Washington Forest Protection Association

Northern Spotted Owl Conservation in Washington State

Map of Critical Habitat Units set aside for Northern Spotted Owls in Washington State

How are the Northern Spotted Owls Protected?

Critical Habitat Units

On February 14, 1992, the government designated 2.1 million acres of federal land as critical habitat in Washington State, representing about 1/3 of the total designation of 6.9 million acres across California, Oregon and Washington. Critical habitat was not designated on private, state or tribal lands. Currently, the government is revising its critical habitat designation, which recognizes that forest fire has made some of the owl’s habitat unsuitable. This area where owls live is protected under the Endangered Species Act and is essential to conservation of the owl. This includes forests that provide a habitat for growth, food, water, cover, breeding sites and undisturbed habitats, also referred to as nesting, roosting and foraging habitat.

Critical Habitat Units were designed to protect the metapopulation, not individual owls. This fundamental theory of conservation biology connects small populations or clusters of owls across the range and recognizes that no single population will guarantee the long-term survival of the species, but the combined effect of many smaller populations may be able to do this. Critical Habitat Units were designated across the three-state range, surrounding clusters of 20 or more owls with connecting corridors and spacing of less than 12 miles apart. While most of the owls’ habitat occurs on federal land, state and private land can contribute to owl conservation by playing an important role as connecting corridors and dispersal habitat.


  • Total Forestland
  • Critical Habitat Units

Owl Sites

Facts & Figures

2.1 million acres

Critical Habitat Units are designated on federal land only.

Occupied habitat

Lands occupied by the species are included in critical habitat.

Habitat loss

In the three-state range, about 380,000 acres of habitat was removed over the last decade. The primary source of habitat loss was catastrophic wildfire.

Northwest Forest Plan

The Northwest Forest Plan extended the amount of critical habitat by designating Late Successional Reserves on federal land.

Old forest growth

In the three-state range, about 600,000 acres of late successional forest per decade is being developed.