Last updated: July 21, 2023
Since 2018, scientists at Bandelier National Monument have been monitoring a federally threatened species in order to better manage and restore critical habitat within the park and help the species recover. But, HOO is it that they're trying to save?
It's the elusive Mexican spotted owl.
Historically, Mexican spotted owls were known to inhabit and breed within the steep-walled canyons of Bandelier National Monument, but natural disasters compounded by climate change have altered this landscape tremendously in recent decades. In 2011, the Las Conchas wildfire burned 156,000 acres (243 square miles) across a broad elevation range (6,500 to 10,000 feet) in the Jemez Mountains of north central New Mexico, including Bandelier National Monument. This wildfire wiped out 58% of the Mexican spotted owl's critical habitat within the park, of which 23% burned at high and moderate intensities. This had devastating effects on the species' ability to breed and thrive at Bandelier.
In 2018, scientists began resurveying locations across the park for potential breeding habitat to determine owl occupancy, nesting status, and reproductive success post-fire. These surveys have become essential for proper management of the Mexican spotted owl's remaining habitat within park boundaries. Based on survey results, Bandelier has designated new and/or adjusted boundaries of existing Protected Activity Centers (PACs) and core areas that are essential to manage, protect, and recover this species.
Knowing where Mexican spotted owls are nesting helps the National Park Service to make informed decisions about prescribed burns and other possible disturbances associated with land management. Studying their resiliency after disturbances like wildfire and forest loss is important for scientists and land managers across their range.