Avers 1994c, 
Section M261A). A long north-south trending system of mountains 
(particularly South Fork Mountain) creates a rainshadow effect that 
separates this region from more mesic conditions to the west. This 
region is characterized by very high climatic and vegetative diversity 
resulting from steep gradients of elevation, dissected topography, and 
the influence of marine air (relatively high potential precipitation). 
These conditions support a highly diverse mix of mesic forest 
communities such as Pacific Douglas-fir, Douglas-fir tanoak, and mixed 
evergreen forest interspersed with more xeric forest types. Overall, 
the distribution of tanoak is a dominant factor distinguishing the 
Western Klamath Region. Douglas-fir dwarf mistletoe is uncommon and 
seldom used for nesting platforms by spotted owls. The prey base of 
spotted owls within the Western Klamath is diverse, but dominated by 
woodrats and flying squirrels.
Subunit Descriptions--Unit 9
    KLW-1. The KLW-1 subunit consists of approximately 156,075 ac 
(63,161 ha) in Douglas, Josephine, Curry, and Coos Counties, Oregon, 
and comprises lands managed by the State of Oregon and the BLM. Of this 
subunit 7,236 ac (2,928 ha) are managed by the State of Oregon for 
multiple uses including timber revenue production, recreation, and 
wildlife habitat according to the Southwest Oregon State Forests 
Management Plan (ODF 2010b, entire) and may be considered for exclusion 
in the final critical habitat designation. Federal lands comprise 
148,837 ac (60,233 ha) and are managed as directed by the NWFP (USDA 
and USDI 1994, entire). Special management considerations or protection 
are required in this subunit to address threats from current and past 
timber harvest, losses due to wildfire and the effects on vegetation 
from fire exclusion, and competition with barred owls. This subunit is 
expected to function for demographic support to the overall population 
and for north-south and east-west connectivity between subunits and 
CHUs. This subunit sits at the western edge of an important 
connectivity corridor between coastal Oregon and the western Cascades.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 96 percent of the area of KLW-1 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable

[[Page 14118]]

populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    KLW-2. The KLW-2 subunit consists of approximately 150,777 ac 
(61,017 ha) in Josephine, Curry, and Coos Counties, Oregon, and 
comprises lands managed by the Forest Service and the BLM as directed 
by the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Congressionally reserved 
natural areas in Federal ownership are proposed for exclusion in the 
final critical habitat designation. Special management considerations 
or protection are required in this subunit to address threats from 
current and past timber harvest, losses due to wildfire and the effects 
on vegetation from fire exclusion, and competition with barred owls. 
This subunit is expected to function for demographic support to the 
overall population and for north-south and east-west connectivity 
between subunits and CHUs.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 71 percent of the area of KLW-2 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    KLW-3. The KLW-3 subunit consists of approximately 111,595 ac 
(45,161 ha) in Josephine, Curry, and Coos Counties, Oregon, and 
comprises lands managed by the Forest Service, the BLM and the State of 
Oregon. There are 110,356 ac (44,660 ha) of Federal lands managed as 
directed by the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). The 837 ac (339 ha) 
of State of Oregon lands are managed according to the Southwest Oregon 
State Forests Management Plan (ODF 2010b, entire) and may be considered 
for exclusion for the final critical habitat designation. Special 
management considerations or protection are required in this subunit to 
address threats from current and past timber harvest, losses due to 
wildfire and the effects on vegetation from fire exclusion, and 
competition with barred owls. This subunit is expected to function for 
demographic support to the overall population and for north-south 
connectivity between subunits and CHUs.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 88 percent of the area of KLW-3 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    KLW-4. The KLW-4 subunit consists of approximately 155,811 ac 
(63,055 ha) in Josephine and Jackson Counties, Oregon, and Del Norte 
and Siskiyou Counties, California, and comprises lands managed by the 
Forest Service, the BLM, and the NPS that are managed as directed by 
the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Congressionally reserved natural 
areas in Federal ownership are proposed for exclusion in the final 
critical habitat designation. Special management considerations or 
protection are required in this subunit to address threats from current 
and past timber harvest, losses due to wildfire and the effects on 
vegetation from fire exclusion, and competition with barred owls. This 
subunit is expected to function for demographic support to the overall 
population and for north-south and east-west connectivity between 
subunits and CHUs.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 95 percent of the area of KLW-4 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    KLW-5. The KLW-5 subunit consists of approximately 28,622 ac 
(11,583 ha) in Josephine County, Oregon, and Del Norte and Siskiyou 
Counties, California, all of which are Federal lands managed by the BLM 
and Forest Service per the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). 
Congressionally reserved natural areas in Federal ownership are 
proposed for exclusion in the final critical habitat designation. 
Special management considerations or protection are required in this 
subunit to address threats from current and past timber harvest, losses 
due to wildfire and the effects on vegetation from fire exclusion, and 
competition with barred owls. This subunit is expected to function for 
demographic support.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 98 percent of the area of KLW-5 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population

[[Page 14119]]

expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with 
the barred owl.
    KLW-6. The KLW-6 subunit consists of approximately 159,566 ac 
(64,574 ha) in Del Norte, Humboldt, and Siskiyou Counties, California, 
all of which are Federal lands managed by the Forest Service as 
directed by the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Congressionally 
reserved natural areas in Federal ownership are proposed for exclusion 
in the final critical habitat designation. Special management 
considerations or protection are required in this subunit to address 
threats from current and past timber harvest, losses due to wildfire 
and the effects on vegetation from fire exclusion, and competition with 
barred owls. This subunit is expected to function for demographic 
support.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 91 percent of the area of KLW-6 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    KLW-7. The KLW-7 subunit consists of approximately 302,139 ac 
(122,271 ha) in Del Norte, Humboldt, and Siskiyou Counties, California, 
all of which are Federal lands managed by the BLM and Forest Service as 
directed by the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Congressionally 
reserved natural areas in Federal ownership are proposed for exclusion 
in the final critical habitat designation. Special management 
considerations or protection are required in this subunit to address 
threats from current and past timber harvest, losses due to wildfire 
and the effects on vegetation from fire exclusion, and competition with 
barred owls. This subunit is expected to function for demographic 
support.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 91 percent of the area of KLW-7 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    KLW-8. The KLW-8 subunit consists of approximately 118,671 ac 
(48,024 ha) in Siskiyou and Trinity Counties, California, all of which 
are Federal lands managed by the BLM and Forest Service as directed by 
the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Congressionally reserved natural 
areas in Federal ownership are proposed for exclusion in the final 
critical habitat designation. Special management considerations or 
protection are required in this subunit to address threats from current 
and past timber harvest, losses due to wildfire and the effects on 
vegetation from fire exclusion, and competition with barred owls. This 
subunit is expected to function for demographic support.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 85 percent of the area of KLW-8 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    KLW-9. The KLW-9 subunit consists of approximately 190,140 ac 
(76,949 ha) in Humboldt and Trinity Counties, California, all of which 
are Federal lands managed by the Forest Service as directed by the NWFP 
(USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Congressionally reserved natural areas in 
Federal ownership are proposed for exclusion in the final critical 
habitat designation. Special management considerations or protection 
are required in this subunit to address threats from current and past 
timber harvest, losses due to wildfire and the effects on vegetation 
from fire exclusion, and competition with barred owls. This subunit is 
expected to function for demographic support.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 89 percent of the area of KLW-9 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.

Unit 10: Klamath East (KLE)

    Unit 10 contains 1,111,790 ac (449,926 ha) and seven subunits. This 
unit consists of the eastern portion of the Klamath Mountains 
Ecological Section M261A, based on section descriptions of forest types 
from Ecological Subregions of the United States (McNab and Avers 1994c, 
Section M261A), and portions of the Southern Cascades Ecological 
Section M261D in Oregon. This region is characterized by a 
Mediterranean climate, greatly reduced influence of marine air, and

[[Page 14120]]

steep, dissected terrain. Franklin and Dyrness (1988, pp. 137-149) 
differentiate the mixed-conifer forest occurring on the ``Cascade side 
of the Klamath from the more mesic mixed evergreen forests on the 
western portion (Siskiyou Mountains),'' and Kuchler (1977) separates 
out the eastern Klamath based on increased occurrence of ponderosa 
pine. The mixed-conifer/evergreen hardwood forest types typical of the 
Klamath region extend into the southern Cascades in the vicinity of 
Roseburg and the North Umpqua River, where they grade into the western 
hemlock forest typical of the Cascades. High summer temperatures and a 
mosaic of open forest conditions and Oregon white oak (Q. garryana) 
woodlands act to influence spotted owl distribution in this region. 
Spotted owls occur at elevations up to 1,768 m. Dwarf mistletoe 
provides an important component of nesting habitat, enabling spotted 
owls to nest within stands of relatively younger, small trees.
Subunit Descriptions--Unit 10
    KLE-1. The KLE-1 subunit consists of approximately 262,810 ac 
(106,355 ha) in Jackson and Douglas Counties, Oregon, and comprises 
Federal lands managed by the Forest Service and the BLM under the NWFP 
(USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Congressionally reserved natural areas in 
Federal ownership are proposed for exclusion in the final critical 
habitat designation. Special management considerations or protection 
are required in this subunit to address threats from current and past 
timber harvest, losses due to wildfire and the effects on vegetation 
from fire exclusion, and competition with barred owls. This subunit is 
expected to function primarily for demographic support to the overall 
population, as well as north-south and east-west connectivity between 
subunits and CHUs.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 84 percent of the area of KLE-1 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    KLE-2. The KLE-2 subunit consists of approximately 110,477 ac 
(44,709ha) in Josephine and Douglas Counties, Oregon, and comprises 
Federal lands managed by the Forest Service and the BLM under the NWFP 
(USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Special management considerations or 
protection are required in this subunit to address threats from current 
and past timber harvest, losses due to wildfire and the effects on 
vegetation from fire exclusion, and competition with barred owls. This 
subunit is expected to function primarily for east-west connectivity 
between subunits and CHUs, but also for demographic support. This 
subunit facilitates spotted owl movements between the western Cascades 
and coastal Oregon and the Klamath Mountains.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 92 percent of the area of KLE-2 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    KLE-3. The KLE-3 subunit consists of approximately 110,484 ac 
(44,711 ha) in Jackson, Josephine, and Douglas Counties, Oregon, and 
comprises Federal lands managed by the Forest Service and the BLM under 
the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Special management 
considerations or protection are required in this subunit to address 
threats from current and past timber harvest, losses due to wildfire 
and the effects on vegetation from fire exclusion, and competition with 
barred owls. This subunit is expected to function primarily for east-
west connectivity between subunits and CHUs, but also for demographic 
support. This subunit facilitates spotted owl movements between the 
western Cascades and coastal Oregon and the Klamath Mountains.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 97 percent of the area of KLE-3 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    KLE-4. The KLE-4 subunit consists of approximately 307,339 ac 
(124,376 ha) in Jackson, Klamath, and Douglas Counties, Oregon, and 
comprises Federal lands managed by the NPS, Forest Service, and the BLM 
under the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Congressionally reserved 
natural areas in Federal ownership are proposed for exclusion in the 
final critical habitat designation. Special management considerations 
or protection are required in this subunit to address threats from 
current and past timber harvest, losses due to wildfire and the effects 
on vegetation from fire exclusion, and competition with barred owls. 
This subunit is expected to function primarily for east-west 
connectivity between subunits and CHUs, but also for demographic 
support.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 81 percent of the area of KLE-4 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and

[[Page 14121]]

occupancy by non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). 
The increase and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to 
provide for viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by 
providing for population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering 
from competition with the barred owl.
    KLE-5. The KLE-5 subunit consists of approximately 37,646 ac 
(15,325,ha) in Jackson County, Oregon, and comprises lands managed by 
the BLM and the State of Oregon. The 37,606 ac (15,219 ha) of BLM land 
are managed per the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire) while the State 
of Oregon lands are managed under the Southwest Oregon State Forests 
Management Plan (ODF 2010b, entire) and may be considered for exclusion 
in the final critical habitat designation. Special management 
considerations or protection are required in this subunit to address 
threats from current and past timber harvest, losses due to wildfire 
and the effects on vegetation from fire exclusion, and competition with 
barred owls. This subunit is expected to function primarily for north-
south connectivity between subunits, but also for demographic support.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 86 percent of the area of KLE-5 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    KLE-6. The KLE-6 subunit consists of approximately 167,089 ac 
(67,619 ha) in Jackson County, Oregon, and Siskiyou County, California, 
all of which are Federal lands managed by the BLM and Forest Service 
per the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Congressionally reserved 
natural areas in Federal ownership are proposed for exclusion in the 
final critical habitat designation. Special management considerations 
or protection are required in this subunit to address threats from 
current and past timber harvest, losses due to wildfire and the effects 
on vegetation from fire exclusion, and competition with barred owls. 
This subunit is expected to function primarily for north-south 
connectivity between subunits, but also for demographic support.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 97 percent of the area of KLE-6 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    KLE-7. The KLE-7 subunit consists of approximately 73,749 ac 
(29,845 ha) in Siskiyou County, California, all of which are Federal 
lands managed by the BLM and Forest Service per the NWFP (USDA and USDI 
1994, entire). Congressionally reserved natural areas in Federal 
ownership are proposed for exclusion in the final critical habitat 
designation. Special management considerations or protection are 
required in this subunit to address threats from current and past 
timber harvest, losses due to wildfire and the effects on vegetation 
from fire exclusion, and competition with barred owls. This subunit is 
expected to function for demographic support and also for connectivity 
across the landscape.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 96 percent of the area of KLE-7 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.

Unit 11: Interior California Coast (ICC)

    Unit 11 contains 1,276,450 ac (516,537 ha) and eight subunits. This 
unit consists of the Northern California Coast Ranges ecological 
Section M261B, based on section descriptions of forest types from 
Ecological Subregions of the United States (McNab and Avers 1994c, 
Section M261B), and differs markedly from the adjacent redwood coast 
region. Marine air moderates winter climate, but precipitation is 
limited by rainshadow effects from steep elevational gradients (100 to 
2,400 m.) along a series of north-south trending mountain ridges. Due 
to the influence of the adjacent Central Valley, summer temperatures in 
the interior portions of this region are among the highest within the 
spotted owl's range. Forest communities tend to be relatively dry 
mixed-conifer, blue and Oregon white oak, and the Douglas-fir tanoak 
series. Spotted owl habitat within this region is poorly known; there 
are no DSAs, and few studies have been conducted here. Spotted owl 
habitat data obtained during this project suggests that some spotted 
owls occupy steep canyons dominated by live oak and Douglas-fir; the 
distribution of dense conifer habitats is limited to higher elevations 
on the Mendocino National Forest.

[[Page 14122]]

Subunit Descriptions--Unit 11
    ICC-1. The ICC-1 subunit consists of approximately 352,275 ac 
(142,561 ha) in Humboldt, Trinity, Shasta, and Tehama Counties, 
California, all of which are Federal lands managed by the BLM and the 
Forest Service per the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). 
Congressionally reserved natural areas in Federal ownership are 
proposed for exclusion in the final critical habitat designation. 
Special management considerations or protection are required in this 
subunit to address threats from current and past timber harvest, losses 
due to wildfire and the effects on vegetation from fire exclusion, and 
competition with barred owls. This subunit is expected to function 
primarily for demographic support, but also for connectivity between 
subunits and CHUs.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 97 percent of the area of ICC-1 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    ICC-2. The ICC-2 subunit consists of approximately 224,779 ac 
(90,956 ha) in Humboldt and Trinity Counties, California, all of which 
are Federal lands managed by the BLM and the Forest Service per the 
NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Congressionally reserved natural 
areas in Federal ownership are proposed for exclusion in the final 
critical habitat designation. Special management considerations or 
protection are required in this subunit to address threats from current 
and past timber harvest, losses due to wildfire and the effects on 
vegetation from fire exclusion, and competition with barred owls. This 
subunit is expected to function primarily for demographic support, but 
also for connectivity between subunits and CHUs.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 98 percent of the area of ICC-2 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    ICC-3. The ICC-3 subunit consists of approximately 257,668 ac 
(104,274 ha) in Trinity, Tehama, and Mendocino Counties, California, 
all of which are Federal lands managed by the BLM and the Forest 
Service per the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Congressionally 
reserved natural areas in Federal ownership are proposed for exclusion 
in the final critical habitat designation. Special management 
considerations or protection are required in this subunit to address 
threats from current and past timber harvest, losses due to wildfire 
and the effects on vegetation from fire exclusion, and competition with 
barred owls. This subunit is expected to function primarily for 
demographic support, but also for north-south connectivity between 
subunits.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 89 percent of the area of ICC-3 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    ICC-4. The ICC-4 subunit consists of approximately 173,199 ac 
(70,091 ha) in Mendocino, Glenn, and Colusa Counties, California, all 
of which are Federal lands managed by the BLM and Forest Service per 
the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Congressionally reserved natural 
areas in Federal ownership are proposed for exclusion in the final 
critical habitat designation. Special management considerations or 
protection are required in this subunit to address threats from current 
and past timber harvest, losses due to wildfire and the effects on 
vegetation from fire exclusion, and competition with barred owls. This 
subunit is expected to function primarily for demographic support.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 93 percent of the area of ICC-4 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    ICC-5. The ICC-5 subunit consists of approximately 47,243 ac 
(19,119 ha) in Lake and Mendocino Counties, California, all of which 
are Federal lands managed by the Forest Service per the NWFP (USDA and 
USDI 1994, entire). Congressionally reserved natural areas in Federal 
ownership are proposed for exclusion in the final critical habitat

[[Page 14123]]

designation. Special management considerations or protection are 
required in this subunit to address threats from current and past 
timber harvest, losses due to wildfire and the effects on vegetation 
from fire exclusion, and competition with barred owls. This subunit is 
expected to function primarily for demographic support, but also for 
connectivity between subunits and CHUs.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 78 percent of the area of ICC-5 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    ICC-6. The ICC-6 subunit consists of approximately 51,519 ac 
(20,849 ha) in Napa and Sonoma Counties, California. It is comprised 
largely of privately owned lands, which may be considered for exclusion 
from the final designation, along with some State and Federal lands. 
Residential subdivisions, commercially-zoned lands, and individually-
owned parcels less than 40 acres that may have been included in the 
mapped area are not being proposed as critical habitat. Special 
management considerations or protection are required in this subunit to 
address threats from current and past timber harvest, losses due to 
wildfire and the effects on vegetation from fire exclusion, and 
competition with barred owls. The expected function of this subunit is 
to provide demographic support to an isolated population.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 90 percent of the area of ICC-6 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    ICC-7. The ICC-7 subunit consists of approximately 132,386 ac 
(53,575 ha) in Trinity and Shasta Counties, California, all of which 
are Federal lands managed by the BLM, NPS, and the Forest Service per 
the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Congressionally reserved natural 
areas in Federal ownership are proposed for exclusion in the final 
critical habitat designation. Special management considerations or 
protection are required in this subunit to address threats from current 
and past timber harvest, losses due to wildfire and the effects on 
vegetation from fire exclusion, and competition with barred owls. This 
subunit is expected to function both for demographic support and for 
east-west connectivity between subunits in an area of sparse Federal 
ownership.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 73 percent of the area of ICC-7 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.
    ICC-8. The ICC-8 subunit consists of approximately 73,492 ac 
(29,741 ha) in Siskiyou and Shasta Counties, California, all of which 
are Federal lands managed by the BLM and the Forest Service per the 
NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Special management considerations or 
protection are required in this subunit to address threats from current 
and past timber harvest, losses due to wildfire and the effects on 
vegetation from fire exclusion, and competition with barred owls. This 
subunit is expected to function both for demographic support and for 
connectivity between subunits in an area of sparse Federal ownership.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 84 percent of the area of ICC-8 was covered 
by verified spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
non-territorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase 
and enhancement of spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for 
viable populations of spotted owls over the long term by providing for 
population expansion, successful dispersal, and buffering from 
competition with the barred owl.

Effects of Critical Habitat Designation

Section 7 Consultation

    Section 7(a)(2) of the Act requires Federal agencies, including the 
Service, to ensure that any action they fund, authorize, or carry out 
is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered 
species or threatened species or result in the destruction or adverse 
modification of designated critical habitat of such species. In 
addition, section 7(a)(4) of the Act requires Federal agencies to 
confer with the Service on any agency action which is likely to 
jeopardize the continued existence of any species proposed to be listed 
under the Act or result in the destruction or adverse modification of 
proposed critical habitat.

