SAN FRANCISCO— Conservation groups reached an agreement today with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the agency to conduct a new Endangered Species Act review of California spotted owls by Feb. 25, 2023.
The agreement stems from a lawsuit filed by the groups in August 2020 that asserted the Trump administration’s decision to deny protection to the California spotted owl was unlawful and not supported by the Service’s own scientific assessment. The agency’s work confirmed dramatic population declines in four out of five study areas and found that the owls face increasing threats.
“We’re pleased that the court has required the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reassess the status of the critically imperiled California spotted owl,” said Pamela Flick, California program director for Defenders of Wildlife. “Time and again, scientific analyses clearly indicate that this species is at risk of continued population declines from myriad threats and warrants immediate protections.”
The 2020 suit was filed in San Francisco by Sierra Forest Legacy, the Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife, a coalition represented by Earthjustice.
The California subspecies of spotted owls lives in mature forest in the Sierra Nevada and in the mountains of coastal and Southern California. Its habitat is under serious threat from current logging practices and climate change impacts, including increased drought, disease and uncharacteristically large, severe wildfires.
“Protecting the owl will help ensure that remaining mature forests and large trees that are the most resilient to fire are protected,” said Susan Britting, executive director of Sierra Forest Legacy. “Saving owls will also help safeguard people because actions like prescribed fire not only benefit owls but also help protect communities from wildfire.”
Conservation groups have been fighting for protections for spotted owl for decades, presenting evidence of population decline throughout their range as well as habitat degradation caused by unsustainable forest management practices. Following a 2016 lawsuit by the Center and allies, the Service agreed to conduct a status review by 2019, only to deny the owls federal protection under the Endangered Species Act in November 2019.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service’s own assessments show that California spotted owls should have been protected years ago,” said Justin Augustine, a senior attorney at the Center. “These owls face dire threats, so we hope the Service will finally do the right thing and give them the Endangered Species Act protection they deserve and need.”