The Spotted Owl is one of the most-studied and best-known owls in the world. This degree of scientific attention is the result of this owl's association with late seral stage conifer forests of high commercial value (Forsman et al. 1984, Verner et al. 1992b, U.S. Dept. Interior 1992). The bird's ecology and conservation are the topic of vigorous debate among foresters, wildlife ecologists, academics, politicians, social scientists, and economists (e.g., Dixon and Juelson 1987, Simberloff 1987, Mckillop 1992, Sample and Master 1992, Thomas and Verner 1992, Meslow 1993, Yaffee 1994). Six major management plans and four reviews of the owl's ecological status have been developed to enhance conservation of the species (see U.S. Dept. Interior 1992, Verner et al. 1992b, Dunbar and Blackburn 1994, U.S. Dept. Interior 1995). In addition, several literature reviews and a symposium devoted to the owl have been completed (Campbell et al. 1984, Gutiérrez Gutierrez 1985, Gutierrez 1986, Gutierrez and Carey 1985, U.S. Dept. Agriculture 1988).
Since the early 1980s, the political controversy has overshadowed the bird itself. Despite the extraordinary research effort devoted to this denizen of western North American forests, there is much still to be learned about its behavior and ecology. If we have learned one thing about the influence of the Spotted Owl on wildlife conservation, it is that the solution to conserving a threatened species that is still relatively widespread is exceedingly complex.
This suggests that conservation and management of entire faunal communities and the ecosystems in which they reside will be a daunting task. Yet the Spotted Owl has served as a catalyst for innovative research and as a stimulus for more comprehensive conservation planning. Scientists and wildlife managers quickly advanced the science of ornithology and developed novel conservation strategies while studying the ecology of this engaging species.
Spotted Owls are described as three subspecies, the Northern Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis caurina), the California Spotted Owl (S. o. occidentalis), and the Mexican Spotted Owl (S. o. lucida) (Am. Ornithol. Union American Ornithologists' Union 1931, American Ornithologists' Union 1957). Because of the ecological variation exhibited among these subspecies and the differences in their conservation strategies, we generally treat them separately hereafter.