[[Page 14124]]

    Decisions by the 5th and 9th Circuit Courts of Appeals have 
invalidated our regulatory definition of ``destruction or adverse 
modification'' (50 CFR 402.02) (see Gifford Pinchot Task Force v. U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service, 378 F. 3d 1059 (9th Cir. 2004) and Sierra 
Club v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service et al., 245 F.3d 434, 442 (5th 
Cir. 2001)), and we do not rely on this regulatory definition when 
analyzing whether an action is likely to destroy or adversely modify 
critical habitat. Under the statutory provisions of the Act, we 
determine destruction or adverse modification on the basis of whether, 
with implementation of the proposed Federal action, the affected 
critical habitat would continue to serve its intended conservation role 
for the species.
    If a Federal action may affect a listed species or its critical 
habitat, the responsible Federal agency (action agency) must enter into 
consultation with the Service. Examples of actions that are subject to 
the section 7 consultation process are actions on State, Indian, local, 
or private lands that require a Federal permit (such as a permit from 
the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under section 404 of the Clean Water 
Act (33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq.) or a permit from the Service under section 
10 of the Act) or that involve some other Federal action (such as 
funding from the Federal Highway Administration, Federal Aviation 
Administration, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency). Federal 
actions not affecting listed species or critical habitat, and actions 
on State, Indian, local, or private lands that are not federally funded 
or authorized, do not require section 7 consultation.
    As a result of section 7 consultation, we document compliance with 
the requirements of section 7(a)(2) through our issuance of:
    (1) A concurrence letter for Federal actions that may affect, but 
are not likely to adversely affect, listed species or critical habitat; 
or
    (2) A biological opinion for Federal actions that may affect, or 
are likely to adversely affect, listed species or critical habitat.
    When we issue a biological opinion concluding that a project is 
likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species and/or 
destroy or adversely modify critical habitat, we provide reasonable and 
prudent alternatives to the project, if any are identifiable, that 
would avoid the likelihood of jeopardy and/or destruction or adverse 
modification of critical habitat. We define ``reasonable and prudent 
alternatives'' (at 50 CFR 402.02) as alternative actions identified 
during consultation that:
    (1) Can be implemented in a manner consistent with the intended 
purpose of the action,
    (2) Can be implemented consistent with the scope of the Federal 
agency's legal authority and jurisdiction,
    (3) Are economically and technologically feasible, and
    (4) Would, in the Director's opinion, avoid the likelihood of 
jeopardizing the continued existence of the listed species and/or avoid 
the likelihood of destroying or adversely modifying critical habitat.
    Reasonable and prudent alternatives can vary from slight project 
modifications to extensive redesign or relocation of the project. Costs 
associated with implementing a reasonable and prudent alternative are 
similarly variable.
    Regulations at 50 CFR 402.16 require Federal agencies to reinitiate 
consultation on previously reviewed actions in instances where we have 
listed a new species or subsequently designated critical habitat that 
may be affected and the Federal agency has retained discretionary 
involvement or control over the action (or the agency's discretionary 
involvement or control is authorized by law). Consequently, Federal 
agencies sometimes may need to request reinitiation of consultation 
with us on actions for which formal consultation has been completed, if 
those actions with discretionary involvement or control may affect 
subsequently listed species or designated critical habitat.

Determinations of Adverse Effects and Application of the ``Adverse 
Modification'' Standard

    Section 4(b)(8) of the Act requires us to briefly evaluate and 
describe, in any proposed or final regulation that designates critical 
habitat, activities involving a Federal action that may destroy or 
adversely modify such habitat, or that may be affected by such 
designation.
    Section 7(a)(2) of the Act requires Federal agencies to ensure 
their actions do not jeopardize the continued existence of listed 
species or destroy or adversely modify critical habitat. The key factor 
involved in the destruction/adverse modification determination for a 
proposed Federal agency action is whether the affected critical habitat 
would continue to serve its intended conservation role for the species 
with implementation of the proposed action after taking into account 
any anticipated cumulative effects (USFWS 2004, in litt. entire). 
Activities that may destroy or adversely modify critical habitat are 
those that alter the physical or biological features to an extent that 
appreciably reduces the conservation value of critical habitat for the 
northern spotted owl. As discussed above, the role of critical habitat 
is to support life-history needs of the species and provide for the 
conservation of the species.
    In general, there are five possible outcomes in terms of how 
proposed Federal actions may affect the PCEs or physical and biological 
features of northern spotted owl critical habitat: (1) No effect; (2) 
wholly beneficial effects (e.g., improve habitat condition); (3) both 
short-term adverse effects and long-term beneficial effects; (4) 
insignificant or discountable adverse effects; or (5) wholly adverse 
effects. Actions with no effect on the PCEs and physical and biological 
features of northern spotted owl critical habitat do not require 
section 7 consultation, although such actions may still have adverse or 
beneficial effects on the species itself that require consultation. 
Actions with effects to the PCEs or physical and biological features of 
northern spotted owl critical habitat that are discountable, 
insignificant, or wholly beneficial are considered as not likely to 
adversely affect critical habitat and do not require formal 
consultation if the Service concurs in writing with that Federal action 
agency determination. Actions that are likely to adversely affect the 
physical or biological features of northern spotted owl critical 
habitat require formal consultation and the preparation of a Biological 
Opinion by the Service. The Biological Opinion sets forth the basis for 
our section 7(a)(2) determination as to whether the proposed Federal 
action is likely to destroy or adversely modify northern spotted owl 
critical habitat.
    Activities that may destroy or adversely modify critical habitat 
are those that alter the essential physical or biological features of 
the critical habitat to an extent that appreciably reduces the 
conservation value of the critical habitat for the listed species. As 
discussed above, the conservation role or value of northern spotted owl 
critical habitat is to adequately support the life-history needs of the 
species to the extent that well-distributed and inter-connected 
northern spotted owl nesting populations at habitat carrying capacity 
levels are likely to persist within properly functioning ecosystems at 
the critical habitat unit and range-wide scales.
    In areas occupied at the time of listing, proposed Federal actions 
that may affect the essential physical or biological features of 
northern spotted

[[Page 14125]]

owl critical habitat will trigger the consultation requirements under 
section 7 of the Act and compliance with the section 7(a)(2) standard 
described above. Similarly, in areas that may have been unoccupied at 
the time of listing, proposed Federal actions that may affect the 
habitat qualities that served as the basis for the determination that 
the area is essential to the conservation of the species will trigger 
these requirements as well. The consultation process evaluates how a 
proposed action is likely to affect the capability of the critical 
habitat to support northern spotted owl nesting, roosting, foraging, or 
dispersal by considering the scales at which the life-history 
requirements of the northern spotted owl are based regardless of the 
species' presence or absence. For an action that may affect critical 
habitat, the next step is to determine whether it is likely to 
adversely affect critical habitat. For example, where a project is 
designed to reduce fuels such that the effect of wildfires will be 
reduced but will also reduce foraging opportunities within treatment 
areas, established interagency consultation teams should determine 
whether the proposed project has more than an insignificant impact on 
the foraging PCEs for northern spotted owls. A localized reduction in 
foraging habitat within a stand may have such a small impact on 
foraging PCEs within the stand that a not likely to adversely affect 
determination is appropriate. Similarly, a hazard tree removal project 
in a stand with many suitable nest trees may have such a minimal 
reduction in nesting PCEs of that stand that the effect to nesting 
habitat is negligible.
    Scale and context are especially important in evaluating the 
potential effects of forest management on northern spotted owl habitat. 
The degree to which various forest management activities are likely to 
affect the capability of the critical habitat to support northern 
spotted owl nesting, roosting, foraging, or dispersal will vary 
depending on factors such as the scope and location of the action and 
the quantity of the critical habitat affected. In addition, the 
evaluation of actions that may affect critical habitat for the northern 
spotted owl for purposes of completing the section 7(a)(2) analysis for 
the destruction or adverse modification determination should consider 
the effects of the action on the factors that were the basis for 
determining the area to meet the definition of critical habitat. Thus 
when conducting section 7 consultations, the factors to be considered 
may include, but are not limited to:
     The extent of the proposed action, including its temporal 
and spatial scale, relative to the critical habitat subunit within 
which it occurs.
     The specific purpose for which that subunit was identified 
and designated as critical habitat.
     The impact of the proposed action on the subunit's 
likelihood of serving its intended conservation function or purpose.
     The overall consistency of the proposed action with the 
intent of the recovery plan or other landscape-level conservation 
plans.
    In general, we would anticipate that management actions that are 
consistent with the overall purpose for which a critical habitat unit 
was designated would be determined as not likely to adversely affect or 
destroy or adversely modify critical habitat. Such actions include 
activities whose intent is to restore ecological processes or long-term 
forest health to forested landscapes that contain spotted owl habitat, 
such as those actions described in the Revised Recovery Plan for the 
Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011) and elsewhere in this document.
    Section 7 consultations need to consider the temporal and spatial 
scale of impacts a proposed action may have on the PCEs or essential 
habitat qualities associated with the affected critical habitat 
subunit(s). Actions that have a relatively short-lived temporal impact 
will likely not adversely affect the critical habitat subunit's role 
and function in conserving spotted owls and on that basis generally 
warrant a not likely to adversely affect or a no-destruction or adverse 
modification conclusion under formal consultation. Likewise, proposed 
actions that are small in spatial scale relative to the subunit's size 
and overall habitat condition are also potentially not likely to 
adversely affect the critical habitat's role and function. As a general 
rule of thumb, when conducting section 7 consultation, we recommend 
consideration of a scale that is relevant to the needs and biology of 
the spotted owl. As outlined in Appendix C of the Revised Recovery Plan 
(USFWS 2011, p. C-15), spotted owls select nest sites (their most 
specific habitat requirement) based on conditions that exist at a 
variety of spatial scales beyond the nest site, most notably the ``core 
area'' surrounding the nest site. While these scales vary by study and 
location, we believe an area roughly 500 ac (200 ha) in size is a 
reasonable core area metric for land managers to consider when 
assessing effects on critical habitat. This 500-ac (200-ha) metric is 
consistent with the methodology used to construct the habitat model 
described in Appendix C of the Revised Recovery Plan and for which 
areas were evaluated for possible designation. We would anticipate that 
in most cases, restoration and thinning actions (see Special Management 
Actions and Considerations) at or below this size will likely not 
adversely affect a given critical habitat subunit; however, such a 
determination would have to be made on a case-by-case basis, after 
careful consideration of the specific conditions of the proposed 
action.
    The Service believes that this 500-ac (200-ha) scale is a 
reasonable extent for evaluating potential effects; the Service would 
then evaluate whether there is a reasonable certainty that the proposed 
action would result in a measurable change in the subunit's ability to 
provide the functions for which it was designated. Caveats to this 
generalization include the need to consider the subunit's baseline 
condition and the potential for cumulative effects within the subunit, 
which can accrue both spatially and temporally. The Service invites 
public comment on this approach to effects determinations for the 
northern spotted owl.
    Actions resulting in wholly beneficial effects include those that 
actively promote the development or improve the functionality of 
critical habitat for the northern spotted owl without causing adverse 
effects to the essential physical or biological features. Such actions 
might involve variable-density thinning in forest stands that do not 
currently support nesting, roosting, or foraging habitat for the 
northern spotted owl to speed the development of these types of 
habitats while maintaining dispersal habitat function. Thinning or 
other treatments in young plantations that do not provide even 
dispersal habitat (but are capable of providing habitat) would also 
fall into this effect category, where these actions are specifically 
designed to accelerate the development of northern spotted owl habitat. 
Some of these actions may affect critical habitat and would, therefore, 
require consultation under section 7 of the Act. But because they may 
be not likely to adversely affect critical habitat, the consultation 
may be completed informally through the Service's issuance of a 
concurrence letter as discussed above.
    Likewise, if the adverse effects of a proposed Federal action on 
the physical or biological features of northern spotted owl critical 
habitat at the 500-ac (200-ha) scale are expected to be discountable 
(extremely unlikely to occur) or insignificant, that action is

[[Page 14126]]

considered not likely to adversely affect northern spotted owl critical 
habitat. In such cases, the Act's section 7 consultation requirements 
can be satisfied through the informal concurrence process described 
above. Examples of such actions may include: Pre-commercial or 
commercial thinning that does not delay the development of essential 
physical or biological features; fuel-reduction treatments that have a 
negligible effect on northern spotted owl foraging habitat within the 
stand; and the removal of hazard trees where the removal has an 
insignificant effect on the capability of the stand to provide northern 
spotted owl nesting opportunities.
    Some proposed Federal forest management activities may have short-
term adverse effects and long-term beneficial effects on the physical 
or biological features of northern spotted owl critical habitat. The 
Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl anticipates that 
land managers will actively manage portions of both moist and dry 
forests to improve stand conditions and forest resiliency, which should 
benefit the long-term recovery of the northern spotted owl (USFWS 2011, 
p. III-11). For example, variable thinning in single-story, uniform 
forest stands to promote the development of multistory structure and 
nest trees may result in short-term adverse impacts to the habitat's 
current capability to support owl dispersal and some foraging, but have 
long-term benefits by creating higher quality habitat that will better 
support territorial pairs of northern spotted owls. Such activities 
would have less impact in areas where foraging and dispersal habitat is 
not limiting. Even though they may have long term beneficial effects, 
if they have short-term adverse effects, such actions may adversely 
affect critical habitat and would require formal consultation under 
section 7 of the Act. For efficiency, such actions could be evaluated 
under section 7 programmatically at the landscape scale (e.g., National 
Forest or BLM District).
    Habitat conditions in moist/wet and dry/fire-prone forests within 
the range of the northern spotted owl vary widely as do the types of 
management activities designed to accelerate or enhance the development 
of northern spotted owl habitat. ``Wet'' and ``dry'' are ends of a 
spectrum, not distinct categories that adequately describe the full 
range of forest types within the range of the northern spotted owl. 
Because these categories are broad, and conditions on the ground are 
more variable, land managers and cooperators should have the 
expectation that multiple forest types may be involved and similar 
projects in different forest types may not always lead to the same 
effect determination for purposes of compliance with section 7 of the 
Act.
    Within dry forests, the Revised Recovery Plan emphasizes active 
forest management that could meet overlapping goals of northern spotted 
owl conservation, climate change response, and restoration of dry 
forest ecological structure, composition and process, including 
wildfire and other disturbances (USFWS 2011, pp. III-20). For the rest 
of the northern spotted owl's range that is not fire-prone, the Revised 
Recovery Plan emphasizes habitat management that accelerates the 
development of future habitat, restores larger habitat blocks, and 
reduces habitat fragmentation. The following discussion describes the 
type of management approaches that would be consistent with the revised 
recovery plan in the West Cascades/Coast Ranges of Oregon and 
Washington, East Cascades, and the Redwood Coast zones, and a 
discussion of possible corresponding effect determinations for 
activities implementing these approaches for purposes of analyzing 
effects to critical habitat under section 7 of the Act. The Klamath and 
Northern California Interior Coast Ranges regions contain conditions 
similar to the three regions discussed below, and similar management 
approaches would be consistent with the recovery needs of the owl.
West Cascades/Coast Ranges of Oregon and Washington
    The primary goal of the Revised Recovery Plan for this portion of 
the northern spotted owl's range is to conserve stands that support 
northern spotted owl occupancy or contain high-value northern spotted 
owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. III-17). Silvicultural treatments are 
generally not needed to accomplish this goal. However, there is a 
significant amount of younger forest that occurs between and around the 
older stands where silvicultural treatments may accelerate the 
development of these stands into future northern spotted owl nesting 
habitat, even if doing so temporarily degrades existing dispersal 
habitat, as recommended in Recovery Action 6 (USFWS 2011, p. III-19). 
The Revised Recovery Plan encourages silviculture designed to develop 
late-successional structural complexity and to promote resilience 
(USFWS 2011, pp. III-17 to III-19). Restoration or ecological 
prescriptions can help uniform stands of poor quality develop more 
quickly into northern spotted owl habitat and provide resiliency in the 
face of potential climate change impacts in the future. Targeted 
vegetation treatments could simultaneously increase canopy and age-
class diversity, putting those stands on a more efficient trajectory 
towards nesting and roosting habitat while reducing fuel loads. 
Introducing varying levels of spatial heterogeneity, both vertically 
and horizontally, into forest ecosystems can contribute to both of the 
goals stated above.
    While these treatments would be intended to benefit the development 
of northern spotted owl habitat over time, they may have short-term 
adverse effects but are not expected to adversely modify the role and 
function of critical habitat. Additional information about ecological 
forestry activities in moist forests can be found in the Revised 
Recovery Plan under Spotted Owls and Ecological Forestry (USFWS 2011, 
p. III-11) and Habitat Management in Moist Forests (USFWS 2011, p. III-
17).
    Similarly, land managers should consider what areas of forest land 
might be appropriate to create or restore complex early seral forest 
habitat (USFWS 2011, p. III-14). Ideally, such actions should consist 
of relatively small patches targeted to younger, mid-seral forest 
stands that do not cause reductions in higher quality spotted owl 
habitat, and they should be planned in such a way that their net 
occurrence on the regional landscape is consistent with ecosystem-based 
planning targets (e.g., Spies et al. 2007a, entire) to provide the 
physical or biological features that are essential to the conservation 
of the northern spotted owl. As an example, targeted variable retention 
harvest in moist forests should be considered where the conservation of 
complex early seral forest habitat is a localized goal within spotted 
owl critical habitat. Some researchers have concluded that a focus on 
older forest conservation on Federal lands in the Pacific Northwest 
during the last 20 years is leading to a significant reduction in early 
seral habitat that is important to many species (Hagar 2007, p. 109; 
Spies et al. 2007b, p. 63; Betts et al. 2010, p. 2117). Traditional 
clearcutting on nearby private timber lands does not usually mimic 
natural disturbance or create viable early seral communities that grow 
into high-quality habitat (Franklin et al. 2002, p. 419; Swanson et al. 
2010, p. 8). In recent years, variable retention harvest has been 
increasingly utilized as a way to reconcile the often competing goals 
of commercial timber production and biodiversity conservation (Carey 
2003, p. 128; Rosenvald and Lohmus 2008, p. 2; Aubry et al. 2009, p. 
399; Baker

[[Page 14127]]

2011, entire; Ellis and Betts 2011, p. 1372). It is appropriate to 
consider vegetation management actions within critical habitat to 
restore or encourage early seral restoration where such habitat is 
underrepresented at the landscape ecosystem level and the goal is to 
conserve landscape and biological diversity (Betts et al. 2010, pp. 
2126-2127; Messier et al. 2012, p. 69). Such actions may adversely 
affect critical habitat, but they are not expected to adversely modify 
the role and function of critical habitat at the watershed or larger 
landscape scale (i.e., subunit or unit).
East Cascades
    The Revised Recovery Plan recommends that the dynamic, fire-prone 
portion of the northern spotted owl's range be actively managed to 
conserve northern spotted owls, but also address climate change and 
restore dry forest ecological structure, composition, and processes 
(e.g., wildfire) to provide for the long-term conservation of the 
species and its habitat in a dynamic ecosystem (USFWS 2011, pp, III-13, 
III-20). To do this, management actions will need to be implemented 
that balance short-term adverse effects with long-term beneficial 
effects. In some cases, formal consultation on the effects of dry 
forest management activities on northern spotted owl critical habitat 
is likely to occur; in other cases, there may be no adverse effects and 
consultation can be concluded informally.
    Management in dry forests should increase the likelihood that 
northern spotted owl habitat will remain on the landscape longer and 
develop as part of the dynamic fire- and disturbance-adapted community. 
Several management approaches can be described for these systems. The 
first is to maintain adequate northern spotted owl habitat in the near 
term to allow owls to persist on the landscape in the face of threats 
from barred owl expansion and habitat alterations from fire and other 
disturbances. The next is to restore landscapes that are resilient to 
fire and other disturbances, including those projected to occur with 
climate change. This will require more than reducing fuels and thinning 
trees to promote low-severity fires; management will need to develop 
``more natural patterns and patch size distributions of forest 
structure, composition, fuels, and fire regime area'' (Hessburg et al. 
2007, p. 21).
    Our prime objective for vegetation management activities within 
northern spotted owl critical habitat is to maintain adequate amounts 
of nesting, roosting, foraging or dispersal habitat where it currently 
exists and to restore degraded habitat where it is essential to the owl 
and can be best sustained on the landscape as recommended in the 
Revised Recovery Plan (USFWS 2011, Section III). Successfully 
accomplishing these objectives can be facilitated by spatially and 
temporally explicit landscape assessments that identify areas valuable 
for northern spotted owl conservation and recovery, as well as areas 
important for process restoration (e.g., Prather et al. 2008, p. 149). 
Such assessments could answer questions which are frequently asked 
about proposed forest management activities, namely ``why here?'' and 
``why now?'' Providing well-reasoned responses to these questions 
becomes especially important when restoration activities degrade or 
remove existing northern spotted owl habitat. By scaling up 
conservation and restoration planning from the stand to the landscape 
level, many apparent conflicts may disappear because management actions 
can be prioritized and spatially partitioned (Prather et al. 2008, p. 
149; Rieman et al. 2010, p. 464). For example, portions of the 
landscape can be identified where there may be no conflict between 
objectives, and where relatively aggressive approaches to ecosystem 
restoration can occur without placing listed species at substantial 
risk (Prather et al. 2008, pp. 147-149; Gaines et al. 2010, pp. 2049-
2050). Conflicts between objectives will remain in some locations, for 
example in places where removing younger, shade-intolerant conifers to 
reduce competition with larger, legacy conifers may result in a 
substantial decrease in canopy cover that translates into a reduction 
in northern spotted owl habitat quality. However, when this sort of 
treatment is well designed, strategically located, and justified within 
a landscape approach to treatments, it is easier to assess its 
effectiveness in meeting both owl conservation and forest restoration 
needs.
    Landscape assessments developed at the scale of entire National 
Forests, Ranger Districts, or BLM Districts have the broad perspective 
that can improve our ability to estimate effects of our management 
activities on the function of critical habitat and better identify and 
prioritize treatment areas and the actions that will restore landscapes 
while conserving northern spotted owl habitat. The Okanogan-Wenatchee 
National Forest has developed a landscape evaluation process as part of 
their forest restoration strategy (USDA 2010, pp. 36-52) that can serve 
as an example other administrative units can refer to when developing 
their own assessment approaches. We suggest that the value of such 
assessments in guiding vegetation management within critical habitat 
can be enhanced by spatially identifying locations where restoration 
objectives and northern spotted owl habitat objectives converge, are in 
conflict, or simply are not an issue. We suggest the following approach 
for the East Cascades:
    (1) Spatially identify and map:
    a. Existing northern spotted owl habitat and northern spotted owl 
nesting sites.
    b. Places on the landscape where northern spotted owl habitat is 
expected to be retained longer on the landscape in the face of 
disturbance activities such as fire and insect outbreaks.
    c. Places on the landscape where key ecosystem structures and 
processes are at risk and would benefit from restoration (e.g., legacy 
trees, unique habitats).
    (2) Overlay what is known about landscape patterns of vegetation 
and disturbance processes with items from step 1 above to determine:
    a. Stands of high restoration value but low value as existing 
northern spotted owl habitat.
    b. Stands of low restoration value but high value as existing 
northern spotted owl habitat.
    c. Stands of low restoration value and low value as existing 
northern spotted owl habitat.
    d. Stands of high restoration value and high value as existing 
northern spotted owl habitat.
    In locations where there is high restoration value and high value 
as existing northern spotted owl habitat, a landscape assessment can 
help to build a strong rationale for impacting owl habitat 
functionality to achieve broader landscape goals. Conditions that may 
support management activities in these stands may include, but are not 
limited to:
    (1) The patch of habitat is located in an area where it is likely 
unsustainable and has the potential for conveying natural disturbances 
across the landscape in ways that jeopardize large patches of suitable 
northern spotted owl habitat.
    (2) There are nearby areas that are more likely to sustain suitable 
northern spotted owl habitat and are either currently habitat or will 
likely develop suitable conditions within the next 30 years.
    (3) The patch of habitat does not appear to be associated with a 
northern spotted owl home range or to promote successful dispersal 
between existing home ranges.

