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Doubling Down on Protections for the Northern Spotted Owl

Conservationists request “Endangered” status for Northern Spotted Owl under California and Federal Law

The Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) filed two petitions designed to increase protections for the Northern Spotted Owl.  First, EPIC filed a petition with the Secretary of the Interior to change the status of the owl under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) from “threatened” to “endangered.”   Second, EPIC filed a petition with the California Fish and Game Commission to list the owl as “endangered” under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA).

The Northern Spotted Owl was first protected under the federal ESA as “threatened” in 1990. Despite these protections, a recently published large-scale demographic study found that the species has been declining at about 3% annually from 1985-2008.  The population decline is accelerating due to continued habitat destruction and ongoing invasion by the nonnative Barred Owl.  On state and private lands, owl declines are significantly greater than on federal lands because of higher rates of nesting habitat loss and inadequate regulatory mechanisms.

While Northern Spotted Owls have been listed under the federal ESA for over 20 years, the State of California has never protected the species under California law.  This clear oversight is out of step with the best available science and should be immediately corrected.  With state ESA protections in place, the California Department of Fish Game must review projects, including private timber harvest, for potential impact on the owl. As a result, state and private forestlands would be better managed for owl recovery.

“The best available science is very clear that Northern Spotted Owls are endangered with extinction,” stated Andrew Orahoske, conservation director for the Environmental Protection Information Center.  “The time has come for the State of California to get to work on recovering this iconic species.”

The Northern Spotted Owl is dependent on late-successional and old-growth forests.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the owl as a threatened species in 1990 due to extensive habitat loss from intensive logging of native forests.  Since that time, population analyses have documented range-wide declines that are attributed to the continued loss of habitat from logging on private lands and from the invasion of a non-native competitor, the Barred Owl.  Clearcut logging fragments older forest stands and exacerbates the threat posed by Barred Owl invasion into forests occupied by Northern Spotted Owl.  Indeed, researchers have found a direct correlation between the likelihood of Barred Owl invasion of Spotted Owl territories and the lack of older forest.

Earlier this year, EPIC delivered a notice of intent to sue billionaire Red Emmerson and his company, Sierra Pacific Industries, for harming Northern Spotted Owls in violation of the Endangered Species Act.  By clearcut logging within known spotted owl territories, the company is engaged in openly hostile actions against individual spotted owls and their young, seemingly designed to eliminate the owl from its lands. Sierra Pacific is currently operating without an approved “take” permit that is required under the law for supervising industrial activities within a protected species habitat.

“Why does a billionaire need to kill spotted owls?” questioned Orahoske. “Small landowners don’t have a chance competing with Sierra Pacific Industries, and yet many small landowners conserve spotted owls on their properties.  Red Emmerson owes it to everyone to protect the spotted owl.”

Between 2009 and 2012 alone, Sierra Pacific Industries’ submitted logging plans that threaten to destroy over 7,000 acres of suitable habitat within known spotted owl territories.  Sierra Pacific is operating outside of the law and engaging in the systematic liquidation of spotted owl habitat.  If necessary, EPIC is prepared to take Sierra Pacific to court to stop these atrocious acts.


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