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CDFG Releases New Burrowing Owl Survey and Mitigation Guidelines

Two burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia) in grass
By Steve Henderson
Senior Wildlife Biologist, Lake Tahoe

On March 7, the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) released its latest Staff Report on Burrowing Owl Mitigation, which updates and replaces the original 1995 version of the Staff Report. Since 1995, the Staff Report has been the standard guideline and starting point in California for planning and conducting surveys to determine burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia) occupancy, evaluating potential impacts of projects, and developing mitigation for impacts to burrowing owls, particularly for projects subject to California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review and CDFG involvement.

Recognizing the need for a comprehensive conservation and mitigation approach for burrowing owls, the 1995 Staff Report included CDFG-recommended burrowing owl survey methods and mitigation measures to compensate for habitat loss and reduce or reverse further population declines. Since the original 1995 Staff Report has been implemented, burrowing owl populations have continued to decline in parts of the species’ range. Therefore, following review of the impact avoidance, minimization, and mitigation recommendations in the 1995 Staff Report, CDFG developed the 2012 Staff Report to incorporate more effective and science-based conservation actions.

The 2012 Staff Report incorporates the California Burrowing Owl Consortium’s Survey Protocol and Mitigation Guidelines and replaces the survey, impact minimization and avoidance, and mitigation recommendations from the previous Staff Report. Importantly, the 2012 Staff Report is based on a substantial body of scientific information that has been generated and published since 1995, as well as CDFG’s technical, management, and project review experience in implementing the 1995 Staff Report.  In designing the new Guidelines, CDFG’s intent is to “provide a compilation of the best available science for Department staff, biologists, planners, land managers, CEQA lead agencies, and the public to consider when assessing impacts of projects or other activities on burrowing owls.”

A few key updates to the burrowing owl Guidelines in the 2012 Staff Report include:

  • Conservation goals and principles for developing mitigation measures for burrowing owls.
  • Clearer, science-based guidance for defining, analyzing, minimizing/avoiding, and mitigating impacts to burrowing owls.
  • For nest protection during project activities, recommended buffers can extend up to 500 meters from nest sites, depending on construction timing and level of disturbance.
  • Elimination of a recommended minimum compensatory habitat replacement acreage, and emphasis on more thorough and biologically-based, site-specific approaches to meet conservation objectives.
  • Guidelines for evaluating potential mitigation lands, options for securing and protecting mitigation lands, and monitoring and management considerations for mitigation lands.

For more information, you can access the CDFG web page here.

Any Questions?

Steve Henderson

Steve Henderson

Senior Biologist


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