Spotted Owl Told to Wait (Again)

By
Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

Owl-Self-Defense-wings-shadow-296x300The Northern Spotted Owl is an iconic corner-stone species that has called the forests of northwest California home since time immemorial. Despite over 20 years of enhanced protections afforded by the listing of the owl under the federal Endangered Species Act, the best available science continues to show alarming and precipitous declines in NSO vital statistics across the species’ range.

EPIC’s Northern Spotted Owl Self-defense Campaign has sought to achieve enhanced protections for the owl in California and beyond. Given the myriad and immediacy of threats to the species, EPIC believes that urgent actions are needed to prevent the extinction of the NSO.

In 2012, EPIC filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ‘up-list’ or ‘reclassify’ the NSO from a “threatened” to an “endangered” species under the federal ESA. Despite statutory obligations to produce an initial 90-day finding on our petition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has failed to fulfill its responsibilities under the ESA. In 2014, EPIC reached a ‘handshake’ agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Service had committed to publishing its initial 90-day finding on our petition by December 12, 2014. However, the Service failed to meet this specified deadline, now indicating that it does not intend to publish the 90-day finding until March 31, 2015.

Meanwhile, EPIC also submitted a listing petition for the NSO under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) in 2012. After a great deal of delay, the California Fish and Game Commission considered the petition in August 2013. The Commission found that the proposed listing action ‘may be warranted,’ thus initiating a one-year ‘candidacy’ period for the NSO under CESA, during which time the species would be treated as if it were listed. The NSO is thus currently protected under California state law.

CESA requires the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to ‘promptly’ commence a full status review of the NSO in California, and to produce a status report for submission to the Fish and Game Commission to inform the Commission’s final decision on the listing proposal. The Department of Fish and Wildlife’s status review and report were to be completed by December 2014. However, the Department has sought, and successfully received a six-month extension for the submission of its status report for the NSO. The new release date for the Department’s status report is now June 26, 2015.

The failure of the wildlife agencies to address our listing petitions and the increasing threats to the NSO in a timely manner bodes poorly for the prospects for survival of the owl in California and elsewhere in the species’ range. Despite the fact that existing conservation measures for the owl have clearly failed, both the state and federal governments have shunned their responsibilities to ensure the conservation, survival, and recovery of the NSO in the wild. Instead, business as usual prevails in both our public and privately-held forestlands.
Preventing the extinction of the NSO is key to maintaining forest ecosystem health, maintaining species’ biodiversity in the forest, and for protecting and connecting our wild places and managed landscapes. EPIC will continue to use the tools available to advocate for the conservation and recovery of the Northern Spotted Owl.