Our #Don't Foul the Owl Campaign has the purpose of introducing adults and children to the wonders of the Western Burrowing Owl and its presence on Banning Ranch.
Great news for the Burrowing Owls at Banning Ranch - the Coastal Commission Staff has announced in their August 26th report on Banning Ranch that they have accepted the Burrowing Owl foraging areas at protected habitats. In their May report on Banning Ranch they only considered the small areas of their actual burrows to be protected. Biologists made persuasive arguments that the owls needed to eat in addition to sleep, and the grassy mesas where the burrowing owls forage are now protected. Email us if you would like a copy of the reports submitted.
Burrowing Owl Wintering and Foraging Habitat
Western burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia) are a California Species of Special Concern that are rare in Orange County due to loss of suitable grasslands to development, especially near the coast. Western burrowing owls are often found in burrows created by ground squirrels, of which there are countless in the project location. Most Western burrowing owls nesting in California remain at their breeding grounds throughout the winter, sometimes staying in the same burrows and sometimes wandering within the region. Burrowing owls were thought to have been extirpated in all of Orange County (and most of coastal Southern California), except for a small breeding population in Seal Beach. Two large earthen berms on the project site provide habitat for the burrowing owls near vernal pools H, I, and J and a burrow was found on the southern mesa. The Commission finds these areas to rise to the level of ESHA because the area supports wintering burrowing owls, a sensitive species, and because the area is easily disturbed and degraded by human activities and development. Additionally, the Burrowing Owls use the open native and non-native grasslands as foraging habitat. The ESHA determination made as part of the April 2016 staff report would have protected the burrows as ESHA but not the foraging habitat . As a result, strong criticism of the memo. from professional biologists noted that without the foraging space, protecting the burrows as ESHA was essentially pointless, because there is no other location within the vicinity where these owls can forage except for the open grassland on the Banning Ranch site. Thus, even with their burrow habitat protected, the owls would likely be extirpated from the site. As such, the grasslands of the site rise to the level of ESHA because of the special role they serve as valuable habitat for the sensitive Owl species.
Raptor Foraging Habitat
Both native and non-native grasslands provide important foraging opportunities for both Burrowing Owls and other raptors present on the NBR site. Much of the Mesa of the site is composed of both native and non-native grasses, and while it is used for foraging, delineating a particular, contiguous use area is difficult. While the grasslands that support Burrowing Owl foraging are identified as ESHA, the raptor foraging areas of the site have not been delineated as ESHA. However, if native and non-native grasslands that serve raptor foraging are disturbed as part of the soil-clean up or development project, they do require mitigation, pursuant to the Habitat Management Plan.
SPECIAL CONDITIONS 14: HABITAT MANAGEMENT PLAN [PDF]. The Coastal Commission Staff suggested as a restriction to protect the Burrowing Owl and other species on Banning Ranch, beginning mid page 138.