[[Page 14128]]

    (4) The area will still retain some habitat function after 
treatment, while still meeting the intended restoration objective. For 
example, stands that are suitable as foraging habitat may be degraded 
post treatment but remain foraging habitat after treatment. Or, stands 
may be downgraded to dispersal habitat as a result of treatment.
    We do not expect the desired landscape conditions will be achieved 
within the next decade or two, but it will require a longer time to be 
restored as younger forests develop into northern spotted owl nesting, 
roosting, and foraging habitat. In the interim, management actions are 
needed that protect current habitat, especially where it occurs in 
larger blocks on areas of the landscape where it is more likely to be 
resistant or resilient to fires and other disturbance agents. Actions 
are also needed to accelerate the restoration of habitat, especially 
where it is consistent with overall forest restoration and occurs in 
those portions of the landscape that are less fire prone or are 
resilient in the face of these disturbances. The careful application of 
these types of activities will be necessary to achieve the desired 
future landscape that is resilient to future disturbances; a landscape 
in which the natural disturbance process no longer threaten the 
conservation of the northern spotted owl, but acts to maintain and 
restore necessary habitat components. As such, we anticipate that 
projects designed to achieve this goal will need to be of a larger 
spatial scale as to have a meaningful effect on wildfire behavior, 
severity, and extent. The effects of these projects will vary depending 
on existing condition, prescriptions, proximity of habitat, etc. It is 
likely that such projects may affect northern spotted owl critical 
habitat and require section 7 consultation.
    Some situations also exist in the proposed critical habitat where 
northern spotted owl habitat has been created through fire suppression 
activities (e.g., meadow conversion, white fir intrusion), but 
retention of those forested habitat elements is contrary to the overall 
goals of ecosystem restoration and long-term security for the owl. 
Restoration projects that remove these elements, while recommended, may 
adversely affect northern spotted owls or their critical habitat and 
may need to be evaluated through the section 7 consultation process. 
Additional information about restoration activities in dry forests can 
be found in the Revised Recovery Plan under Restoring Dry Forest 
Ecosystems (USFWS 2011, p. III-32).
Redwood Coast
    While the Redwood Coast region of coastal northern California is 
similar to the West Cascades/Coast region in many respects, there are 
some distinct differences in northern spotted owl habitat use and diet 
within this zone. The long growing season, combined with the redwood's 
ability to resprout from stumps, allows redwood stands to attain 
suitable stand structure for nesting in a relatively short period of 
time (40 to 60 years) if legacy structures are present. In contrast to 
the large, contiguous, older stands desired in other wet provinces, 
some degree of fine-scale fragmentation in redwood forests appears to 
benefit northern spotted owls. These openings provide habitat for the 
northern spotted owl's primary prey, the dusky-footed woodrat. High 
woodrat abundance is associated with dense shrub and hardwood cover 
that persists for up to 20 years in recent forest openings created by 
harvesting or burns. Under dense shrub and hardwood cover, woodrats can 
forage, build nests, and reproduce, relatively secure from owl 
predation. These sites quickly become overpopulated and surplus 
individuals are displaced into adjacent older stands where they become 
available as owl prey. When developing stands reach an age of around 20 
years, understory vegetation is increasingly shaded-out, cover and food 
sources become scarce, and woodrat abundance declines rapidly. By this 
time, the stand that once supported a dense woodrat population makes a 
structural transition into a stand where woodrats are subject to 
intense owl predation. In northern spotted owl territories within the 
Redwood Forest zone, active management that creates small openings 
within foraging habitat can enhance northern spotted owl foraging 
opportunities and produce or retain habitat suitability in the short 
term. Actions consistent with this type of land management are not 
expected to adversely modify critical habitat.

Summary of Adverse Modification

    This discussion has covered projects that may or may not require 
formal section 7 consultation. It is also important to distinguish 
between a finding that a project is likely to adversely affect critical 
habitat and a finding at the conclusion of formal consultation that a 
project is likely to destroy or adversely modify critical habitat; 
these are two very different outcomes. It is not uncommon for a 
proposed project to be considered as likely to adversely affect 
critical habitat and thus require formal consultation, but still 
warrant a conclusion that it will not destroy or adversely modify 
critical habitat. An action may destroy or adversely modify critical 
habitat if it adversely affects the essential physical or biological 
features to an extent that the intended conservation role of critical 
habitat for the northern spotted owl is appreciably reduced.
    The adverse modification determination is made at the scale of the 
entire designated critical habitat unless the final critical habitat 
rule identifies another basis for that determination, such as at the 
scale of discrete units and/or groups of units necessary for different 
life cycle phases, units representing distinctive habitat 
characteristics or gene pools, or units fulfilling essential 
geographical distribution requirements of the species (USFWS and NMFS 
1998, p. 4-39). In the case of spotted owl critical habitat, the 
adverse modification determination will be made at the scale of the 
entire designated critical habitat. However, by describing the 
relationship between the conservation role of affected subunits, units, 
and the entire designated critical habitat in the biological opinion, a 
sensitive analytical framework is established for informing the 
determination of whether a proposed action is likely to appreciably 
reduce the conservation role of the critical habitat overall. In this 
way, a proposed action that compromises the capability of a subunit or 
unit to fulfill its essential conservation role (e.g., demographic, 
genetic, or distributional support for spotted owl recovery) would 
represent an appreciable reduction in the conservation value of the 
entire designated critical habitat. This approach should avoid ``death-
by-a-thousand-cuts'' outcomes of formal consultations (i.e., false, no-
adverse-modification determinations). This approach will also take into 
account any redundancy in conservation function that may be associated 
with affected subunits or units for purposes of informing the 
significance of project effects relative to the conservation function 
of the entire designated critical habitat. Such redundancy is likely to 
decrease the significance of adverse project effects at the scale of 
the entire designated critical habitat.
    As described above, we do not anticipate that activities consistent 
with the stated management goals or recommended recovery actions of the 
Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011, 
Chapters II and III) would constitute adverse modification of critical 
habitat, even if those activities may have adverse effects in the short 
term, if the result over the

[[Page 14129]]

long term is an improvement in the function of the habitat to provide 
for the essential life-history needs of the northern spotted owl.

Exemptions

Application of Section 4(a)(3) of the Act

    The Sikes Act Improvement Act of 1997 (Sikes Act) (16 U.S.C. 670a) 
required each military installation that includes land and water 
suitable for the conservation and management of natural resources to 
complete an integrated natural resource management plan (INRMP) by 
November 17, 2001. An INRMP integrates implementation of the military 
mission of the installation with stewardship of the natural resources 
found on the base. Each INRMP includes:
    (1) An assessment of the ecological needs on the installation, 
including the need to provide for the conservation of listed species;
    (2) A statement of goals and priorities;
    (3) A detailed description of management actions to be implemented 
to provide for these ecological needs; and
    (4) A monitoring and adaptive management plan.
    Among other things, each INRMP must, to the extent appropriate and 
applicable, provide for fish and wildlife management; fish and wildlife 
habitat enhancement or modification; wetland protection, enhancement, 
and restoration where necessary to support fish and wildlife; and 
enforcement of applicable natural resource laws.
    The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004 (Pub. 
L. 108-136) amended the Act to limit areas eligible for designation as 
critical habitat. Specifically, section 4(a)(3)(B)(i) of the Act (16 
U.S.C. 1533(a)(3)(B)(i)) now provides: ``The Secretary shall not 
designate as critical habitat any lands or other geographical areas 
owned or controlled by the Department of Defense, or designated for its 
use, that are subject to an integrated natural resources management 
plan prepared under section 101 of the Sikes Act (16 U.S.C. 670a), if 
the Secretary determines in writing that such plan provides a benefit 
to the species for which critical habitat is proposed for 
designation.''
    We consult with the military on the development and implementation 
of INRMPs for installations with listed species. We analyzed INRMPs 
developed by military installations located within the range of the 
proposed critical habitat designation for the northern spotted owl to 
determine if they are exempt under section 4(a)(3) of the Act. The 
following areas are Department of Defense lands with completed, 
Service-approved INRMPs within the proposed revised critical habitat 
designation.
Approved INRMPs
Joint Base Lewis-McChord
    Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), formerly known as Fort Lewis, is 
an 86,500-ac (35,000-ha) U.S. Army military reservation in western 
Washington, south of Tacoma and the Puget Sound. JBLM contains one of 
the largest remaining intact forest areas in the Puget Sound basin, 
with approximately 54,400 ac (22,000 ha) of forests and woodlands, 
predominantly of the dry Douglas-fir forest type and including some 
moist forest types (Douglas-fir, red cedar, hemlock). The forested area 
of JBLM is managed by the Base's Forestry Program, and the primary 
mission for the JBLM Forest is to provide a variety of forested 
environments for military training. JBLM has a history of applying an 
ecosystem management strategy to their forests to provide for multiple 
conservation goals, which have included promoting native biological 
diversity, maintaining and restoring unique plant communities, and 
developing late successional (older) forest structure. There are 14,997 
ac (6,069 ha) of lands within the boundary of JBLM currently identified 
in the proposed critical habitat designation.
    JBLM's INRMP, dated July 2006, covers the years 2006 through 2010. 
This INRMP is in the process of being updated; the Department of the 
Army informed us that a revised INRMP will be submitted to the Service 
in 2012 (Steucke 2008, in litt., p. 1). To date, JBLM has managed their 
forest lands according to their Forest Management Strategy, first 
prepared for then-Fort Lewis in 1995 by the Public Forestry Foundation 
based in Eugene, Oregon, in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy. 
The Forest Management Strategy was last revised in May 2005, and is 
also in the process of being updated (Forest Management Strategy 2005, 
entire).
    The last INRMP identified management objectives for the 
conservation of the northern spotted owl. Specifically, the INRMP 
specified the objective of managing JBLM forests to develop spotted owl 
habitat characteristics, and indicated desired conditions of the forest 
to provide for nesting, roosting, foraging. and dispersal habitat 
(INRMP 2007, p. 3-18). Although northern spotted owls are not currently 
known to occupy JBLM, it is the only significant Federal ownership in 
this region of Washington, and it provides the largest contiguous block 
of forest in this area as well. The potential development of suitable 
owl habitat at JBLM provides one of the only feasible opportunities for 
establishing connectivity between owl populations in the Olympic 
Peninsula and the western Cascades Range. Connectivity allows gene flow 
between populations, and further maintains northern spotted owl 
distribution and metapopulation dynamics, which are important 
components of the recovery strategy for the northern spotted owl (USFWS 
2011, p. III-1, III-44). The Forest Management Strategy (2005, p. 82) 
notes that the mosaic of dry forest, woodland, and prairie at JBLM is 
very different from typical forest landscapes that support northern 
spotted owls, and that while suitable habitat for dispersal of northern 
spotted owls can be achieved in the short term, at least 40 to 50 years 
may be needed to meet the desired condition for foraging, nesting, and 
roosting habitat.
    JBLM's forest management program has the potential to provide a 
conservation benefit to the northern spotted owl. However, since their 
INRMP is currently undergoing revision and is subject to change, we are 
reserving judgment on whether management under the new INRMP may meet 
our criteria for exemption from critical habitat at this time. In 
accordance with section 4(a)(3)(B)(i) of the Act, if we determine prior 
to our final rulemaking that conservation efforts identified in the 
INRMP will provide a conservation benefit to the northern spotted owl, 
we may at that time exempt the identified lands from the final 
designation of critical habitat.

Exclusions

Application of Section 4(b)(2) of the Act

    Section 4(b)(2) of the Act states that the Secretary must designate 
or make revisions to critical habitat on the basis of the best 
available scientific data after taking into consideration the economic 
impact, national security impact, and any other relevant impacts of 
specifying any particular area as critical habitat. The Secretary may 
exclude an area from critical habitat if he determines that the 
benefits of such exclusion outweigh the benefits of specifying such 
area as part of the critical habitat, unless he determines, based on 
the best scientific data available, that the failure to designate such 
area as critical habitat will result in the extinction of the species.
    Under section 4(b)(2) of the Act, we may exclude an area from 
designated

[[Page 14130]]

critical habitat based on economic impacts, impacts to national 
security, or any other relevant impacts. In considering whether to 
exclude a particular area from the designation, we must identify the 
benefits of including the area in the designation, identify the 
benefits of excluding the area from the designation, and determine 
whether the benefits of exclusion outweigh the benefits of inclusion. 
If based on this analysis we make this determination, we can then 
exclude the area only if such exclusion would not result in the 
extinction of the species.
    When considering the benefits of inclusion for an area, we consider 
the additional regulatory benefits that area would receive from the 
protection from adverse modification or destruction as a result of 
actions with a Federal nexus; the educational benefits of mapping 
essential habitat for recovery of the listed species; and any benefits 
that may result from a designation due to State or Federal laws that 
may apply to critical habitat.
    When considering the benefits of exclusion, we consider, among 
other things, whether exclusion of a specific area is likely to result 
in the overall conservation of the northern spotted owl through the 
continuation, strengthening, or encouragement of partnerships and the 
implementation of management plans or programs that provide equal or 
more conservation for the northern spotted owl than could be achieved 
through a designation of critical habitat. The Secretary can consider 
the existence of conservation agreements and other land management 
plans with Federal, private, State, and Indian entities when making 
decisions under section 4(b)(2) of the Act. The Secretary may also 
consider relationships with landowners, voluntary partnerships, and 
conservation plans, and weigh the implementation and effectiveness of 
these against that of designation to determine which provides the 
greatest conservation value to the listed species. Consideration of 
relevant impacts of designation or exclusion under section 4(b)(2) may 
include, but is not limited to, any of the following factors: (1) 
Whether the plan provides specific information on how it protects the 
species and the physical and biological features, and whether the plan 
is at a geographical scope commensurate with the species; (2) whether 
the plan is complete and will be effective at conserving and protecting 
the physical and biological features; (3) whether a reasonable 
expectation exists that conservation management strategies and actions 
will be implemented, that those responsible for implementing the plan 
are capable of achieving the objectives, that an implementation 
schedule exists, and that adequate funding exists; (4) whether the plan 
provides assurances that the conservation strategies and measures will 
be effective (i.e., identifies biological goals, has provisions for 
reporting progress, and is of a duration sufficient to implement the 
plan); (5) whether the plan has a monitoring program or adaptive 
management to ensure that the conservation measures are effective; (6) 
the degree to which the record supports a conclusion that a critical 
habitat designation would impair the benefits of the plan; (7) the 
extent of public participation; (8) demonstrated track record of 
implementation success; (9) level of public benefits derived from 
encouraging collaborative efforts and encouraging private and local 
conservation efforts; and (10) the effect designation would have on 
partnerships.
    After evaluating the benefits of inclusion and the benefits of 
exclusion, we carefully weigh the two sides to determine whether the 
benefits of excluding a particular area outweigh the benefits of its 
inclusion in critical habitat. If we determine that the benefits of 
excluding a particular area outweigh the benefits of its inclusion, 
then the Secretary can exercise his discretion to exclude the area, 
provided that the exclusion will not result in the extinction of the 
species.
    Based on the information provided by entities seeking exclusion, as 
well as any additional public comments received, we will evaluate 
whether certain lands in proposed critical habitat may be appropriate 
for exclusion from the final designation. If our analysis results in a 
determination that the benefits of excluding particular areas from the 
final designation outweigh the benefits of designating those areas as 
critical habitat, then the Secretary may exercise his discretion to 
exclude the particular areas from the final designation.
    Under section 4(b)(2) of the Act, we must consider all relevant 
impacts of the designation of critical habitat, including economic 
impacts. In addition to economic impacts (discussed in the Economics 
Analysis section, below), we consider a number of factors in a section 
4(b)(2) analysis. For example, we consider whether there are lands 
owned by the Department of Defense (DOD) where a national security 
impact might exist. We also consider whether Federal or private 
landowners or other public agencies have developed management plans or 
habitat conservation plants (HCPs) for the area or whether there are 
conservation partnerships or other conservation benefits that would be 
encouraged or discouraged by designation of, or exclusion from, 
critical habitat in an area. In addition, we look at the presence of 
Indian lands or Indian trust resources that might be affected, and 
consider the government-to-government relationship of the United States 
with Indian entities. We also consider any other relevant impacts that 
might occur because of the designation. To ensure that our final 
determination is based on the best available information, we are 
inviting comments on any foreseeable economic, national security, or 
other potential impacts resulting from this proposed designation of 
critical habitat from governmental, business, or private interests and, 
in particular, any potential impacts on small businesses.
    For the reasons discussed above, if the Secretary decides to 
exercise his discretion under section 4(b)(2) of the Act, we have 
identified certain areas that we are proposing or considering for 
exclusion from the final revised critical habitat designation for the 
northern spotted owl. However, we solicit comments on the inclusion or 
exclusion of such particular areas, as well as any other areas 
identified in the proposed revised rule (see Public Comments section). 
During the development of the final revised designation, we will 
consider economic impacts, public comments, and other new information. 
In this proposed rule we have tentatively identified some additional 
areas that may be considered for exclusion from the final rule; 
however, the Secretary's decision as to which, if any, areas may be 
excluded from the final designation is not limited to these lands. 
Additional particular areas, in addition to those identified below for 
potential exclusion in this proposed rule, may be excluded from the 
final critical habitat designation under section 4(b)(2) of the Act. In 
other words, potential exclusions are not limited to those areas 
specifically identified in this proposed rule.

Exclusions Based on Economic Impacts

    Under section 4(b)(2) of the Act, we consider the economic impacts 
of specifying any particular area as critical habitat. In order to 
consider economic impacts, we are preparing an analysis of the economic 
impacts of the proposed critical habitat designation and related 
factors. We will announce the availability of the draft economic 
analysis as soon as it is completed, at which time we will seek public 
review and comment. At that time, copies of

[[Page 14131]]

the draft economic analysis will be available for downloading from the 
Internet at http://www.regulations.gov, or by contacting the Oregon 
Fish and Wildlife Office directly (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT 
section). During the development of a final designation, we will 
consider economic impacts, public comments, and other new information, 
and areas may be excluded from the final critical habitat designation 
under section 4(b)(2) of the Act and our implementing regulations at 50 
CFR 424.19.

Exclusions Based on National Security Impacts

    Under section 4(b)(2) of the Act, we consider whether there are 
lands owned or managed by the Department of Defense (DOD) where a 
national security impact might exist. The U.S. Army's Fort Lewis 
Military Reservation is the only DOD land included within the proposed 
revised designation of critical habitat. As described above, in 
preparing this proposal, we are considering Fort Lewis for exemption 
from the designation of critical habitat under section 4(a)(3) of the 
Act, pending our evaluation of their revised INRMP, scheduled for 
completion in 2012, to determine whether it provides a conservation 
benefit to the northern spotted owl. We have determined that the 
remaining lands within the proposed designation of critical habitat for 
the species are not owned or managed by the Department of Defense, and, 
therefore, we anticipate no impact on national security. Consequently, 
we do not anticipate excluding any areas from the final designation 
based on impacts on national security.

