Due to its unique topographic diversity including coastal areas, deserts, mountains, vegetative cover, and Mediterranean climate, California is one of the most biologically diverse places in the world and consequently has unusual wildlife diversity. Native wildlife species include about 68 amphibians, 429 birds, 185 mammals, and over 27,000 terrestrial invertebrates – with about 105 species being listed as threatened and endangered1.2. Thirty seven animals (10 fish, 3 amphibians, 2 reptiles, 13 birds, and 9 mammals) are designated as fully protected and may not be taken or possessed at any time3.
Wildlife Habitat Protection
Two major initiatives aimed at protecting endangered species in California forests are The Northwest Forest Plan (in Washington, Oregon, and Northern California), 1994, and the Conservation Strategy for the Northern Spotted Owl in the Sierra Nevada, 2019. Both of these focus on protecting old-growth forests, mostly on public lands, that are the habitat of the northern spotted owl. Other threatened species of particular concern are the marbled murrelet, northern goshawk, Pacific salmon, and Pacific fisher4.5
Spotted owls are still at risk due primarily to the current, aggressive invasion of the barred owl from eastern north America that threatens their viability by being an ‘apex predator’ and a generalist in food requirements6.
Conservation Strategies for animals at risk focus on protecting their needs for food, cover, shelter, foraging, home range, and long-distance travel. When activity centers are found, these are protected by creating Habitat Conservation Areas or Protected Activity Centers. For spotted owls, these are commonly 300 acres in size in which no forest treatments can be carried out to avoid a “take”. Sometimes, trade-offs occur when excluding these areas from treatment prevents managers from reducing fuels to reduce wildfire hazards.
Need for Maintaining Habitat Diversity
Wildlife populations of diverse species depend on all stages of forest development – early, mature, and over-mature trees, shrubs and grasses, vigorous to decadent trees, and mosaics of dense to open conditions across the landscape. Maintaining these diverse habitats is aided by California having diverse forest types and diverse ownerships (Topic 1) from parks to timber production areas with diverse management objectives.
A key to ensuring diverse forest structures and habitats is to manage forests as dynamic ecosystems7. This concept recognizes the need to maintain healthy, vigorous forests by controlling species composition and stand density, which in addition to providing diverse habitats results in forests being more resistant to major wildfires.
To aid in developing these complex structures, important partnerships have been developed between landowners and the US Fish & Wildlife Service aimed at addressing listed and at-risk species in an ecosystem context8 and by timberland conservation programs aimed at protecting diverse habitats9.
All forest management plans in California are evaluated in terms of mitigating potential impact on wildlife habitat. This is done on federal lands through compliance with the Environmental Quality Act and Endangered Species Act. Equivalent regulations on private forest lands in California are the California Environmental Quality Act and the California’s Forest Practice Act administered by the State Board of Forestry.
The aim of all forest land managers in California is to protect and enhance wildlife habitat, which is attained through a mix of ownership goals, federal and state laws, and partnerships between landowners and state and federal agencies.
Effective land management is difficult and complex, requiring balancing the needs, uses, and values of a diverse society. The task is made more complex by increasing urbanization, conversion of forest lands to agricultural use, and population growth all of which have put increasing pressures on the State’s wildlife. But this is what makes forestry such a challenging, important, and worthwhile profession.