Populations of California spotted owl – a species living in mature and old-growth forests in Sierra Nevada and the mountains of coastal and Southern California – are currently dwindling due to habitat loss caused by logging practices, as well as climate-related hazards such as increased droughts and wildfires.
Scientists and environmental organizations have long advocated the need to protect this species under the Endangered Species Act (a law from 1973 aiming to safeguard imperiled species), but have not been successful until now. However, on February 23, 2023, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finally proposed to list the owl’s southern/coastal population as endangered, following a lawsuit against the Service’s decision from 2019 not to do so. Unfortunately, the Sierra Nevada population would only receive a threatened status, which would exempt many logging operations from having to comply with the Act’s rules.
“California’s spotted owl is an iconic species that exists nowhere else in the world,” said Elizabeth Forsyth, the biodiversity defense program attorney of Earthjustice, a nonprofit organization dedicated to litigating environmental issues that represented several conservation organizations in the lawsuit against the Service. “The Endangered Species Act is the strongest tool we have to protect imperiled animals and plants, and we celebrate this crucial step toward ensuring the California spotted owls’ continued survival.”
“These much-needed protections for the California spotted owl are long overdue,” said Pam Flick, the California program director of Defenders of Wildlife. “The best available science demonstrates that most California spotted owl populations have been declining for many years. These new protections under the Endangered Species Act will give this species a fighting chance at recovery.”
According to Susan Britting, the executive director of Sierra Forest Legacy, the listing of California spotted owl as endangered provides a major conservation tool to protect this rapidly dwindling species and its habitat.
“It took way too long for California spotted owls to be proposed for Endangered Species Act protections, but I’m thrilled they may finally get these crucial safeguards,” concluded Justin Augustine, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “I urge the Fish and Wildlife Service to move quickly to bring these endearing birds back from the brink.”
A full version of the Service’s recent announcement can be found here.
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