Exclusions Based on Other Relevant Factors

    Under section 4(b)(2) of the Act, we consider any other relevant 
impacts, in addition to economic impacts and impacts to national 
security. We consider a number of factors, including whether the 
landowners have developed any HCPs or other management plans for the 
area, or whether there are conservation partnerships or relationships 
that would be encouraged by designation of, or exclusion from, critical 
habitat. In addition, we look at any Indian issues, and consider the 
government-to-government relationship of the United States with Indian 
entities. We also consider any other relevant impacts that might occur 
because of the designation. Our weighing of the benefits of inclusion 
versus exclusion considers all relevant factors in making a final 
determination as to what will result in the greatest conservation 
benefit to the listed species. Depending on the specifics of each 
situation, there may be cases where the designation of critical habitat 
will not necessarily provide enhanced protection, and may actually lead 
to a net loss of conservation benefit. Here we provide our analysis of 
areas proposed for the revised designation of critical habitat that may 
provide a greater conservation benefit to the northern spotted owl by 
exclusion from the designation. We invite public comment on these areas 
under consideration for exclusion.
Benefits of Designating Critical Habitat
    The process of designating critical habitat as described in the Act 
requires that the Service identify those lands within the geographical 
area occupied by the species at the time of listing on which are found 
the physical or biological features essential to the conservation of 
the species that may require special management considerations or 
protection, and those areas outside the geographical area occupied by 
the species at the time of listing that are essential for the 
conservation of the species.
    The identification of areas that contain the features essential to 
the conservation of the species, or are otherwise essential for the 
conservation of the species if outside the geographical area occupied 
by the species at the time of listing, is a benefit resulting from the 
designation. The critical habitat designation process includes peer 
review and public comment on the identified physical and biological 
features and areas, and provides a mechanism to educate landowners, 
State and local governments, and the public regarding the potential 
conservation value of an area. This helps focus and promote 
conservation efforts by other parties by clearly delineating areas of 
high conservation value for the species, and is valuable to land owners 
and managers in developing conservation management plans by describing 
the essential physical and biological features and special management 
actions or protections that are needed for identified areas. Including 
lands in critical habitat also informs State agencies and local 
governments about areas that could be conserved under State laws or 
local ordinances.
    The prohibition on destruction or adverse modification under 
Section 7(a)(2) of the Act constitutes the primary regulatory benefit 
of critical habitat designation. As discussed above, Federal agencies 
must consult with the Service on actions that may affect critical 
habitat and must avoid destroying or adversely modifying critical 
habitat. Federal agencies must also consult with us on actions that may 
affect a listed species and refrain from undertaking actions that are 
likely to jeopardize the continued existence of such species. The 
analysis of effects to critical habitat is a separate and different 
analysis from that of the effects to the species. Therefore, the 
difference in outcomes of these two analyses also represents the 
regulatory benefit of critical habitat. For some species, and in some 
locations, the outcome of these analyses will be similar because 
effects on habitat will often result in effects on the species. 
However, these two regulatory standards are different. The jeopardy 
analysis evaluates how a proposed action is likely to influence the 
likelihood of a species' survival and recovery. The adverse 
modification analysis evaluates how an action affects the capability of 
the critical habitat to serve its intended conservation role (USFWS, in 
litt. 2004). Although these standards are different, it has been the 
Service's experience that in many instances proposed actions that 
affect both a listed species and its critical habitat and that 
constitute jeopardy also constitute adverse modification. In some 
cases, however, application of these different standards results in 
different section 7(a)(2) determinations, especially in situations 
where the affected area is mostly or exclusively unoccupied critical 
habitat. Thus, critical habitat designations may provide greater 
benefits to the recovery of a species than would listing alone.
    There are two limitations to the regulatory effect of critical 
habitat. First, a section 7(a)(2) consultation is required only where 
there is a Federal nexus (an action authorized, funded, or carried out 
by any Federal agency)--if there is no Federal nexus, the critical 
habitat designation of non-Federal lands itself does not restrict any 
actions that destroy or adversely modify critical habitat. Aside from 
the requirement that Federal agencies ensure that their actions are not 
likely to result in destruction or adverse modification of critical 
habitat under section 7, the Act does not provide any additional 
regulatory protection to lands designated as critical habitat.
    Second, designating critical habitat does not create a management 
plan for the areas; does not establish numerical population goals or 
prescribe specific management actions (inside or outside of critical 
habitat); and does not have a direct effect on areas not designated as 
critical habitat. Specific management recommendations for critical 
habitat are addressed in recovery plans,

[[Page 14132]]

management plans, and in section 7 consultation. The designation only 
limits destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat, not all 
adverse effects. By its nature, the prohibition on adverse modification 
ensures that the conservation role and function of those areas 
designated as critical habitat are not appreciably reduced as a result 
of a Federal action.
    Once an agency determines that consultation under section 7(a)(2) 
of the Act is necessary, the process may conclude informally when the 
Service concurs in writing that the proposed Federal action is not 
likely to adversely affect the species or critical habitat. However, if 
we determine through informal consultation that adverse impacts are 
likely to occur, then formal consultation is initiated. Formal 
consultation concludes with a biological opinion issued by the Service 
on whether the proposed Federal action is likely to jeopardize the 
continued existence of listed species or result in destruction or 
adverse modification of critical habitat.
    For critical habitat, a biological opinion that concludes in a 
determination of no destruction or adverse modification may recommend 
additional conservation measures to minimize adverse effects to primary 
constituent elements, but such measures would be discretionary on the 
part of the Federal agency.
    The designation of critical habitat does not require that any 
management or recovery actions take place on the lands included in the 
designation. Even in cases where consultation has been initiated under 
section 7(a)(2) of the Act because of effects to critical habitat, the 
end result of consultation is to avoid adverse modification, but not 
necessarily to manage critical habitat or institute recovery actions on 
critical habitat. On the other hand, voluntary conservation efforts by 
landowners can remove or reduce known threats to a species or its 
habitat by implementing recovery actions. We believe that in many 
instances the regulatory benefit of critical habitat is minimal when 
compared to the conservation benefit that can be achieved through 
implementing HCPs under section 10 of the Act, or other voluntary 
conservation efforts or management plans. The conservation achieved 
through implementing HCPs or other habitat management plans can be 
greater than what we achieve through multiple site-by-site, project-by-
project, section 7(a)(2) consultations involving project effects to 
critical habitat. Management plans can commit resources to implement 
long-term management and protection to particular habitat for at least 
one and possibly other listed or sensitive species. Section 7(a)(2) 
consultations commit Federal agencies to preventing adverse 
modification of critical habitat caused by the particular project; 
consultation does not require Federal agencies to provide for 
conservation or long-term benefits to areas not affected by the 
proposed project. Thus, implementation of any HCP or management plan 
that incorporates enhancement or recovery as the management standard 
may often provide as much or more benefit than a consultation for 
critical habitat designation. Therefore, we propose to exclude all 
private lands with current HCPs, SHAs, other active management plans or 
conservation agreements in the final critical habitat designation. We 
seek public comment on all of these potential exclusions.
Benefits of Excluding Private Lands
    As noted above, the Secretary may exclude areas from critical 
habitat if he determines that the benefits of exclusion outweigh the 
benefits of including those areas as part of the critical habitat 
(unless exclusion of those areas will result in the extinction of the 
species). We believe that in some cases designation can negatively 
impact the working relationships and conservation partnerships we have 
formed with private landowners, and may serve as a disincentive for the 
formation of future partnerships or relationships that would have the 
potential to provide conservation benefits. We will consider whether 
the benefits of excluding private lands may outweigh the benefits of 
including those areas in the designation of critical habitat for the 
northern spotted owl.
    The Service recognizes that most federally listed species in the 
United States will not recover without the cooperation of non-Federal 
landowners. More than 60 percent of the United States is privately 
owned (Lubowski et al. 2006, p. 35), and at least 80 percent of 
endangered or threatened species occur either partially or solely on 
private lands (Crouse et al. 2002, p. 720). Groves et al. (2000, pp. 
280-281) reported that about one-third of populations of federally 
listed species are found on Federal lands; private lands were found to 
provide for at least one population of more than two-thirds of 
federally listed species (Groves et al. 2000, p. 283).
    Given the distribution of listed species with respect to 
landownership, the successful conservation of listed species in many 
parts of the United States will clearly depend upon working 
partnerships with a wide variety of entities and the voluntary 
cooperation of many non-Federal landowners (Wilcove and Chen 1998, p. 
1407; Crouse et al. 2002, p. 720; James 2002, p. 271). Building 
partnerships and promoting the willing cooperation of landowners is 
essential to understanding the status of species on non-Federal lands 
and necessary to implement recovery actions, such as the reintroduction 
of listed species, habitat restoration, and habitat protection.
    Many non-Federal landowners derive satisfaction from voluntarily 
participating in the recovery of endangered or threatened species. 
Conservation agreements with non-Federal landowners, Safe Harbor 
Agreements, other conservation agreements, easements, and State and 
local regulations enhance species conservation by extending species 
protections beyond those available through section 7 consultations. We 
encourage non-Federal landowners to enter into conservation agreements 
based on a view that we can achieve greater species conservation on 
non-Federal land through such partnerships than we can through 
regulatory methods (61 FR 63854; December 2, 1996).
    We acknowledge that private landowners are often wary of the 
possible consequences of encouraging endangered species conservation on 
their property, and of regulatory action by the Federal Government 
under the Act. Social science research has demonstrated that, for many 
private landowners, government regulation under the Act is perceived as 
a loss of individual freedoms, regardless of whether that regulation 
may in fact result in any actual impact to the landowner (Brook et al. 
2003, pp. 1644-1648; Conley et al. 2007, p. 141). Furthermore, in a 
recent study of private landowners who have experience with regulation 
under the Act, only 2 percent of respondents believed the Federal 
Government rewards private landowners for good management of their 
lands and resources (Conley et al. 2007, pp. 141, 144). According to 
some researchers, the designation of critical habitat on private lands 
significantly reduces the likelihood that landowners will support and 
carry out conservation actions (Main et al. 1999, p. 1263; Bean 2002, 
p. 412; Brook et al. 2003, pp. 1644-1648). The magnitude of this 
negative outcome is greatly amplified in situations where active 
management measures (such as reintroduction, fire management, or 
control of invasive species) are necessary for species conservation 
(Bean 2002, pp. 412-413).

[[Page 14133]]

    Since Federal actions such as the designation of critical habitat 
on private lands may reduce the likelihood that landowners will support 
and carry out conservation actions for the benefit of listed species, 
based on the research described above, we believe that in some cases 
the judicious exclusion of non-federally owned lands from critical 
habitat designations can contribute to species recovery and provide a 
greater level of species conservation than critical habitat designation 
alone. Although we believe that the potentially positive contribution 
of private landowners with a demonstrated record of conservation 
management should be an important consideration when designating 
critical habitat, we wish to emphasize that we will continue to be 
discriminating in our evaluation of potential exclusions, and private 
lands will be excluded only should we determine that the benefits of 
exclusion outweigh the benefits of inclusion following a rigorous 
examination of the record on a case-by-case basis.
    We are considering excluding private lands held under one or more 
ownerships in two localities in Sonoma and Napa Counties, California. 
The first area is located in southwestern Sonoma County near the mouth 
of the Russian River, in Subunit 4 of the Redwood Coast CHU. The 
combined area of private lands in this area is 28,932 ac (11,708 ha). 
The second area spans the Sonoma-Napa County line and lies west of St. 
Helena and Yountville, in Subunit 6 of the Interior Coastal California 
CHU. The combined area of private lands in this second area is 59,786 
ac (24,194 ha). Each area contains one or more landholdings that are 
under conservation easements for agriculture and open space 
preservation. We are considering excluding these privately-owned lands 
because we believe that the greatest conservation benefit to the 
northern spotted owl in this region of little Federal land ownership 
may be derived from preserving good relationships with private 
landowners who have demonstrated themselves to be good stewards of the 
habitat essential to the conservation of the northern spotted owl. Our 
consideration of these lands for exclusion will be based on case-by-
case reviews of how they are managed by each landowner, and what 
conservation mechanisms may be in place, such as easement provisions, 
that would act to conserve or enhance the suitability of northern 
spotted owl habitats. We request public comments on the relative 
benefits of inclusion or exclusion from the designation of critical 
habitat.
    We believe that acknowledging the positive contribution these 
private landowners are currently making to the conservation of the 
northern spotted owl, and maintaining good working relationships with 
these landowners by excluding these areas may provide a significant 
benefit to the conservation of the northern spotted owl in this area 
where private lands will play an essential role in the recovery of the 
species. The exclusion of these areas may encourage these landowners to 
continue their positive management practices without fear of further 
government regulation. In addition, the exclusion of such lands may lay 
the foundation for building additional conservation partnerships and 
relationships with other private landowners, with conservation benefit 
not only for the northern spotted owl, but other endangered or 
threatened species as well.
    In contrast, we believe there may be relatively little benefit to 
be gained by the designation of these privately owned lands. A 
potential benefit of designation would be the regulatory protections 
afforded to critical habitat under section 7(a)(2) of the Act. However, 
as described earlier, on private lands the regulatory protections of 
critical habitat only apply when there is a Federal nexus (actions 
funded, permitted, or otherwise carried out by the Federal Government), 
and we have no evidence to suggest that these regulatory protections 
are likely to be triggered on the private lands in the Redwood Coast 
CHU or Interior Coastal California CHU. Furthermore, most of these 
lands are currently occupied by the northern spotted owl. Thus, even if 
these lands are excluded from the final revised critical habitat 
designation, if the northern spotted owl is present and may be 
affected, actions with Federal involvement require consultation to 
review the effects of management activities that might adversely affect 
listed species under a jeopardy standard; this assessment includes 
effects to the species from habitat modification. Overall, given the 
low likelihood of a Federal nexus occurring on these lands, we believe 
the regulatory benefit of a critical habitat designation on these 
lands, if any, may be limited.
    The purpose of designating critical habitat is to contribute to the 
conservation of threatened and endangered species and the ecosystems 
upon which they depend. The outcome of the designation is to trigger 
regulatory requirements for actions funded, authorized, or carried out 
by Federal agencies under section 7(a) (2) of the Act. Where there is 
little likelihood of a Federal action, the benefits of this protection 
can be low. On the other hand, the benefits of excluding areas that are 
covered by voluntary conservation efforts can, in specific 
circumstances, be high. In this case, in weighing the potential 
benefits of inclusion versus benefits of exclusion, as detailed above, 
we believe the greatest conservation benefit to the northern spotted 
owl in the Redwood Coast CHU may result from the exclusion of privately 
owned lands from the final designation. Specific potential exclusions 
in the Redwood Coast CHU and Interior Coastal California CHU in 
northern California will be discussed in our Notice of Availability to 
be published in the Federal Register when the draft economic analysis 
is released for public comment. At that time the public will have an 
opportunity to review and comment on specific proposed exclusions. At 
present, we seek public comment on the general benefits of including or 
excluding private lands in this area [see Public Comments, above].
    Table 5 identifies all private lands proposed or considered for 
exclusion, Table 6 identifies State lands proposed or considered for 
exclusion, and Table 7 identifies Congressionally reserved natural 
areas proposed for exclusion in the final rule. We ask for public 
comment on all of these possible exclusions, or information to identify 
any additional potential areas we should consider for exclusion and 
why.

           Table 5--Private Lands Proposed or That May Be Considered for Exclusion From the Final Rule
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      Type of agreement        Critical habitat unit    State      Land owner/agency       Acres       Hectares
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Safe Harbor Agreements--       WCC..................  WA         Port Blakely Tree              421          170
 proposed for exclusion.                                          Farms, L.P, Safe
                                                                  Harbor Agreement,
                                                                  Landowner Option
                                                                  Plan, Cooperative
                                                                  Habitat Enhancement.
                               RWC..................  CA         Forster-Gill, Inc....          236           95

[[Page 14134]]

 
                               RWC..................  CA         Van Eck Forest               2,163          875
                                                                  Foundation, Safe
                                                                  Harbor Agreement.
Habitat Conservation Plans--   WCC..................  WA         Cedar River Watershed        3,367        1,363
 proposed for exclusion.                                          Habitat Conservation
                                                                  Plan.
                               WCC..................  WA         Green River Water            3,175        1,285
                                                                  Supply Operations
                                                                  and Watershed
                                                                  Protection Habitat
                                                                  Conservation Plan.
                               WCC/ECN..............  WA         Plum Creek Timber           33,764       13,664
                                                                  Central Cascades I-
                                                                  90 Habitat
                                                                  Conservation Plan.
                               WCC..................  WA         West Fork Timber             5,233        2,118
                                                                  Habitat Conservation
                                                                  Plan.
                               RWC..................  CA         Green Diamond              360,870      146,042
                                                                  Resource Company
                                                                  Habitat Conservation
                                                                  Plan.
                               RWC..................  CA         Humboldt Redwood           211,700       85,672
                                                                  Company, Habitat
                                                                  Conservation Plan.
                               RWC..................  CA         Regli Estates Habitat          500          202
                                                                  Conservation Plan.
                               ICC..................  CA         Terra Springs Habitat           41           16
                                                                  Conservation Plan.
Conservation Easements, Other  ECN..................  WA         Scofield Corporation            40           16
 Agreements or Partnerships--                                     Habitat Conservation
 proposed for exclusion.                                          Plan.
                               RWC..................  CA         Usal Forest..........       50,000       20,235
                               RWC..................  CA         Big River, Salmon           40,293       16,306
                                                                  Creek, and Garcia
                                                                  River Forests.
                              ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Total private lands        .....................  .........  .....................      711,803      288,059
     proposed for exclusion.
Proposed Agreements that may   RWC..................  CA         Mendocino Redwood          232,584       94,123
 be considered for exclusion.                                     Company Proposed HCP.
                               WCC/ECN..............  WA         SDS Co. & Broughton         16,031        6,487
                                                                  Lumber Co. Proposed
                                                                  Conservation Plan.
Other Private lands that may   various..............  WA\1\      various..............      133,895       54,186
 be considered for exclusion.
                               various..............  OR         various..............            0            0
                               various..............  CA         various..............      174,587       70,450
                              ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Total additional private   .....................  .........  .....................      557,097      225,246
     lands that may be
     considered for exclusion.
                              ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Total private lands    .....................  .........  .....................    1,268,900      513,305
         proposed for
         exclusion or that
         may be considered
         for exclusion.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ These lands are within SOSEAs--Spotted Owl Special Emphasis Areas.


            Table 6--State Lands Proposed or That May Be Considered for Exclusion From the Final Rule
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                     State                                 Land owner/agency               Acres       Hectares
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
WA............................................  Washington Dept. of Natural Resources       225,013       91,059
                                                 State Lands HCP--proposed for
                                                 exclusion.
                                                Washington State Parks--proposed for            104           42
                                                 exclusion.
                                                Washington Department of Fish and             1,752          709
                                                 Wildlife Lands--may be considered for
                                                 exclusion.
OR............................................  Oregon Department of Forestry--may be       228,733       92,565
                                                 considered for exclusion.
CA............................................  California State Parks--proposed for        164,672       66,640
                                                 exclusion.
                                                California State Forests--may be             50,762       20,543
                                                 considered for exclusion.
    Total State lands proposed for exclusion..  ......................................      389,789      157,809
    Total State lands that may be considered    ......................................      281,247      113,749
     for exclusion.
                                               -----------------------------------------------------------------
        Total State Lands.....................  ......................................      671,036      271,558
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


[[Page 14135]]


 Table 7--Congressionally Reserved Natural Areas Proposed for Exclusion
                           From the Final Rule
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                     State                         Acres       Hectares
------------------------------------------------------------------------
WA............................................    1,530,205      619,252
OR............................................      499,836      202,277
CA............................................      616,692      249,567
                                               -------------------------
    Total.....................................    2,646,733    1,071,095
------------------------------------------------------------------------

Benefits of Excluding Lands With Safe Harbor Agreements
    A Safe Harbor Agreement (SHA) is a voluntary agreement involving 
private or other non-Federal property owners whose actions contribute 
to the recovery of listed species. The agreement is between cooperating 
non-Federal property owners and the Service. In exchange for actions 
that contribute to the recovery of listed species on non-Federal lands, 
participating property owners receive formal assurances from the 
Service that if they fulfill the conditions of the SHA, the Service 
will not require any additional or different management activities by 
the participants without their consent. In addition, at the end of the 
agreement period, participants may return the enrolled property to the 
baseline conditions that existed at the beginning of the SHA.
    As detailed above in the section ``Benefits of Excluding Private 
Lands,'' because many endangered and threatened species occur 
exclusively, or to a large extent, on privately owned property, the 
involvement of the private sector in the conservation and recovery of 
species is crucial. Property owners are often willing partners in 
efforts to recover listed species. However, some property owners may be 
reluctant to undertake activities that support or attract listed 
species on their properties, due to fear of future property-use 
restrictions related to the Act. To address this concern, a SHA 
provides that future property-use limitations will not occur without 
the landowner's consent if the landowner is in compliance with the 
permit and Agreement and the activity is not likely to result in 
jeopardy to the listed species.
    Central to this approach is that the actions taken under the SHA 
must provide a net conservation benefit that contributes to the 
recovery of the covered species. Examples of conservation benefits 
include:
     Reduced habitat fragmentation;
     Maintenance, restoration, or enhancement of existing 
habitats;
     Increases in habitat connectivity;
     Stabilized or increased numbers or distribution;
     The creation of buffers for protected areas; and
     Opportunities to test and develop new habitat management 
techniques.
    By entering into an SHA, property owners receive assurances that 
land use restrictions will not be required even if the voluntary 
actions taken under the agreement attract particular listed species 
onto enrolled properties or increase the numbers of distribution of 
those listed species already present on those properties. The 
assurances are provided through an enhancement of survival permit 
issued to the property owner, under the authority of section 
10(a)(1)(A) of the Act. To implement this provision of the Act, the 
Service and National Marine Fisheries Service issued a joint policy for 
developing SHAs for listed species on June 17, 1999 (64 FR 32726). The 
Service simultaneously issued regulations for implementing SHAs on June 
17, 1999 (64 FR 32706). A correction to the final rule was announced on 
September 30, 1999 (64 FR 52676). The enhancement of survival permit 
issued in association with an SHA authorizes incidental take of species 
that may result from actions undertaken by the landowner under the SHA, 
which could include returning the property to the baseline conditions 
at the end of the agreement. The permit also specifies that the Service 
will not require any additional or different management activities by 
participants without their consent if the permittee is in compliance 
with the requirements of the permit and the SHA and the permittee's 
actions are not likely to result in jeopardy.
    The benefits of excluding lands with approved SHAs from critical 
habitat designation may include relieving landowners, communities, and 
counties of any additional regulatory burden that might be imposed as a 
result of the critical habitat designation. Even if any additional 
regulatory burden would be unlikely due to a lack of a Federal nexus, 
as described above in the section ``Benefits of Excluding Private 
Lands,'' the designation of critical habitat could nonetheless have an 
unintended negative effect on our relationship with non-Federal 
landowners due to the perceived imposition of government regulation. We 
believe that an exclusion of lands under an approved SHA would be in 
keeping with the spirit of the agreement. An additional benefit of 
excluding lands covered by approved SHAs from critical habitat 
designation is that it may make it easier for us to seek new 
partnerships with future SHA participants, including States, counties, 
local jurisdictions, conservation organizations, and private 
landowners, in cases where potential partners may be reluctant to 
encourage the development of habitat that supports threatened or 
endangered species. In such cases, we may be able to implement 
conservation actions that we would be unable to accomplish otherwise. 
By excluding these lands, we may preserve our current partnerships and 
encourage additional future conservation actions.
    In weighing the benefits of inclusion versus the benefits of 
exclusion for lands subject to approved SHAs, it is important to note 
that a fundamental requirement of an SHA is an advance determination by 
the Service that the provisions of the SHA will result in a net 
conservation benefit to the listed species. Approved SHAs have, 
therefore, already been determined to provide a net conservation 
benefit to the listed species; in addition, the management activities 
provided in a SHA often provide conservation benefits to unlisted 
sensitive species as well. As described earlier, the designation of 
critical habitat is unlikely to provide any realized conservation 
benefit to the species on non-Federal lands absent a Federal nexus for 
an activity. Especially where further Federal action is unlikely, the 
net conservation benefit provided by the terms of the SHA itself, 
considered in conjunction with the benefit of excluding lands subject 
to an SHA by preserving our working relationships with landowners who 
have entered into SHAs with the Service, and the benefit of laying the 
positive groundwork for possible future agreements with other 
landowners, may collectively outweigh the potentially limited benefit 
that would be realized on these lands from the designation of critical 
habitat. However, as with all potential exclusions under consideration, 
lands subject to an SHA will only be excluded should we determine that 
the benefits of exclusion outweigh the benefits of inclusion following 
a rigorous examination of the record on a case-by-case basis.
    We note that permit issuance in association with SHA applications 
requires consultation under section 7(a)(2) of the Act, which would 
include the review of the effects of all-SHA-covered activities that 
might adversely impact the species under a jeopardy standard, including 
possibly significant habitat modification (see definition of ``harm'' 
at 50 CFR 17.3), even without the critical habitat designation. In 
addition, all other Federal actions that may affect the listed species 
would still require consultation under section

[[Page 14136]]

7(a)(2) of the Act, and we would review these actions for possible 
significant habitat modification in accordance with the definition of 
harm, described in the following section ``Benefits of Excluding Lands 
with Habitat Conservation Plans.''
    We further note that SHAs may include a provision that the 
landowner may return the area to baseline conditions upon expiration of 
the permit. The term of the permit is thus an important consideration 
in weighing the relative benefits of inclusion versus exclusion from 
the designation of critical habitat. However, we note that the Service 
has the right to revise a critical habitat designation at any time. 
Furthermore, we note that the potential benefit of acknowledging the 
positive conservation contributions of landowners willing to enter into 
voluntary conservation agreements with the Service for the recovery of 
endangered or threatened species may nonetheless outweigh the loss of 
benefit that may be incurred through a possible return to baseline 
following permit expiration. As noted above, such circumstances require 
careful consideration on a case-by-case basis in order to make a final 
determination of the benefits of exclusion or inclusion in a critical 
habitat designation.
    Below is a brief description of each SHA and the lands proposed as 
critical habitat covered by each agreement that we are considering for 
exclusion from critical habitat designation under section 4(b)(2) of 
the Act.

