Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, August 18, 2020


Elizabeth Forsyth, Earthjustice, (213) 766-1067,
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495,
Susan Britting, Sierra Forest Legacy, (530) 295-8210,
Rebecca Bullis, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-0295,

Lawsuit Challenges Trump Administration’s Refusal to Protect California Spotted Owl

SAN FRANCISCO— Conservationists sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for refusing to protect California spotted owls under the Endangered Species Act.

The lawsuit asserts that the November 2019 decision to deny protection to California spotted owls was unlawful and not supported by the Service’s own scientific assessment, which confirmed dramatic population declines in 4 out of 5 study areas and found that the owls face increasing threats.

The suit was filed in San Francisco by the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Forest Legacy and Defenders of Wildlife, a coalition represented by Earthjustice.

The California subspecies of spotted owls lives in old-growth 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 uncharacteristic fires.

“This iconic species needs the protection provided by the Endangered Species Act if it is to survive,” said Elizabeth Forsyth, staff attorney at Earthjustice’s Los Angeles office. “The Fish and Wildlife Service’s own assessment shows the threats to the California spotted owl’s survival are increasing dramatically and that, without protection, the California spotted owl will likely be wiped out from large portions of its range.”

Conservation groups have been fighting for protections for decades, presenting evidence of population decline throughout the spotted owl’s range, as well as habitat degradation caused by forestry management practices.

“California spotted owls are in real trouble,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The destruction of their old-growth forest habitat through logging, urban sprawl and climate change pose a dire threat to those birds, and only the Endangered Species Act can save them.”

“Despite 20 years of scientific data showing that California spotted owl populations are declining, the FWS once again caved to pressure from federal agencies and the timber industry by not listing this species,” said Susan Britting, executive director of Sierra Forest Legacy. “Our only recourse to save this species is to hold the agency accountable for ignoring the scientific data that supports listing.”

“For far too long, the California spotted owl has been caught in political crosshairs, while its populations steadily decline,” said Pamela Flick, California program director for Defenders of Wildlife. “Without federal protections to stem habitat loss and prevent forest mismanagement, the owl will likely remain on a path towards extinction. Defenders will continue to fight in court to save this species and the old forests these owls need to survive.”

California Spotted Owls (Strix occidentalis occidentalis). Photo by Brett Hartl, Center for Biological Diversity. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With over 1.8 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit and follow us on Twitter @Defenders.

Sierra Forest Legacy is a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to the protection of plants, wildlife and ecosystems of the Sierra Nevada using the best practices of science, advocacy and coalition building to safeguard the bioregion.

Earthjustice, the nation’s premier nonprofit environmental law organization, wields the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. For more information, visit

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