State of California

Forster-Gill, Inc., Safe Harbor Agreement
    We propose to exclude lands covered by the SHA between Forster-
Gill, Inc., and the Service in the Redwood Coast CHU in California from 
the final critical habitat designation. The enhancement of survival 
permit associated with this SHA was noticed in the Federal Register on 
March 22, 2002 (67 FR 13357), and issued June 18, 2002. The term of the 
agreement is 80 years, and the term of the permit is 90 years. The SHA 
provides for the creation and enhancement of habitat for the northern 
spotted owl on 236 ac (95 ha) of lands in Humboldt County, California, 
and provides for continued timber harvest on those lands.
    There are two baseline conditions that will be maintained under the 
SHA: (1) Protection of an 11.2-ac (5-ha) no-harvest area that will 
buffer the most recent active northern spotted owl nest site, but will 
also be maintained in the absence of a nest site; and (2) maintenance 
of 216 ac (87 ha) on the property such that the trees will always 
average 12 to 24 in (30 to 60 cm) dbh with a canopy closure of 60 to 
100 percent. At the time of the agreement, forest conditions were on 
the lower end of the diameter and canopy closure ranges. By the end of 
the agreement, the property will be at the upper end of the diameter 
and canopy closure ranges.
    Under the SHA, Forster-Gill, Inc., agrees to: (1) Annually survey 
and monitor for the location and reproductive status of northern 
spotted owls on the property; (2) protect all active nest sites 
(locations where nesting behavior is observed during any of the 
previous 3 years) with a no-harvest area that buffers the nest site by 
no less than 300 ft (90 m) and limits timber harvest operations within 
1,000 ft (300 m) of an active nest site during the breeding season, and 
only allows use of existing haul roads; and (3) manage the second-
growth redwood timber on the property in a manner that maintains 
suitable northern spotted owl habitat while creating over time the 
multilayered canopy structure with an older, larger tree component 
associated with high-quality spotted owl habitat. The SHA is expected 
to provide, maintain, and enhance for the 80-year life of the agreement 
over 200 ac (80 ha) of northern spotted owl habitat within a matrix of 
private timberland. The cumulative impact of the agreement and the 
timber management activities it covers, which are facilitated by the 
allowable incidental take, is expected to provide a net benefit to the 
northern spotted owl. The complete text of the Forster-Gill Safe Harbor 
Agreement can be viewed at http://www.fws.gov/arcata/es/birds/NSO/documents/Forster-Gill_SHA.pdf.
Van Eck Forest Foundation Safe Harbor Agreement
    We propose to exclude lands covered by a SHA between the Fred M. 
van Eck Forest Foundation and the Service in the Redwood Coast CHU in 
California from the final critical habitat designation. The enhancement 
of survival permit associated with this SHA was noticed in the Federal 
Register on July 8, 2008 (73 FR 39026), and issued August 18, 2008. The 
term of the permit and the agreement is 90 years. The SHA provides for 
the creation and enhancement of habitat for the northern spotted owl on 
2,163 ac (875 ha) of lands in Humboldt County, California, and provides 
for continued timber harvest on those lands.
    At the time of the agreement, the lands under consideration 
supported 1,730 ac (700 ha) of northern spotted owl nesting and 
roosting habitat and one northern spotted owl activity center. We 
anticipate that under the northern spotted owl habitat creation and 
enhancement timber management regime proposed in the SHA that 
approximately 1,947 ac (788 ha) of nesting and roosting habitat and 
potentially up to five northern spotted owl activity centers could 
exist on the property at the end of 90 years. The SHA does not provide 
for a return to baseline conditions at the end of the agreement term. 
Instead, the agreement provides that if more than five northern spotted 
owl activity centers should become established on the property during 
the 90-year term, the landowner would be allowed to remove such 
additional activity centers during the agreement period. Under the SHA, 
the Fred M. van Eck Forest Foundation agrees to: (1) Conduct surveys 
annually to determine the locations and reproductive status of any 
northern spotted owls; (2) protect up to five activity centers 
(locations where owls are observed nesting or roosting) with a no-
harvest area that buffers the activity center by no less than 100 ft 
(30 m); (3) utilize selective timber harvest methods such that suitable 
nesting habitat is maintained within 300 ft (91 m) of each activity 
center; (4) limit noise disturbance from timber harvest operations 
within 1,000 ft (305 m) of an active nest during the breeding season; 
and (5) manage all second-growth redwood timber on the property in a 
manner that maintains or creates suitable nesting and roosting habitat 
over time. The cumulative impact of the agreement and the timber 
management activities it covers, which are facilitated by the allowable 
incidental take, is expected to provide a net benefit to the northern 
spotted owl. The complete text of the Van Eck Forest Foundation Safe 
Harbor Agreement can be viewed at http://www.fws.gov/arcata/es/birds/NSO/documents/Van-Eck_SHA.pdf.

State of Oregon

    No lands covered under a Safe Harbor Agreement in Oregon are 
currently proposed as northern spotted owl critical habitat. However, 
we want to use this opportunity to inform the public of the 
programmatic SHA between the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF), U.S. 
Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service 
(NRCS), and the Fish and Wildlife Service in Oregon. This program has 
excellent potential to contribute to spotted owl recovery by increasing 
the quality and quantity of spotted owl habitat in areas where such 
habitat is lacking. The enhancement of

[[Page 14137]]

survival permit associated with this SHA was noticed in the Federal 
Register on July 21, 2009 (74 FR 35883) and issued July 26, 2010. The 
term of the permit and SHA is 50 years. The permit authorizes ODF to 
extend incidental take coverage with assurances through issuance of 
certificates of inclusion to eligible landowners who are willing to 
carry out habitat management measures that would benefit the northern 
spotted owl. The covered area or geographical scope of SHA includes 
non-Federal forest lands within the range of the northern spotted owl 
in Oregon. The full text of the Programmatic Safe Harbor Agreement 
between the Oregon Department of Forestry, U.S. Department of 
Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the U.S. Fish 
and Wildlife Service is available for review at http://ecos.fws.gov/docs/plan_documents/tsha/tsha_826.pdf.

State of Washington

Port Blakely Tree Farms L.P. (Morton Block) Safe Harbor Agreement, 
Landowner Option Plan, and Cooperative Habitat Enhancement Agreement
    We propose to exclude lands covered by the Port Blakely Tree Farms 
(also known as Morton Block) SHA in the West Cascades Central CHU in 
Washington from the final critical habitat designation. The enhancement 
of survival permit associated with this SHA was noticed in the Federal 
Register on December 17, 2008 (73 FR 76680) and issued May 22, 2009. 
The SHA and permit include both the marbled murrelet (Brachyramphus 
marmoratus) and the northern spotted owl, and covers an area of 45,306 
ac (18,335 ha) of managed forest lands known as the ``Morton Block,'' 
in Lewis and Skamania Counties. The term of the permit and SHA is 60 
years.
    The covered lands have been intensively managed and at the time the 
permit was issued were not known to be occupied by either the spotted 
owl or the marbled murrelet. The environmental baseline was measured in 
terms of dispersal habitat for the northern spotted owl and potential 
nesting habitat for the marbled murrelet. There are no known northern 
spotted owls nesting on Port Blakely lands. However, spotted owls have 
historically nested on adjacent Federal lands and the 1.8-mi (2.9-km) 
radius circles around those sites that are used for evaluating 
potential habitat availability for spotted owls extend onto Port 
Blakely lands. Because of this, Port Blakely Tree Farms conducted 
habitat evaluations of their properties to determine the amount of 
suitable spotted owl habitat present. The baseline estimate for the SHA 
is 8,360 ac (3,383 ha) of spotted owl dispersal habitat.
    Under the SHA, Port Blakely will implement voluntary conservation 
measures that are expected to provide net conservation benefits to the 
northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet. The SHA also provides that 
Port Blakely will manage their tree farm in a manner that contributes 
to the goals of the Mineral Block Spotted Owl Special Emphasis Area 
(SOSEA) according to Washington Forest Practices Rules and Regulations 
(Washington Forest Practices Board 2002, WAC 222-16-080, WAC 222-16-
086). In the SHA, Port Blakely agrees to implement enhanced forest 
management measures that would create potential habitat for the 
northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet, such as longer harvest 
rotations, additional thinning to accelerate forest growth, a snag 
creation program, retaining more down wood than is required by 
Washington Forest Practices Rules, establishing special management 
areas and special set-aside areas, and monitoring. The terms of the 
agreement are intended to produce conditions that will facilitate the 
dispersal of the northern spotted owl across the Port Blakely 
ownership, and allow marbled murrelets to nest. The full text of the 
Port Blakely Tree Farms L.P. (Morton Block) Safe Harbor Agreement, 
Landowner Option Plan, and Cooperative Habitat Enhancement Agreement is 
available at http://ecos.fws.gov/docs/plan_documents/tsha/tsha_696.pdf.
Benefits of Excluding Lands With Habitat Conservation Plans
    Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs) are planning documents required 
as part of an application for an ``incidental take'' permit. They 
describe the anticipated effects of the proposed taking; how those 
impacts will be minimized, or mitigated; and how the HCP is to be 
funded. HCPs can apply to both listed and nonlisted species, including 
those that are candidates or have been proposed for listing. Anyone 
whose otherwise-lawful activities will result in the ``incidental 
take'' of a listed wildlife species needs a permit. The Act defines 
``take'' as ``* * * to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, 
trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such 
conduct.'' ``Harm'' includes significant habitat modification that 
actually kills or injures a listed species through impairing essential 
behavior such as breeding, feeding, or sheltering. Section 9 of the Act 
prohibits the take of endangered and threatened species. The purpose of 
the incidental take permit is to exempt non-Federal permit-holders--
such as States and private landowners--from the prohibitions of section 
9, not to authorize the activities that result in take.
    In developing HCPs, people applying for incidental take permits 
describe measures designed to minimize and mitigate the effects of 
their actions-- to ensure that species will be conserved and to 
contribute to their recovery. Habitat Conservation Plans are required 
to meet the permit issuance criteria of section 10(a)(2)(B) of the Act:
     Taking will be incidental;
     The applicant will, to the maximum extent practicable, 
minimize and mitigate the impacts of the taking;
     The applicant will ensure that adequate funding for the 
plan will be provided;
     Taking will not appreciably reduce the likelihood of the 
survival and recovery of the species in the wild; and
     Other measures, as required by the Secretary, will be met.
    The benefits of excluding lands with approved HCPs from critical 
habitat designation may include relieving landowners, communities, and 
counties of any additional regulatory burden that might be imposed as a 
result of the critical habitat designation. Many HCPs take years to 
develop and, upon completion, are consistent with the recovery 
objectives for listed species covered within the plan area. Many 
conservation plans also provide conservation benefits to unlisted 
sensitive species.
    A related benefit of excluding lands covered by approved HCPs from 
critical habitat designation is that it can make it easier for us to 
seek new partnerships with future plan participants, including States, 
counties, local jurisdictions, conservation organizations, and private 
landowners, which together can implement conservation actions that we 
would be unable to accomplish otherwise. HCPs often cover a wide range 
of species, including species that are not State and federally-listed 
and would otherwise receive little protection from development. By 
excluding these lands, we preserve our current partnerships and 
encourage additional future conservation actions.
    We also note that permit issuance in association with HCP 
applications requires consultation under section 7(a)(2) of the Act, 
which would include the review of the effects of all HCP-covered 
activities that might adversely impact the species under a jeopardy

[[Page 14138]]

standard, including possibly significant habitat modification (see 
definition of ``harm'' at 50 CFR 17.3), even without the critical 
habitat designation. In addition, all other Federal actions that may 
affect the listed species would still require consultation under 
section 7(a)(2) of the Act, and we would review these actions for 
possible significant habitat modification in accordance with the 
definition of harm referenced above.
    We consider a current HCP to be appropriate for consideration for 
exclusion from a final critical habitat designation under section 
4(b)(2) of the Act if:
    (1) It provides for the conservation of the essential physical and 
biological features or areas otherwise determined to be essential;
    (2) There is a reasonable expectation that the conservation 
management strategies and actions contained in a management plan will 
be implemented into the future;
    (3) The conservation strategies in the HCP are likely to be 
effective; and
    (4) The HCP contains a monitoring program or adaptive management to 
ensure that the conservation measures are effective and can be adapted 
in the future in response to new information.
    Below is a brief description of each HCP and the lands proposed as 
critical habitat covered by each plan that we are considering for 
exclusion from critical habitat designation under section 4(b)(2) of 
the Act.

 State of California

Green Diamond Resource Company Habitat Conservation Plan
    We propose to exclude lands managed under the Green Diamond 
Resource Company (formerly Simpson Timber Company) HCP in the Redwood 
Coast CHU in California from the final critical habitat designation. 
The permit issued in association with this HCP was initially noticed in 
the Federal Register on May 27, 1992 (57 FR 22254) and issued September 
17, 1992. Both the HCP and the permit had a term of 30 years, with a 
comprehensive review scheduled after 10 years to review the efficacy of 
the plan. The permit allowed incidental take of up to 50 pairs of 
northern spotted owls and their habitat during the course of timber 
harvest operations on 383,106 ac (155,041 ha) of forest lands in Del 
Norte and Humboldt Counties. At the time the permit was issued, more 
than 100 northern spotted owl nest sites or activity centers were known 
or suspected on the property. The Service determined that the projected 
growth and harvest rates indicated more habitat of the age class 
primarily used by northern spotted owls would exist on the property at 
the end of the 30-year permit period. In addition, the HCP provided 
that nest sites would be protected during the breeding season, and no 
direct killing or injuring of owls was anticipated. Simpson also agreed 
to continue their monitoring programs, in which more than 250 adult 
owls and more than 100 juveniles were already banded, as well as 
analyses of timber stands used by owls.
    As required by the terms of the HCP, Green Diamond and the Service 
conducted a comprehensive review of the first 10 years of 
implementation, including a comparison of actual and estimated levels 
of owl displacement, a comparison of estimated and actual distribution 
of habitat, a reevaluation of the biological basis for the HCP's 
conservation strategy, an examination of the efficacy of and continued 
need for habitat set-asides, and an estimate of future owl 
displacements. During the comprehensive review, Green Diamond requested 
an amendment to the 1992 ITP to allow incidental take of up to eight 
additional spotted owl pairs. This request was noticed in the Federal 
Register on February 26, 2007 (72 FR 8393) and the modified permit was 
issued in October 2007. In addition, in April, 2011, Green Diamond sold 
22,236 ac (8,999 ha) of its lands covered by the HCP to the Yurok 
Tribe; as those lands are no longer covered by the HCP, the current 
total of the covered lands is 360,870 ac (146,042 ha).
    On April 16, 2010, we announced our intent to prepare an 
Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under the National Environmental 
Policy Act (NEPA) in response to an expected new HCP from Green 
Diamond, which would include provisions for the northern spotted owl 
and possibly the Pacific fisher (Martes pennanti), a species which may 
be considered for listing during the term of the HCP. This new HCP, if 
completed and approved, would replace the 1992 HCP, and would require 
the issuance of a new incidental take permit. The proposed new HCP is 
intended to address the retention of suitable spotted owl nesting 
habitat, the development of older forest habitat elements and habitat 
structures, and future establishment of spotted owl nest sites in 
streamside retention zones, cluster owl sites in favorable habitat 
areas, and initiate future research on other wildlife species such as 
fishers and barred owls. As this HCP has not yet been completed, 
however, we cannot consider it for exclusion at this point in time. The 
existing HCP originally completed in 1992 is still in effect as of this 
date, and is intended to be excluded The full text of the Green Diamond 
HCP is available at http://www.fws.gov/arcata/es/birds/NSO/documents/Simpson_(Green--Diamond)--1992--NSO--HCP--Part--A.pdf and http://www.fws.gov/arcata/es/birds/NSO/documents/Simpson_(Green--Diamond)--
1992--NSO--HCP--Part--B--Large maps.pdf.
Humboldt Redwood Company Habitat Conservation Plan
    We propose to exclude lands managed under the Humboldt Redwood 
Company (formerly Pacific Lumber) HCP in the Redwood Coast CHU in 
California from the final critical habitat designation. The permit 
under this HCP with a term of 50 years was noticed on July 14, 1998 (63 
FR 37900) and issued on March 1, 1999. The HCP includes 211,700 ac 
(85,672 ha) of commercial timber lands in Humboldt County, essentially 
all of the formerly Pacific Lumber timberlands outside of the 
Headwaters Preserve. The Humboldt Redwood Company HCP includes nine 
nonlisted species (including one candidate species) and three listed 
species, including the northern spotted owl. Activities covered by the 
HCP include forest management activities and mining or other extractive 
activities. With regard to the northern spotted owl in particular, the 
HCP addresses the harvest, retention, and recruitment of requisite 
habitat types and elements within watershed assessment areas and 
individual northern spotted owl activity sites.
    The management objectives of the HCP are to minimize disturbance to 
northern spotted owl activity sites, monitor to determine whether these 
efforts maintain a high-density and productive population of northern 
spotted owls, and apply adaptive management techniques as necessary. 
The other conservation elements of the HCP are expected to aid in the 
retention and recruitment of potential foraging, roosting, and nesting 
habitat in watersheds across the ownership. Specifically, the HCP 
states that the silvicultural requirements associated with riparian 
management zones, the mass wasting avoidance strategy, the cumulative 
effects/disturbance index restrictions, the marbled murrelet 
conservation areas, and the retention standard of 10 percent late seral 
habitat for each watershed assessment area are likely to provide 
suitable habitat for northern spotted owl. In addition, there are 
specific habitat retention requirements to conserve habitat for 
foraging, roosting, and nesting at

[[Page 14139]]

northern spotted owl activity sites. Details of the Humboldt Redwood 
Company HCP are available at http://www.fws.gov/arcata/es/birds/NSO/documents/Pacific_Lumber_Co_(Humboldt--Redwood--Co.)--1999--Final--
HCP.pdf.
Regli Estates Habitat Conservation Plan
    We propose to exclude lands managed under the Regli Estates HCP in 
the Redwood Coast CHU from the final critical habitat designation. The 
permit issued under this HCP in 1995 (noticed July 17, 1995 (60 FR 
36432) and issued August 30, 1995) covers 500 ac (202 ha) in Humboldt 
County, California, to be used for forest management activities. Two 
listed species, the marbled murrelet and northern spotted owl, as well 
as two nonlisted species are covered under the incidental take permit 
for a period of 20 years. Provisions in the HCP for the northern 
spotted owl include the mitigation of any impacts from forest 
management activities by implementing selective harvest techniques that 
would maintain owl foraging habitat in all harvested areas, protecting 
an 80-ac (32-ha) core nesting area for one of the two owl pairs known 
to exist in the HCP area, and planting conifer tree species on 
approximately 80 ac (32 ha) of currently unforested habitat within the 
HCP area, which would result in a net increase in forested habitat over 
time. In addition, take of owls would be minimized using seasonal 
protection measures specified in the HCP. Details of the Regli Estates 
HCP are available at http://www.fws.gov/arcata/es/birds/NSO/documents/Regli_Estates_1995_Final_HCP.pdf.
Terra Springs Habitat Conservation Plan
    We propose to exclude lands managed under the Terra Springs LLC Low 
Effect HCP in the Interior California Coast CHU from the final critical 
habitat designation. The permit issued in association with this HCP 
(noticed October 29, 2002 (67 FR 65998), and issued in 2004) has a term 
of 30 years and includes 76 ac (31 ha) of second-growth forest lands in 
Napa County, California. This HCP addresses the effects of timber 
harvest and conversion of 22 ac (9 ha) of forest lands to vineyard and 
any subsequent removal of commercial conifer trees from the remainder 
of the covered lands. The HCP provides a conservation program to 
minimize and mitigate for the covered activities, including a deed 
restriction that requires management in perpetuity of 41 ac (16 ha) of 
the property as nesting and roosting quality habitat for the northern 
spotted owl. In addition to mitigation, the Plan also includes measures 
to minimize take of the northern spotted owl. Details of the Terra 
Springs HCP are available at http://www.fws.gov/arcata/es/birds/NSO/documents/Terra_Springs_2003_Final_HCP.pdf.

State of Oregon

    No lands covered under an HCP in the State of Oregon are currently 
proposed as critical habitat.

State of Washington

Cedar River Watershed Habitat Conservation Plan
    We propose to exclude lands managed under the Cedar River Watershed 
HCP in in King County, Washington from the final critical habitat 
designation. The City of Seattle completed an HCP that covers the 
City's 90,535-ac (36,368-ha) watershed and the City's water supply and 
hydroelectric operations on the Cedar River, which discharges into Lake 
Washington. Based on this HCP, we issued a permit April 21, 2000 
(noticed December 11, 1998 (63 FR 68469)), that covers forestry 
restoration activities including riparian thinning, road abandonment, 
and timber-stand improvement in the upper Cedar River Watershed. It 
also provides for activities associated with the development of 
utilities and infrastructure, recreational activities, and water 
activities. The plan was prepared to address the declining populations 
of salmon, steelhead, and other species of fish and wildlife in the 
Cedar River basin, and includes habitat-based conservation and 
mitigation strategies for all species addressed in the HCP, as well as 
species-specific conservation and mitigation strategies for all listed 
species. Details regarding the City of Seattle Cedar River Watershed 
HCP are available at http://www.seattle.gov/util/About_SPU/Water_System/Habitat_Conservation_Plan/index.asp.
Green River Water Supply Operations and Watershed Protection Habitat 
Conservation Plan
    The Service proposes to exclude lands managed under the Green River 
Water Supply Operations and Watershed Protection HCP in the State of 
Washington from the final critical habitat designation. The permit 
associated with this HCP was noticed in the Federal Register on August 
21, 1998 (63 FR 44918), and issued on July 6, 2001. The Green River 
Water Supply Operations and Watershed Protection HCP addresses upstream 
and downstream fish passage issues, flows in the Middle and lower Green 
River, and timber and watershed-management activities on Tacoma-owned 
land in the upper Green River Watershed of 15,843 ac (6,411 ha). The 
HCP covers 32 species of fish and wildlife, including the northern 
spotted owl and 10 other listed species under an agreement designed to 
allow the continuation of water-supply operations on the Green River, 
and covers forest management and water activities. The plan provides 
for fish passage into and out of the upper Green River Watershed, and 
serves as an umbrella for a number of agreements for river operations, 
water-supply operations, and forest and land management, including 
several major habitat-restoration projects. Details of the Green River 
Water Supply Operations and Watershed Protection HCP are available at 
http://www.mytpu.org/tacomawater/water-conservation/environment/fish-wildlife/habitat-conservation-plan.htm.
Plum Creek Timber Central Cascades Habitat Conservation Plan
    We propose to exclude lands managed under the Plum Creek Timber 
Central Cascades HCP in the State of Washington in the final critical 
habitat designation. The permit associated with the Plum Creek Timber 
HCP was first noticed in the Federal Register on November 17, 1995 (60 
FR 57722), issued on June 27, 1996, and later modified in December of 
1999 as noticed on February 10, 2000 (65 FR 6590). The permit has a 
term of 50 years (with an option to extend to 100 years if certain 
conditions are met) and covers 84,600 ac (34,236 ha) of lands in the 
Interstate-90 corridor in King and Kittitas Counties, Washington. The 
HCP includes over 315 species of fish and wildlife, including the 
northern spotted owl and 7 other listed species. The plan addresses 
forest-management activities across an area of industrial timberlands 
in Washington's central Cascade Mountains, and provides for management 
of the northern spotted owl based on landscape conditions tailored to 
the guidelines provided by the NWFP by providing additional protection 
to northern spotted owl sites near Late Successional Reserves. Wildlife 
trees are retained in buffers of natural features (e.g., caves, 
wetlands, springs, cliffs, talus slopes) and streams, as well as 
scattered and clumped within harvest units. The HCP also requires Plum 
Creek to maintain and grow forests of various structural stages across 
all of their HCP ownerships. This commitment of forest stages, in 
combination with wildlife trees retained within harvest units and 
stream and landscape-feature buffers will provide a

[[Page 14140]]

matrix of habitat conditions that complements the owl habitat provided 
in the HCP. Stands containing scattered leave trees following harvest 
will be expected to become more valuable for spotted owls at earlier 
ages than those harvested using previous methods. Details of the Plum 
Creek Timber Central Cascades HCP are available at http://www.fws.gov/wafwo/CHP_new.html.
Washington State Department of Natural Resources State Lands Habitat 
Conservation Plan
    We propose to exclude lands managed under the Washington State 
Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) State Lands HCP in multiple CHUs 
in Washington from the final critical habitat designation. The WDNR 
State Lands HCP covers approximately 1.7 million ac (730,000 ha) of 
State forest lands within the range of the northern spotted owl in the 
State of Washington. The majority of the area covered by the HCP is 
west of the Cascade Crest and includes the Olympic Peninsula and 
southwest Washington. The WDNR HCP lands on the west side of the 
Olympic Peninsula are managed as the Olympic Experimental State Forest. 
The remainder of the area is on the east side of the Cascade Range 
within the range of the northern spotted owl. The permit associated 
with this HCP, issued January 30, 1997, was noticed in the Federal 
Register on April 5, 1996 (61 FR 15297), has a term of 70 to 100 years, 
and covers activities primarily associated with commercial forest 
management, but also includes limited non-timber activities such as 
some recreational activities. The HCP covers all species, including the 
northern spotted owl and other listed species.
    The HCP addressed multiple species through a combination of 
strategies. The marbled murrelet is addressed through a combination of 
research, modeling, surveys, and development of a long-term plan to 
retain and protect important old-forest habitat. The HCP also includes 
a series of Natural Area Preserves and Natural Resource Conservation 
Areas. Riparian conservation includes buffers on fishbearing streams as 
well as substantial buffers on streams and wetlands without fish. 
Wildlife trees are retained in buffers of natural features (e.g., 
caves, wetlands, springs, cliffs, talus slopes) and streams, as well as 
scattered and clumped within harvest units. The HCP also requires WDNR 
to maintain and grow forests of various structural stages across all of 
their HCP ownerships. Specifically for spotted owls, they have 
identified portions of the landscape upon which they will manage for 
nesting, roosting, and foraging (NRF) habitat for spotted owls. These 
areas are known as NRF Management Areas (NRFMAs) and were located to 
provide demographic support that would strategically complement the 
NWFP's Late-Successional Reserves as well as those Adaptive Management 
Areas that have late-successional objectives. The NRFMAs also were 
situated to help maintain species distribution. Generally, these NRFMAs 
will be managed so that approximately 50 percent of those lands will 
develop into NRF habitat for the northern spotted owl over time. Within 
this 50 percent, certain nest patches containing high-quality nesting 
habitat are to be retained and grown. Since the HCP was implemented, 
within the NRFMAs, WDNR has carried out 5,100 ac (2,064 ha) of pre-
commercial thinning and 7,800 ac (3,156 ha) of timber harvest 
specifically configured to enhance spotted owl habitat. WDNR's habitat 
enhancement activities will continue under the HCP.
    Some areas outside of the NRFMAs are managed to provide for 
dispersal and foraging conditions in 50 percent of the forests in those 
areas; these were strategically located in landscapes important for 
connectivity. The Olympic Experimental State Forest is managed to 
provide for spotted owl conservation across all of its lands. Even in 
areas not specifically managed for spotted owls, WDNR has committed to 
providing a range of forest stages across the landscape to address 
multiple species. This commitment of forest stages, in combination with 
wildlife trees retained within harvest units and stream and landscape-
feature buffers, will provide a matrix of habitat conditions that will 
also provide some assistance in conserving spotted owls. Stands 
containing scattered leave trees following harvest will be expected to 
become more valuable for spotted owls at earlier ages than those 
harvested using previous methods. Owls across the WDNR HCP are expected 
to benefit from the combination of these strategies. Details of the 
WDNR HCP are available at http://www.dnr.wa.gov/researchscience/topics/trustlandshcp/Pages/Home.aspx.
West Fork Timber Habitat Conservation Plan
    We propose to exclude lands managed under the West Fork Timber HCP 
(formerly known as Murray Pacific) in the West Cascades Central CHU 
from the final critical habitat designation. The West Fork Timber HCP 
was the first multi-species HCP on forested lands in the Nation. The 
permit associated with the West Fork Timber HCP has a term of 100 years 
and was first issued on September 24, 1993; amended on June 26, 1995; 
and amended again on October 16, 2001 (66 FR 52638). The HCP includes 
53,558 ac (21,674 ha) of commercial timber lands managed as a tree farm 
in Lewis County, Washington. The HCP was first developed to allow for 
forest-management activities and provide for the conservation of the 
northern spotted owl; the amended HCP provides for all species, 
including 6 listed species. The HCP is designed to develop and maintain 
owl dispersal habitat across 43 percent of the tree farm. In addition, 
the HCP provides for leaving at least 10 percent of the tree farm in 
reserves for the next 100 years. These reserves will primarily take the 
form of riparian buffers averaging at least 100 ft (30 m) on each side 
of all fish-bearing streams, as well as other buffers and set-a-side 
areas. Other provisions of the HCP are designed to ensure that all 
forest habitat types and age classes currently on the tree farm, as 
well as special habitat types such as talus slopes, caves, nest trees, 
and den sites, are protected or enhanced. Details of the West Fork 
Timber HCP are available at http://www.fws.gov/wafwo/CHP_new.html.
SDS Company LLC and Broughton Lumber Company Proposed Conservation Plan
    We may consider excluding forest lands owned and managed by the SDS 
Company LLC and Broughton Lumber Company in Washington and Oregon. The 
companies are in the process of negotiating a conservation plan (either 
an HCP or an SHA) with the Service. If the spotted owl provisions of 
the conservation plan are finalized, and the permit is issued in time 
for us to consider the provisions of the conservation plan prior to our 
final rulemaking, we propose to exclude these lands. If the northern 
spotted owl provisions of the conservation plan are finalized, and the 
permit is issued prior to our final rulemaking, we propose to exclude 
these lands. The SDS Company LLC and Broughton Lumber Company 
collectively manage approximately 83,000 acres (33,589 ha) of 
forestland in Skamania and Klickitat counties in Washington, and Hood 
River and Wasco counties in Oregon. These lands provide some habitat 
for some northern spotted owl activity sites. The Service anticipates 
conservation benefits for northern spotted owls could be provided by 
completing a conservation plan with the companies on these lands.

[[Page 14141]]

Lands With Conservation Easements, Other Management Agreements, or 
Other Partnerships

California

California State Park Lands
    We propose to exclude 164,672 ac (66,640 ha) of California State 
Park lands, as these lands are managed consistent with the conservation 
and recovery needs of the northern spotted owl.
Big River, Salmon Creek and Garcia River Forests
    We propose to exclude the three forest tracts known as the Big 
River Forest (11,837 ac (4,790 ha)), Salmon Creek Forest (4,676 ac 
(1,892 ha)), and Garcia River Forest (23,780 ac (9,624 ha)) in western 
Mendocino County from the final critical habitat designation. The Big 
River and Salmon Creek Forests are in Subunit 2 and the Garcia Forest 
is in Subunit 3 of the Redwood Coast CHU. The Garcia River Forest is in 
a key location for local and regional habitat connectivity. The three 
tracts were recently acquired by The Conservation Fund (TCF); 
conservation easements on these tracts are held by The Nature 
Conservancy (TNC). TCF maintains forest certifications under the Forest 
Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative programs; 
and is initiating carbon sequestration certification through the 
California Climate Action Registry. TCF has completed Integrated 
Resource Management Plans (IRMPs) for all three tracts in conjunction 
with the forest certification programs. Under the IRMPs, the northern 
spotted owl is identified as an indicator species for assessing 
ecosystem change and for guiding adaptive management strategies. Due to 
the history of intensive forest harvesting under previous owners, 
younger forest age classes are over-represented in current timber 
inventories; though there is enough suitable breeding habitat to 
support at least 17 owl activity sites on the three tracts combined. 
Forest management and carbon storage goals over the next several 
decades are to expand the standing forest inventory through reliance on 
uneven-aged silviculture and constrained harvest levels. Combined with 
the current inventory picture, this management direction indicates, at 
minimum, that there will be substantial recruitment of suitable 
foraging habitat on these lands over the next 2 to 3 decades.
Mendocino Redwood Company Proposed Habitat Conservation Plan
    We may consider excluding forest lands owned and managed by the 
Mendocino Redwood Company in the Redwood Coast CHU in California. The 
company is in the process of negotiating a multispecies terrestrial and 
aquatic HCP and Natural Communities Conservation Plan with the Service 
and with National Marine Fisheries Service. In our best estimate, this 
process will not be completed before the final critical habitat rule is 
issued. However, if the spotted owl provisions of the HCP are 
finalized, and the permit is issued prior to our final rulemaking, we 
may consider these lands for exclusion in the final critical habitat 
designation. The Mendocino Redwood Company manages 232,584 ac (94,123 
ha) of forestland in Mendocino and Sonoma counties and continuously 
monitors more than 160 northern spotted owl activity sites. Based on 
our regional analysis of habitat suitability and connectivity, company 
lands contain an abundance of high-quality owl habitat. Three 
management units on this ownership, Rockport, Garcia and Annapolis, are 
in key locations for regional habitat connectivity.
Usal Forest
    We propose to exclude the forest tract known as Usal Forest in 
northwestern Mendocino County, in Subunit 2 of the Redwood Coast CHU 
from the final critical habitat designation. The tract is owned by the 
Redwood Forest Foundation, Inc. (RFFI, non-profit), and is under a 
conservation easement is held by The Conservation Fund. On-the-ground 
management is carried out by the Campbell Group, LLC. RFFI and Campbell 
Group have issued a draft northern spotted owl management plan, which 
is under review by the California Department of Forestry and Fire 
Protection. The foundation has only recently acquired the land, but 
they have begun two initiatives, one for forest certification with the 
Forest Stewardship Council program, and another for certification of 
carbon sequestration through the California Climate Action Registry. 
The Usal Forest is approximately 50,000 ac (20,235 ha) and includes 
approximately 20 northern spotted owl activity sites under continuous 
monitoring. There are substantial amounts of high-quality owl habitat 
and the tract is in a key location for local and regional habitat 
connectivity. Among the conservation measures in the draft management 
plan are provisions for continued monitoring of owl activity sites, 
reporting of the monitoring results to State agencies and the Service, 
establishment of mapped polygons of suitable habitat around each 
activity site wherein no timber harvest or limited timber harvest may 
occur, and introduction of silvicultural practices designed to maintain 
or improve habitat suitability within northern spotted owl nesting, 
roosting, and foraging areas.
Van Eck Forest Foundation
    The Van Eck Forest is discussed in detail under Safe Harbor 
Agreements. This land is also under a conservation easement held by the 
Pacific Forest Trust.

State of Oregon

    The Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) collectively manages about 
700,000 ac (283,290 ha) in the Tillamook, Clatsop, and Elliott State 
Forests (co-managed with Oregon Department of State Lands) in addition 
to other parcels in western Oregon, and we are proposing approximately 
228,733 ac (92,565 ha) of these lands as critical habitat for the 
northern spotted owl. The Tillamook and Clatsop State Forests are 
managed under the criteria contained within the Northwestern Oregon 
Forest Management Plan (revised April 2010). ODF is in the process of 
withdrawing from the 1995 Elliott State Forest Habitat Conservation 
Plan due to an inability to develop a revised HCP because of 
disagreements related to salmonid management. The Elliott State Forest 
Management Plan, which was approved by the Board of Forestry and State 
Land Board in the fall of 2011, covers the Elliott State Forest and 
scattered tracts in Coos, Curry, and Douglas Counties. These plans are 
available online at http://egov.oregon.gov/ODF/STATE_FORESTS/Forest_Management_Plans.shtml).
    State forest management plans are long-range plans that provide 
policy goals and strategies under which more specific district 
implementation plans and annual operation plans are developed. We are 
currently working with ODF to understand how portions of these State 
forest lands are currently managed to contribute to the long-term 
maintenance and enhancement of spotted owls, in alignment with the 
recommendations in the Revised Recovery Plan (USFWS 2011, pp. III-57 to 
III-58). In this context, ODF has recently provided the Service with 
maps and information about ODF's plans to develop structurally complex 
habitat on portions of the State Forest's landscape. Work is currently 
underway between the Service and ODF to evaluate this

[[Page 14142]]

information, which may form the basis for adjustments in the final 
designation of critical habitat. The continued implementation of ODF's 
forest management plans, and commitments to adaptive management 
improvements over time articulated in these plans, are the State of 
Oregon's voluntary contributions to spotted owl recovery on forestlands 
managed by the ODF. If future management is sufficient to meet the 
standards of exclusion from designated critical habitat as described in 
this proposed revised rule, we will consider excluding some or all of 
these lands from the final designation of critical habitat.

State of Washington

Washington State Park Lands
    We propose to exclude 104 ac (42 ha) of Washington State Park 
lands, as these lands are managed consistent with the conservation and 
recovery needs of the northern spotted owl.
Scofield Corporation Deed Restriction (Formerly Habitat Conservation 
Plan)
    We propose to exclude lands that were formerly covered under the 
Scofield Corporation HCP in the East Cascades North CHU from the final 
critical habitat designation. This HCP for 40 ac (16 ha) of forest 
lands in Chelan County, Washington, covered forest-management 
activities and the associated incidental take permit included only the 
northern spotted owl. The HCP provided for mitigation and minimization 
measures by retaining a buffer of intact habitat, implementing 
selective timber-harvest practices, and placing a perpetual deed 
restriction on the property permanently prohibiting further timber 
harvest or tree removal except with the express written consent of the 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. These measures were designed to ensure 
the retention of some owl habitat and approximately 72 percent of the 
total number of trees after harvest. Although the permit issued under 
this HCP in 1996 had a duration of only 1 year (noticed February 20, 
1996 (61 FR 6381), and issued April 3, 1996), as provided in the permit 
terms, the lands under this HCP are now covered by a deed restriction 
for those lands in perpetuity.

Federal Lands

    As noted above, Federal agencies have an independent responsibility 
under section 7(a)(1) of the Act to use their programs in furtherance 
of the Act and to utilize their authorities to carry out programs for 
the conservation of endangered and threatened species. We consider the 
development and implementation of land management plans by Federal 
agencies to be consistent with this statutory obligation under section 
7(a)(1) of the Act. Therefore, Federal land management plans, in and of 
themselves, are generally not an appropriate basis for excluding 
essential habitat. Some broad-scale Federal resource management plans 
(e.g., the Northwest Forest Plan) provide conservation benefits to the 
northern spotted owl as well as all other species within the plan 
boundaries. In addition, in some places, Federal land management 
agencies may actively manage for the northern spotted owl and conduct 
specific conservation actions for the species. Congressionally reserved 
natural areas (e.g., wilderness areas, national parks, national scenic 
areas) were not included in the 1992 and 2008 northern spotted owl 
critical habitat designations. In this rulemaking, we propose to 
exclude 2,631,736 ac (1,065,026 ha) of Congressionally reserved natural 
areas from the final critical habitat designation. We request public 
comment regarding existing specific conservation actions that Federal 
land management agencies have or are currently implementing on their 
lands, and will take this information into account when conducting our 
exclusion analysis in the final critical habitat designation.

Consideration of Indian Lands

    In accordance with the Secretarial Order 3206, ``American Indian 
Tribal Rights, Federal-Tribal Trust Responsibilities, and the 
Endangered Species Act'' (June 5, 1997); the President's memorandum of 
April 29, 1994, ``Government-to-Government Relations with Native 
American Tribal Governments'' (59 FR 22951); Executive Order 13175, 
``Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments'' 
(November 6, 2000, and as reaffirmed November 5, 2009); and the 
relevant provision of the Departmental Manual of the Department of the 
Interior (512 DM 2), we believe that fish, wildlife, and other natural 
resources on Indian lands may be better managed under Indian 
authorities, policies, and programs than through Federal regulation 
where Indian management addresses the conservation needs of listed 
species. In addition, such designation may be viewed by tribes as 
unwarranted and an unwanted intrusion into Indian self-governance, thus 
compromising the government-to-government relationship essential to 
achieving our mutual goals of managing for healthy ecosystems upon 
which the viability of threatened and endangered species populations 
depend.
    In developing proposed revised critical habitat designation for the 
northern spotted owl, we considered inclusion of some Indian lands. As 
described in the above section Criteria Used to Identify Critical 
Habitat, and detailed in our supporting documentation (Dunk et al. 
2012, entire), we evaluated numerous potential habitat scenarios to 
determine those areas that are essential to the conservation of the 
northern spotted owl. In all cases, we assessed the effectiveness of 
the habitat scenario under consideration in terms of its ability to 
meet the recovery goals for the species. Furthermore, the habitat 
scenarios under consideration included a comparison of different 
prioritization schemes for landownership; we prioritized areas under 
consideration for critical habitat such that we looked first to Federal 
lands, followed by State, private, and Tribal or Indian lands. Indian 
lands are those defined in Secretarial Order 3206 ``American Indian 
Tribal Rights, Federal-Tribal Trust Responsibilities, and the 
Endangered Species Act'' (June 5, 1997), as: (1) Lands held in trust by 
the United States for the benefit of any Indian tribe or individual; 
and (2) lands held by any Indian Tribe or individual subject to 
restrictions by the United States against alienation. In evaluating 
Indian lands under consideration as potential critical habitat for the 
northern spotted owl, we further considered the directive of 
Secretarial Order 3206 that stipulates ``Critical habitat shall not be 
designated in such areas unless it is determined essential to conserve 
a listed species. In designating critical habitat, the Services shall 
evaluate and document the extent to which the conservation needs of the 
listed species can be achieved by limiting the designation to other 
lands.''
    Although some Indian lands identified in our habitat modeling 
demonstrated the potential to contribute to the conservation of the 
northern spotted owl, our analysis did not suggest that these areas 
were essential to conserve the northern spotted owl. This determination 
was based on our relative evaluation of the various habitat scenarios 
under consideration; if the population performance results from our 
habitat modeling indicated that we could meet the recovery goals for 
the species without relying on Indian lands, we did not consider the 
physical and biological features on those lands, or the lands 
themselves, to be essential to the conservation of the species, 
therefore they did not meet our criteria for inclusion in critical 
habitat. Our

[[Page 14143]]

evaluation of the areas under consideration for designation as critical 
habitat indicated that we could achieve the conservation of the 
northern spotted owl by limiting the designation of revised critical 
habitat to other lands. Therefore, no Indian lands are included in the 
proposed revised designation of critical habitat.

Peer Review

    In accordance with our joint policy on peer review published in the 
Federal Register on July 1, 1994 (59 FR 34270), we will seek the expert 
opinions of at least three appropriate and independent specialists 
regarding this proposed rule and appropriate supporting materials that 
were used in its development that may have not otherwise undergone peer 
review. The purpose of peer review is to ensure that our critical 
habitat designation is based on scientifically sound data, assumptions, 
and analyses. We have invited these peer reviewers to comment during 
this public comment period on our specific assumptions and conclusions 
in this proposed revised designation of critical habitat. All sources 
we have relied upon in the development of this proposed rule, including 
all published peer-reviewed literature and the Revised Recovery Plan, 
are cited and full references are provided for download at http://www.regulations.gov, or in hard copy upon request (see FOR FURTHER 
INFORMATION CONTACT).
    In addition, we note that the Revised Recovery Plan for the 
Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011), which provides the recovery criteria 
and habitat modeling framework upon which this proposed revised 
designation of critical habitat is based, in part, was subject to a 
rigorous peer review process. The Wildlife Society and the American 
Ornithologists' Union/Society for Conservation Biology (jointly) 
provided peer review of the draft Revised Recovery Plan. We also 
received reviews from experts on our Scientific Review Committee, as 
well as numerous unsolicited reviews from other specialists and 
organizations, that contributed to the scientific integrity of the 
habitat modeling framework presented in Appendix C of the Revised 
Recovery Plan.
    We will consider all comments and information received during this 
comment period on this proposed rule during our preparation of a final 
determination. Accordingly, the final decision may differ from this 
proposal.

Public Hearings

    Section 4(b)(5) of the Act provides for one or more public hearings 
on this proposal, if requested. Requests must be received within 45 
days after the date of publication of this proposed rule in the Federal 
Register. Such requests must be sent to the address shown in FOR 
FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT. We will schedule public hearings on this 
proposal, if any are requested, and announce the dates, times, and 
places of those hearings, as well as how to obtain reasonable 
accommodations, in the Federal Register and local newspapers at least 
15 days before the hearing.

Required Determinations

Regulatory Planning and Review--Executive Order 12866/13563

    The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has determined that this 
rule is significant and has reviewed this proposed rule under Executive 
Order 12866 and 13563 (E.O. 12866 and E.O. 13563). OMB based its 
determination upon the following four criteria:
    (1) Whether the rule will have an annual effect of $100 million or 
more on the economy or adversely affect an economic sector, 
productivity, jobs, the environment, or other units of the government;
    (2) Whether the rule will create inconsistencies with other Federal 
agencies' actions;
    (3) Whether the rule will materially affect entitlements, grants, 
user fees, loan programs, or the rights and obligations of their 
recipients; or
    (4) Whether the rule raises novel legal or policy issues.
    Executive Order 13563 reaffirmed the principles of E.O. 12866 while 
calling for improvements in the nation's regulatory system to promote 
predictability, to reduce uncertainty, and to use the best, most 
innovative, and least burdensome tools for achieving regulatory ends. 
The executive order directs agencies to consider where relevant, 
feasible, and consistent with regulatory objectives, and to the extent 
permitted by law, regulatory approaches that reduce burdens and 
maintain flexibility and freedom of choice for the public. E.O. 13563 
emphasizes further that regulations must be based on the best available 
science and that the rulemaking process must allow for public 
participation and an open exchange of ideas. This proposed rule has 
been developed in a manner consistent with these requirements and the 
Service is committed to respecting them in the development of the final 
critical habitat designation.

Regulatory Flexibility Act (5 U.S.C. 601 et seq.)

    Under the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA; 5 U.S.C. 601 et seq.) as 
amended by the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act 
(SBREFA) of 1996 (5 U.S.C 801 et seq.), whenever an agency must publish 
a notice of rulemaking for any proposed or final rule, it must prepare 
and make available for public comment a regulatory flexibility analysis 
that describes the effects of the rule on small entities (small 
businesses, small organizations, and small government jurisdictions). 
However, no regulatory flexibility analysis is required if the head of 
the agency certifies the rule will not have a significant economic 
impact on a substantial number of small entities. The SBREFA amended 
the RFA to require Federal agencies to provide a certification 
statement of the factual basis for certifying that the rule will not 
have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small 
entities.
    Small entities include small organizations, such as independent 
nonprofit organizations; small governmental jurisdictions, including 
school boards and city and town governments that serve fewer than 
50,000 residents; as well as small businesses. Small businesses include 
manufacturing and mining concerns with fewer than 500 employees, 
wholesale trade entities with fewer than 100 employees, retail and 
service businesses with less than $5 million in annual sales, general 
and heavy construction businesses with less than $27.5 million in 
annual business, special trade contractors doing less than $11.5 
million in annual business, and agricultural businesses with annual 
sales less than $750,000. To determine whether potential economic 
impacts to these small entities are significant, we consider the types 
of activities that might trigger regulatory impacts under this rule, as 
well as the types of project modifications that may result. In general, 
the term ``significant economic impact'' is meant to apply to a typical 
small business firm's business operations.
    To determine whether a designation of critical habitat could 
significantly affect a substantial number of small entities, we 
consider the number of small entities affected within particular types 
of economic activities (e.g., housing development, grazing, oil and gas 
production, timber harvesting). We apply the ``substantial number'' 
test individually to each industry to determine if certification is 
appropriate. However, the SBREFA does not

[[Page 14144]]

explicitly define ``substantial number'' or ``significant economic 
impact.'' Consequently, to assess whether a ``substantial number'' of 
small entities is affected by this designation, this analysis considers 
the relative number of small entities likely to be impacted in an area. 
In some circumstances, especially with critical habitat designations of 
limited extent, we may aggregate across all industries and consider 
whether the total number of small entities affected is substantial. In 
estimating the number of small entities potentially affected, we also 
consider whether their activities have any Federal involvement.
    Under the Act, designation of critical habitat only affects 
activities carried out, funded, or permitted by Federal agencies. Some 
kinds of activities are unlikely to have any Federal involvement and so 
would not result in any additional effects under the critical habitat 
provisions of the Act. However, there are some State laws that limit 
activities in designated critical habitat even where there is no 
Federal nexus. If there is a Federal nexus, Federal agencies will be 
required to consult with us under section 7 of the Act on activities 
they fund, permit, or carry out that may affect critical habitat. If we 
conclude, in a biological opinion, that a proposed action is likely to 
destroy or adversely modify critical habitat, we can offer ``reasonable 
and prudent alternatives.'' Reasonable and prudent alternatives are 
alternative actions that can be implemented in a manner consistent with 
the scope of the Federal agency's legal authority and jurisdiction, 
that are economically and technologically feasible, and that would 
avoid destroying or adversely modifying critical habitat.
    A Federal agency and an applicant may elect to implement a 
reasonable and prudent alternative associated with a biological opinion 
that has found adverse modification of critical habitat. An agency or 
applicant could alternatively choose to seek an exemption from the 
requirements of the Act or proceed without implementing the reasonable 
and prudent alternative. However, unless an exemption were obtained, 
the Federal agency or applicant would be at risk of violating section 
7(a)(2) of the Act if it chose to proceed without implementing the 
reasonable and prudent alternatives. We may also identify discretionary 
conservation recommendations designed to minimize or avoid the adverse 
effects of a proposed action on critical habitat, help implement 
recovery plans, or to develop information that could contribute to the 
recovery of the species.
    Any existing and planned projects, land uses, and activities that 
could affect the proposed critical habitat but have no Federal 
involvement would not require section 7 consultation with the Service, 
so they are not restricted by the requirements of the Act. Federal 
agencies may need to reinitiate a previous consultation if 
discretionary involvement or control over the Federal action has been 
retained or is authorized by law and the activities may affect critical 
habitat.
    At this time, we lack the available economic information necessary 
to provide an adequate factual basis for the required RFA finding 
specific to this proposed revised designation of critical habitat. 
Therefore, we defer the RFA finding until completion of the draft 
economic analysis prepared under section 4(b)(2) of the Act and 
Executive Order 12866. This draft economic analysis will provide the 
required factual basis for the RFA finding. Upon completion of the 
draft economic analysis, we will announce availability of the draft 
economic analysis of the proposed designation in the Federal Register 
and reopen the public comment period for the proposed designation. We 
will include with this announcement, as appropriate, an initial 
regulatory flexibility analysis or a certification that the rule will 
not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small 
entities accompanied by the factual basis for that determination.
    We do have a recent economic analysis that was completed for the 
2008 designation of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl. 
Because this proposed revised designation of critical habitat on 
Federal, State, and private lands differs from the current designation 
in that the current designation is limited entirely to Federal lands, 
the previous economic analysis is of somewhat limited utility in 
informing our analysis of the potential impacts of the proposed 
designation on any small entities. In our previous economic analysis, 
we concluded that in areas where the species is present, Federal 
agencies already are required to consult with us under section 7 of the 
Act on activities they fund, permit, or implement that may affect the 
northern spotted owl. Federal agencies also must consult with us if 
their activities may affect critical habitat. The designation of 
critical habitat, therefore, could result in an additional economic 
impact due to the requirement to reinitiate consultation for ongoing 
Federal activities that could be transferred to a small business 
entity.
    In general, two different mechanisms in section 7 consultations 
could lead to additional regulatory requirements that the Federal 
action agency may be required to consult with us on regarding their 
project's impact on the northern spotted owl and its habitat. First, if 
we conclude, in a biological opinion, that a proposed action is likely 
to jeopardize the continued existence of a species or adversely modify 
its critical habitat, we can offer ``reasonable and prudent 
alternatives.'' Reasonable and prudent alternatives are alternative 
actions that can be implemented in a manner consistent with the scope 
of the Federal agency's legal authority and jurisdiction, that are 
economically and technologically feasible, and that would avoid 
jeopardizing the continued existence of listed species or result in 
adverse modification of critical habitat. A Federal agency and an 
applicant (potentially a small business) may elect to implement a 
reasonable and prudent alternative associated with a biological opinion 
that has found jeopardy or adverse modification of critical habitat. An 
agency or applicant could alternatively choose to seek an exemption 
from the requirements of the Act or proceed without implementing the 
reasonable and prudent alternative. However, unless an exemption were 
obtained, the Federal agency or applicant would be at risk of violating 
section 7(a)(2) of the Act if it chose to proceed without implementing 
the reasonable and prudent alternatives.
    Second, if we find that a proposed action is not likely to 
jeopardize the continued existence of a listed animal or plant species, 
we may identify reasonable and prudent measures designed to minimize 
the amount or extent of take and require the Federal agency or 
applicant to implement such measures through non-discretionary terms 
and conditions. We may also identify discretionary conservation 
recommendations designed to minimize or avoid the adverse effects of a 
proposed action on listed species or critical habitat, help implement 
recovery plans, or to develop information that could contribute to the 
recovery of the species.
    Based on our experience with consultations under section 7 of the 
Act for all listed species, virtually all projects--including those 
that, in their initial proposed form, would result in jeopardy or 
adverse modification determinations in section 7 consultations--can be 
implemented successfully with, at most, the adoption of reasonable and 
prudent alternatives.

[[Page 14145]]

These measures, by definition, must be economically feasible and within 
the scope of authority of the Federal agency involved in the 
consultation. We can only describe the general kinds of actions that 
may be identified in future reasonable and prudent alternatives. These 
are based on our understanding of the needs of the species and the 
threats it faces, as described in the final listing rule and this 
critical habitat designation. Within the final critical habitat units 
of the 2008 critical habitat, the types of Federal actions or 
authorized activities that were identified as potential concerns were:
    (1) Regulation of activities affecting waters of the United States 
by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under section 404 of the Clean 
Water Act;
    (2) Regulation of activities by the Fish and Wildlife Service under 
section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Endangered Species Act; and
    (3) Activities involving other Federal actions (such as funding 
from the Federal Highway Administration, Federal Aviation 
Administration, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency).
    We determined that it was likely that a developer or other project 
proponent could modify a project or take measures to protect the 
northern spotted owl. The kinds of actions that may be included if 
future reasonable and prudent alternatives become necessary include 
conservation set-asides, management of competing nonnative species, 
restoration of degraded habitat, and regular monitoring. We concluded 
that these measures were not likely to result in a significant economic 
impact to project proponents.
    As noted above, this proposed revised designation of critical 
habitat for the northern spotted owl differs significantly from the 
current designation in terms of both scope and landownerships affected. 
Therefore, the Service has concluded that deferring the RFA until 
completion of the draft economic analysis specific to this proposed 
rulemaking is necessary to meet the purposes and requirements of the 
RFA. Deferring the RFA in this manner will ensure that the Service 
makes a sufficiently informed determination based on adequate economic 
information and provides the necessary opportunity for public comment. 
In the meantime, for the public's consideration, we have tentatively 
identified several categories of activities that we anticipate may 
potentially be affected by the proposed revised critical habitat; these 
activities include: (1) Timber management, (2) barred owl management 
and control, (3) northern spotted owl surveys and monitoring, (4) fire 
management, (5) linear projects (i.e., roads, pipelines, and 
powerlines), (6) restoration, (7) recreation, and (8) administrative 
costs associated with consultations under section 7 of the Act.
    Determining the economic impacts of a critical habitat designation 
involves evaluating the ``without critical habitat'' baseline versus 
the ``with critical habitat'' scenario, to identify those effects 
expected to occur solely due to the designation of critical habitat and 
not from the protections that are in place due to the species being 
listed under the Act. Effects of a designation equal the difference, or 
the increment, between these two scenarios. Measured differences 
between the baseline (without critical habitat) and the designated 
critical habitat (with critical habitat) may include (but are not 
limited to) the economic effects stemming from changes in land or 
resource use or extraction, environmental quality, or time and effort 
expended on administrative and other activities by Federal landowners, 
Federal action agencies, and in some instances, State and local 
governments or private third parties. These are the ``incremental 
effects'' that serve as the basis for the economic analysis.
    As a result of our preliminary evaluation, we expect that any 
potential incremental effects of the critical habitat designation would 
be due to: (1) An increased workload for action agencies and the 
Service to conduct re-initiated consultations for ongoing actions in 
newly designated critical habitat (areas proposed for designation that 
are not already included within the extant designation); (2) the cost 
to action agencies of including an analysis of the effects to critical 
habitat for new projects occurring in occupied areas of designated 
critical habitat; and (3) potential project alterations in unoccupied 
critical habitat. As in the prior designation, we therefore expect any 
incremental costs of critical habitat to be borne primarily by Federal 
agencies, since the majority of incremental effects are associated with 
consultation costs under section of the Act. On private lands, we 
expect that for a proposed action to result in a finding of adverse 
modification (i.e., that it would likely substantially reduce the 
conservation value of spotted owl critical habitat to such an extent 
that it would affect the ability of critical habitat to serve its 
intended recovery role), it would likely have to significantly alter 
large areas or restrict spotted owl connectivity through such areas. In 
light of our history of consultations, we believe that an adverse-
modification finding is unlikely. This is based on our experience that 
in over 20 years of conducting consultations on the spotted owl, we 
have never had such a case. Nonetheless, should this occur, to avoid 
adverse modification we would most likely recommend reducing the scale 
of impacts to spotted owl habitat in the vicinity of areas important 
for connectivity or near population strongholds. In this rare event, 
there would potentially be some cost to the landowner in terms of 
reduced potential harvest. However, in general, we anticipate that 
actions that promote ecological restoration and those that apply 
ecological forestry principles as described in the Revised Recovery 
Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011, pp. III-11 to III-41) 
and elsewhere in this document are likely to be consistent with the 
conservation of the northern spotted owl and the management of its 
critical habitat, therefore we expect any potential economic impacts of 
the designation to be minimized. These are only tentative conclusions, 
however; the comprehensive evaluation of the potential economic impacts 
of the proposed revised designation will be presented in our draft 
economic analysis, which will be made available for public comment 
subsequent to the publication of this proposed rule.

Energy Supply, Distribution, or Use--Executive Order 13211

    Executive Order 13211 (Actions Concerning Regulations That 
Significantly Affect Energy Supply, Distribution, or Use) requires 
agencies to prepare Statements of Energy Effects when undertaking 
certain actions. While this proposed rule to designate revised critical 
habitat for the northern spotted owl is a significant regulatory action 
under Executive Order 12866, it is not expected to significantly affect 
energy supplies, distribution, or use. Therefore, this action is not a 
significant energy action, and no Statement of Energy Effects is 
required. However, we will further evaluate this issue as we conduct 
our economic analysis, and review and revise this assessment as 
warranted.

Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (2 U.S.C. 1501 et seq.)

    In accordance with the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (2 U.S.C. 1501 
et seq.), we make the following findings:
    (1) This rule will not produce a Federal mandate. In general, a 
Federal mandate is a provision in legislation, statute, or regulation 
that would impose

[[Page 14146]]

an enforceable duty upon State, local, or Indian governments, or the 
private sector, and includes both ``Federal intergovernmental 
mandates'' and ``Federal private sector mandates.'' These terms are 
defined in 2 U.S.C. 658(5)-(7). ``Federal intergovernmental mandate'' 
includes a regulation that ``would impose an enforceable duty upon 
State, local, or Indian governments'' with two exceptions. It excludes 
``a condition of Federal assistance.'' It also excludes ``a duty 
arising from participation in a voluntary Federal program,'' unless the 
regulation ``relates to a then-existing Federal program under which 
$500,000,000 or more is provided annually to State, local, and Indian 
governments under entitlement authority,'' if the provision would 
``increase the stringency of conditions of assistance'' or ``place caps 
upon, or otherwise decrease, the Federal Government's responsibility to 
provide funding,'' and the State, local, or Indian governments ``lack 
authority'' to adjust accordingly. At the time of enactment, these 
entitlement programs were: Medicaid; Aid to Families with Dependent 
Children work programs; Child Nutrition; Food Stamps; Social Services 
Block Grants; Vocational Rehabilitation State Grants; Foster Care, 
Adoption Assistance, and Independent Living; Family Support Welfare 
Services; and Child Support Enforcement. ``Federal private sector 
mandate'' includes a regulation that ``would impose an enforceable duty 
upon the private sector, except (i) a condition of Federal assistance 
or (ii) a duty arising from participation in a voluntary Federal 
program.''
    The designation of critical habitat does not impose a legally 
binding duty on non-Federal Government entities or private parties. 
Under the Act, the only regulatory effect is that Federal agencies must 
ensure that their actions do not destroy or adversely modify critical 
habitat under section 7. While non-Federal entities that receive 
Federal funding, assistance, or permits, or that otherwise require 
approval or authorization from a Federal agency for an action, may be 
indirectly impacted by the designation of critical habitat, the legally 
binding duty to avoid destruction or adverse modification of critical 
habitat rests squarely on the Federal agency. Furthermore, to the 
extent that non-Federal entities are indirectly impacted because they 
receive Federal assistance or participate in a voluntary Federal aid 
program, the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act would not apply, nor would 
critical habitat shift the costs of the large entitlement programs 
listed above onto State governments.
    (2) We do not believe that this rule will significantly or uniquely 
affect small governments because most of the lands in the proposed 
revised designation are under Federal or State ownership, and do not 
occur within the jurisdiction of small governments. Therefore, a Small 
Government Agency Plan is not required. However, we will further 
evaluate this issue as we conduct our economic analysis, and review and 
revise this assessment if appropriate.

Takings--Executive Order 12630

    In accordance with Executive Order 12630 (``Government Actions and 
Interference with Constitutionally Protected Private Property 
Rights''), this rule is not anticipated to have significant takings 
implications. As discussed above, the designation of critical habitat 
affects only Federal actions. Although private parties that receive 
Federal funding, assistance, or require approval or authorization from 
a Federal agency for an action may be indirectly impacted by the 
designation of critical habitat, the legally binding duty to avoid 
destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat rests squarely 
on the Federal agency. Due to current public knowledge of the species 
protections and the prohibition against take of the species both within 
and outside of the proposed areas, we do not anticipate that property 
values will be affected by the critical habitat designation. However, 
we have not yet completed the economic analysis for this proposed rule. 
Once the economic analysis is available, we will review and revise this 
preliminary assessment as warranted, and prepare a Takings Implication 
Assessment.

Federalism--Executive Order 13132

    In accordance with Executive Order 13132 (Federalism), we have 
determined that this proposed rule does not have direct federalism 
implications that would require a federalism summary impact statement; 
however, we are aware of the State level interest in this rule, and we 
both summarize below and explain in more detail in other parts of this 
package activities and responsibilities on Federal, State, and private 
lands.
    From a federalism perspective, the designation of critical habitat 
directly affects only the responsibilities of Federal agencies. As 
explained in detail earlier, section 7(a)(2) of the Act requires 
Federal agencies--and only Federal agencies--to ensure that the actions 
they authorize, fund, or carry out are not likely to destroy or 
adversely modify critical habitat. The Act imposes no other duties with 
respect to critical habitat, either for States and local governments, 
or for anyone else. As a result, the proposed rule does not have 
substantial direct effects either on the States, or on the relationship 
between the national government and the States, or on the distribution 
of powers and responsibilities among the various levels of government. 
However, in keeping with Department of the Interior and Department of 
Commerce policy and the federalism principals set forth in Executive 
Order 13132, we are requesting information from, and consulting with 
appropriate State resource agencies in Washington, Oregon, and 
California on the effect of the proposed revised designation of 
critical habitat. We will use this information to more thoroughly 
evaluate the probable economic effects of this proposed designation in 
our draft economic analysis, to inform the development of our final 
rule, and to consider the appropriateness of excluding specific areas 
from the final rule.
    The proposed revision of critical habitat also is not expected to 
have substantial indirect impacts. As explained in more detail above, 
activities within the areas proposed to be designated as critical 
habitat are already subject to a broad range of requirements, 
including: (1) The various requirements of the Northwest Forest Plan, 
including those applicable to its Late Successional Reserves, Riparian 
Reserves, and ``survey and manage'' restrictions; (2) the prohibition 
against ``taking'' northern spotted owls under sections 4(d) and 9 of 
the Act; (3) the prohibition against Federal agency actions that 
jeopardize the continued existence of the northern spotted owl under 
section 7(a)(2) of the Act; (4) the prohibition against taking other 
Endangered Species Act listed species that occur in the area of the 
proposed critical habitat (e.g., salmon, bull trout, and marbled 
murrelets); and (5) the prohibition against Federal agency actions that 
jeopardize the continued existence of such other listed species. All of 
these requirements are currently in effect and will remain in effect 
after the final revision of critical habitat.
    Some indirect impacts of the proposed rule on States are, of 
course, possible. Section 7(a)(2) of the Act requires Federal agencies 
(action agencies) to consult with the Service whenever activities that 
they undertake, authorize, permit, or fund may affect a listed species 
or designated critical habitat. States or local governments may

[[Page 14147]]

be indirectly affected if they require Federal funds or formal approval 
or authorization from a Federal agency as a prerequisite to conducting 
an action. In such instances, while the primary consulting parties are 
the Service and the Federal action agency, State and local governments 
may also participate in section 7 consultation as an applicant. It is 
therefore possible that States may be required to change project 
designs, operation, or management of activities taking place within the 
boundaries of the designation in order to receive Federal funding, 
assistance, permits, approval, or authorization from a Federal agency. 
Also, to the extent that the designation of critical habitat affects 
timber harvest amounts on Federal land, county governments that receive 
a share of the receipts from such harvests may be affected.
    On the other side of the ledger, the designation of critical 
habitat may have some benefit to State and local governments because 
the areas that contain the physical or biological features essential to 
the conservation of the species are more clearly defined, and the 
elements of the features of the habitat necessary to the conservation 
of the species are specifically identified. It may also assist local 
governments in long-range planning (rather than having them wait for 
case-by-case section 7 consultations to occur).
    We will be examining these potential indirect impacts in connection 
with the forthcoming economic analysis that is being prepared pursuant 
to section 4(b)(2) of the Act, which will be made available for public 
comment prior to the finalization of this rule. We are committed to 
interactive management and will continue to consult with affected 
parties to minimize indirect impacts of this rulemakings on non-Federal 
entities.
    We note, finally, that we intend to consult closely with State and 
local governments to ensure both that they understand the effects of 
such designation, and that we fully understand any concerns they may 
have. In particular, we will give careful consideration to any 
recommendations they may offer with respect to the exclusion of 
particular areas pursuant to section 4(b)(2) of the Act.

Civil Justice Reform--Executive Order 12988

    In accordance with Executive Order 12988 (Civil Justice Reform), 
the Office of the Solicitor has determined that the rule does not 
unduly burden the judicial system and that it meets the requirements of 
sections 3(a) and 3(b)(2) of the Order. We have proposed revised 
critical habitat in accordance with the provisions of the Act. This 
proposed rule uses standard mapping conventions and identifies the 
elements of physical or biological features essential to the 
conservation of the northern spotted owl within the designated areas to 
assist the public in understanding the habitat needs of the species.

Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (44 U.S.C. 3501 et seq.)

    This rule does not contain any new collections of information that 
require approval by OMB under the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (44 
U.S.C. 3501 et seq.). This rule will not impose recordkeeping or 
reporting requirements on State or local governments, individuals, 
businesses, or organizations. An agency may not conduct or sponsor, and 
a person is not required to respond to, a collection of information 
unless it displays a currently valid OMB control number.

National Environmental Policy Act (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.)

    It is our position that, outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. Court 
of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, we do not need to prepare 
environmental analyses pursuant to the National Environmental Policy 
Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq., in connection with designating 
critical habitat under the Act for the reasons outlined in a notice 
published in the Federal Register on October 25, 1983 (48 FR 49244). 
This position was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth 
Circuit (in a challenge to the first rulemaking designating critical 
habitat for the northern spotted owl. Douglas County v. Babbitt, 48 
F.3d 1495 (9th Cir. 1995), cert. denied 516 U.S. 1042 (1996)). 
Nevertheless, given the scope of this particular proposed designation, 
the Service plans, as a matter of discretion and not as a legal 
requirement, to prepare an environmental assessment prior to making a 
final decision. We are in the process of drafting the environmental 
assessment, and plan to make it available at the same time that we 
release our draft economic analysis on this proposed rule; the comment 
period for the draft environmental assessment and the draft economic 
analysis will therefore run concurrently. One of the purposes in 
developing an environmental assessment is to determine whether an 
environmental impact statement may be warranted. However, based on our 
experience in the Tenth Circuit, where the Service routinely conducts 
NEPA analyses of critical habitat designations, to date we have found 
that environmental assessments have proven adequate.

Clarity of the Rule

    We are required by Executive Orders 12866 and 12988 and by the 
Presidential Memorandum of June 1, 1998, to write all rules in plain 
language. This means that each rule we publish must:
    (1) Be logically organized;
    (2) Use the active voice to address readers directly;
    (3) Use clear language rather than jargon;
    (4) Be divided into short sections and sentences; and
    (5) Use lists and tables wherever possible.
    If you feel that we have not met these requirements, send us 
comments by one of the methods listed in the ADDRESSES section. To 
better help us revise the rule, your comments should be as specific as 
possible. For example, you should tell us the numbers of the sections 
or paragraphs that are unclearly written, which sections or sentences 
are too long, the sections where you feel lists or tables would be 
useful, etc.

Government-to-Government Relationship With Tribes

    In accordance with the President's memorandum of April 29, 1994 
(Government-to-Government Relations with Native American Tribal 
Governments; 59 FR 22951), Executive Order 13175, ``Consultation and 
Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments'' (November 6, 2000, and as 
reaffirmed November 5, 2009), and the Department of the Interior's 
manual at 512 DM 2, we readily acknowledge our responsibility to 
communicate meaningfully with recognized Federal Tribes on a 
government-to-government basis. The United States recognizes the right 
of Indian tribes to self-government and supports tribal sovereignty and 
self-determination, and recognizes the need to consult with tribal 
officials when developing regulations that have tribal implications. In 
accordance with Secretarial Order 3206 of June 5, 1997 (American Indian 
Tribal Rights, Federal-Tribal Trust Responsibilities, and the 
Endangered Species Act), we readily acknowledge our responsibilities to 
work directly with tribes in developing programs for healthy 
ecosystems, to acknowledge that Indian lands are not subject to the 
same controls as Federal public lands, to remain sensitive to Indian 
culture, and to make information available to tribes. Even though we 
have determined that there are no Indian lands that meet the definition 
of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl, and

[[Page 14148]]

therefore no Indian lands are included in this proposal, we will 
continue to coordinate and consult with tribes regarding resources 
within the proposed revised designation that are of cultural 
significance to them.

References Cited

    A complete list of references cited in this rulemaking is available 
on the Internet at http://www.regulations.gov and upon request from the 
Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).

Authors

    The primary authors of this package are the staff members of the 
Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17

    Endangered and threatened species, Exports, Imports, Reporting and 
recordkeeping requirements, Transportation.

Proposed Regulation Promulgation

    Accordingly, we propose to amend part 17, subchapter B of chapter 
I, title 50 of the Code of Federal Regulations, as set forth below:

PART 17--ENDANGERED AND THREATENED WILDLIFE AND PLANTS

    1. The authority citation for part 17 continues to read as follows:

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1361-1407; 16 U.S.C. 1531-1544; 16 U.S.C. 
4201-4245; Pub. L. 99-625, 100 Stat. 3500; unless otherwise noted.

    2. Amend Sec.  17.95(b) by revising critical habitat for ``Northern 
Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis caurina)'' to read as follows:


Sec.  17.95  Critical habitat--fish and wildlife.

* * * * *
    (b) Birds.
* * * * *

Northern Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis caurina)

    (1) Critical habitat units are depicted for the States of 
Washington, Oregon, and California on the maps below.
    (2) Critical habitat for the northern spotted owl includes the 
following four primary constituent elements (PCEs) set forth in 
paragraph (2)(i) (PCE 1) through paragraph (2)(iv) (PCE 4) of this 
entry. Each critical habitat unit must include PCE 1 and PCE 2, 3, or 
4:
    (i) PCE 1: Forest types that may be in early-, mid-, or late-seral 
stages and that support the northern spotted owl across its 
geographical range. These forest types are primarily:
    (A) Sitka spruce;
    (B) Western hemlock;
    (C) Mixed conifer and mixed evergreen;
    (D) Grand fir;
    (E) Pacific silver fir;
    (F) Douglas-fir;
    (G) White fir;
    (H) Shasta red fir;
    (I) Redwood/Douglas-fir (in coastal California and southwestern 
Oregon); and
    (J) The moist end of the ponderosa pine coniferous forest zones at 
elevations up to approximately 3,000 ft (900 m) near the northern edge 
of the range and up to approximately 6,000 ft (1,800 m) at the southern 
edge.
    (ii) PCE 2: Habitat that provides for nesting and roosting. In many 
cases the same habitat also provide for foraging (PCE (3)). Nesting and 
roosting habitat provides structural features for nesting, protection 
from adverse weather conditions, and cover to reduce predation risks 
for adults and young. This PCE is found throughout the geographical 
range of the northern spotted owl, because stand structures at nest 
sites tend to vary little across the spotted owl's range. These 
habitats must provide:
    (A) Sufficient foraging habitat to meet the home range needs of 
territorial pairs of northern spotted owls throughout the year (or must 
occur in conjunction with this habitat); and
    (B) Stands for nesting and roosting that are generally 
characterized by:
    (1) Moderate to high canopy closure (60 to over 80 percent).
    (2) Multilayered, multispecies canopies with large (20-30 inches 
(in) (51-6 centimeters (cm) or greater diameter at breast height (dbh)) 
overstory trees.
    (3) High basal area (greater than 240 ft\2\/acre; 55 m\2\/ha).
    (4) High diversity of different diameters of trees.
    (5) High incidence of large live trees with various deformities 
(e.g., large cavities, broken tops, mistletoe infections, and other 
evidence of decadence).
    (6) Large snags and large accumulations of fallen trees and other 
woody debris on the ground.
    (7) Sufficient open space below the canopy for northern spotted 
owls to fly.
    (iii) PCE 3: Habitat that provides for foraging, which varies 
widely across the northern spotted owl's range, in accordance with 
ecological conditions and disturbance regimes that influence vegetation 
structure and prey species distributions. Across most of the owl's 
range, nesting and roosting habitat is also foraging habitat, but in 
some regions northern spotted owls may additionally use other habitat 
types for foraging as well. The specific foraging habitat PCEs for the 
four ecological zones within the geographical range of the northern 
spotted owl are the following:
    (A) West Cascades/Coast Ranges of Oregon and Washington.
    (1) Stands of nesting and roosting habitat; additionally, owls may 
use younger forests with some structural characteristics (legacy 
features) of old forests, hardwood forest patches, and edges between 
old forest and hardwoods.
    (2) Moderate to high canopy closure (60 to over 80 percent).
    (3) A diversity of tree diameters and heights.
    (4) Increasing density of trees greater than or equal to 31 in (80 
cm) dbh increases foraging habitat quality (especially above 12 trees 
per ac (30 trees per ha)).
    (5) Increasing density of trees 20 to 31 in (51 to 80 cm) dbh 
increases foraging habitat quality (especially above 24 trees per ac 
(60 trees per ha)).
    (6) Increasing snag basal area, snag volume (the product of snag 
diameter, height, estimated top diameter, and including a taper 
function), and density of snags greater than 20 in (50 cm) dbh all 
contribute to increasing foraging habitat quality, especially above 10 
snags/ha.
    (7) Large accumulations of fallen trees and other woody debris on 
the ground.
    (8) Sufficient open space below the canopy for northern spotted 
owls to fly.
    (B) East Cascades.
    (1) Stands of nesting and roosting habitat; in addition, stands 
composed of Douglas-fir and white fir/Douglas-fir mix.
    (2) Mean tree size (quadratic mean diameter greater than 16.5 in 
(42 cm).
    (3) Increasing density of large trees (greater than 26 in (66 cm)) 
and increasing basal area (the cross-sectional area of tree boles 
measured at breast height) increases foraging habitat quality.
    (4) Large accumulations of fallen trees and other woody debris on 
the ground.
    (5) Sufficient open space below the canopy for northern spotted 
owls to fly.
    (C) Klamath and Northern California Interior Coast Ranges.
    (1) Stands of nesting and roosting habitat; in addition, other 
forest types with mature and old-forest characteristics.
    (2) Presence of conifer species such as incense-cedar, sugar pine, 
and Douglas-fir and hardwood species such as bigleaf maple, black oak, 
live oaks, and madrone, as well as shrubs.
    (3) Forest patches within riparian zones of low-order streams and 
edges between conifer and hardwood forest stands.

[[Page 14149]]

    (4) Brushy openings and dense young stands or low-density forest 
patches within a mosaic of mature and older forest habitat.
    (5) High canopy cover (87 percent at frequently used sites).
    (6) Multiple canopy layers.
    (7) Mean stand diameter greater than 21 in (52.5 cm).
    (8) Increasing mean stand diameter and densities of trees greater 
than 26 in (66 cm) increases foraging habitat quality.
    (9) Large accumulations of fallen trees and other woody debris on 
the ground.
    (10) Sufficient open space below the canopy for northern spotted 
owls to fly.
    (D) Redwood Coast.
    (1) Nesting and roosting habitat; in addition, stands composed of 
hardwood tree species, particularly tanoak.
    (2) Early-seral habitats 6 to 20 years old with dense shrub and 
hardwood cover and abundant woody debris; these habitats produce prey, 
and must occur in conjunction with nesting, roosting, or foraging 
habitat.
    (3) Increasing density of small-to-medium sized trees (10 to 22 in; 
25 to 56 cm), which increases foraging habitat quality.
    (4) Trees greater than 26 in (66 cm) in diameter or greater than 41 
years of age.
    (5) Sufficient open space below the canopy for northern spotted 
owls to fly.
    (iv) PCE 4: Habitat to support the transience and colonization 
phases of dispersal, which in all cases would optimally be composed of 
nesting, roosting, or foraging habitat (PCEs 2 or 3), but which may 
also be composed of other forest types that occur between larger blocks 
of nesting, roosting, and foraging habitat. In cases where nesting, 
roosting, or foraging habitats are insufficient to provide for 
dispersing or nonbreeding owls, the specific dispersal habitat PCEs for 
the northern spotted owl may be provided by the following:
    (A) Habitat supporting the transience phase of dispersal, which 
includes:
    (1) Stands with adequate tree size and canopy closure to provide 
protection from avian predators and minimal foraging opportunities; and
    (2) Younger and less diverse forest stands than foraging habitat, 
such as even-aged, pole-sized stands, if such stands contain some 
roosting structures and foraging habitat to allow for temporary resting 
and feeding during the transience phase.
    (B) Habitat supporting the colonization phase of dispersal, which 
is generally equivalent to nesting, roosting and foraging habitat as 
described in PCEs 2 and 3, but may be smaller in area than that needed 
to support nesting pairs.
    (3) Critical habitat does not include manmade structures (such as 
buildings, aqueducts, runways, roads, other paved areas, or surface 
mine sites) and the land on which they are located; developed 
recreation sites, administrative sites, or roadways, and the land on 
which they are located, including a safety buffer for hazard tree 
management; or any meadows, grasslands, oak woodlands, or aspen 
woodlands existing on the effective date of this rule and not 
containing the primary constituent elements.
    (4) Critical habitat map units. The designated critical habitat 
units for the northern spotted owl are depicted on the maps below.
    (5) Note: Index map of critical habitat units for the northern 
spotted owl in the State of Washington follows:
BILLING CODE 4310-55-P

[[Page 14150]]

[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP08MR12.004


[[Page 14151]]


    (6) Note: Index map of critical habitat units for the northern 
spotted owl in the State of Oregon follows:
[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP08MR12.005


[[Page 14152]]


    (7) Note: Index map of critical habitat units for the northern 
spotted owl in the State of California follows:
[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP08MR12.006


[[Page 14153]]


    (8) Unit 1: North Coast Ranges and Olympic Peninsula, Oregon and 
Washington.
    (i) [Reserved for textual description of Unit 1: North Coast Ranges 
and Olympic Peninsula, Oregon and Washington].
    (ii) Note: Maps of Unit 1: North Coast Ranges and Olympic 
Peninsula, Oregon and Washington, follows:
[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP08MR12.007


[[Page 14154]]


[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP08MR12.008


[[Page 14155]]


    (9) Unit 2: Oregon Coast Ranges, Oregon.
    (i) [Reserved for textual description of Unit 2: Oregon Coast 
Ranges, Oregon].
    (ii) Note: Map of Unit 2, Oregon Coast Ranges, Oregon, follows:
    [GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP08MR12.009
    

[[Page 14156]]


    (10) Unit 3: Redwood Coast, Oregon and California.
    (i) [Reserved for textual description of Unit 3: Redwood Coast, 
Oregon and California]
    (ii) Note: Map of Unit 3, Redwood Coast, Oregon and California, 
follows:
[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP08MR12.010


[[Page 14157]]


    (11) Unit 4: West Cascades North, Washington.
    (i) [Reserved for textual description of Unit 4: West Cascades 
North, Washington].
    (ii) Note: Map of Unit 4, West Cascades North, Washington, follows:
    [GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP08MR12.011
    

[[Page 14158]]


    (12) Unit 5: West Cascades Central, Washington.
    (i) [Reserved for textual description of Unit 5: West Cascades 
Central, Washington].
    (ii) Note: Map of Unit 5, West Cascades Central, Washington, 
follows:
[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP08MR12.012


[[Page 14159]]


    (13) Unit 6: West Cascades South, Washington.
    (i) [Reserved for textual description of Unit 6: West Cascades 
South, Washington].
    (ii)  Note: Map of Unit 6, West Cascades South, Washington, 
follows:
[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP08MR12.013


[[Page 14160]]


    (14) Unit 7: East Cascades North, Washington and Oregon
    (i) [Reserved for textual description of Unit 7: East Cascades 
North, Washington and Oregon].
    (ii)  Note: Maps of Unit 7, East Cascades North, Washington and 
Oregon, follow:
[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP08MR12.014


[[Page 14161]]


[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP08MR12.015


[[Page 14162]]


    (15) Unit 8: East Cascades South, California and Oregon
    (i) [Reserved for textual description of Unit 8: East Cascades 
South, California and Oregon].
    (ii)  Note: Map of Unit 8, East Cascades South, California and 
Oregon, follows:
    (16) Unit 9: Klamath West, Oregon and California.
    (i) [Reserved for textual description of Unit 9: Klamath West, 
Oregon and California].
    (ii)  Note: Map of Unit 9: Klamath West, Oregon and California, 
follows:
[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP08MR12.016


[[Page 14163]]


[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP08MR12.017


[[Page 14164]]


    (17) Unit 10: Klamath East, California.
    (i) [Reserved for textual description of Unit 10: Klamath East, 
California].
    (ii)  Note: Map of Unit 10: Klamath East, California, follows:
    [GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP08MR12.018
    

[[Page 14165]]


    (18) Unit 11: Interior California Coast, California.
    (i) [Reserved for textual description of Unit 11: Interior 
California Coast, California].
    (ii) Note: Map of Unit 11: Interior California Coast, California, 
follows:
[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP08MR12.019

* * * * *

    Dated: February 27, 2012.
Rachel Jacobsen,
Acting Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks.
[FR Doc. 2012-5042 Filed 3-7-12; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4310-55-C