[Federal Register: October 12, 2000 (Volume 65, Number 198)]
[Proposed Rules]               
[Page 60605-60607]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants: 90-Day Finding on 
a Petition to List the California Spotted Owl as Threatened or 

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of 90-day petition finding.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce a 
90-day finding on a petition to list the California spotted owl (Strix 
occidentalis occidentalis) as threatened or endangered, under the 
Endangered Species Act (Act) of 1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et 
seq.). We find that the petition presents substantial information 
indicating that listing the species may be warranted. A status review 
is initiated.

DATES: The finding announced in this document was made on October 5, 
2000. To be considered in the 12-month finding for this petition, 
comments and information should be submitted to the Service by December 
11, 2000.

ADDRESSES: Data, information, comments, or questions concerning this 
petition should be submitted to the Field Supervisor; Sacramento Fish 
and Wildlife Office; Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office; 2800 Cottage 
Way, Room W-2605; Sacramento, California 95825. The petition finding, 
supporting literature, and comments are available for public 
inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours at the above 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Catherine Hibbard or Maria Boroja at 
the Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office (see ADDRESSES section above), 
or at (916) 414-6600.



    Section 4(b)(3)(A) of the Endangered Species Act (Act) of 1973, as 
amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), requires that the Service make a 
finding on whether a petition to list, delist, or reclassify a species 
presents substantial information indicating that the petitioned action 
may be warranted. This finding is based on information contained in the 
petition, supporting information submitted with the petition, and 
information otherwise available to us at the time we make the finding. 
To the maximum extent practicable, we make this finding within 90 days 
of the

[[Page 60606]]

receipt of the petition, and the finding is to be published promptly in 
the Federal Register. If we find that substantial information was 
presented, we commence a review of the status of the involved species.
    The processing of this petition conforms with the Service's final 
listing priority guidance published in the Federal Register on October 
22, 1999 (64 FR 57114). The guidance clarifies the order in which we 
process rulemakings. Highest priority is processing emergency listing 
rules for any species determined to face a significant and imminent 
risk to its well-being (Priority 1). Second priority (Priority 2) is 
processing final determinations on proposed additions to the lists of 
endangered and threatened wildlife and plants. Third priority (Priority 
3) is processing new proposals to add species to the lists. The 
processing of administrative petition findings (petitions filed under 
section 4 of the Act) is the fourth priority. The processing of 
critical habitat determinations (prudency and determinability 
decisions) and proposed or final designations of critical habitat will 
be funded separately from other section 4 listing actions and will no 
longer be subject to prioritization under the listing priority 
guidance. The processing of this petition finding is a Priority 4 
    We have made a 90-day finding on a petition to list the California 
spotted owl as a threatened or endangered species. On April 3, 2000, we 
received a petition dated April 2000, to list the California spotted 
owl as a threatened or endangered species. The petition was submitted 
by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Nevada Forest 
Protection Campaign, who acted on the behalf of themselves and 14 other 
organizations. The letter clearly identified itself as a petition, and 
the names, signatures, and addresses of representatives of the two 
parties submitting the petition followed in a letter dated April 17, 
2000. The petitioners requested the Service to designate critical 
habitat for the California spotted owl concurrent with listing, and 
also requested emergency listing and emergency critical habitat 
designation. The petition referenced supporting information on the 
subspecies' description, natural history, habitat, and population 
status. It also presented threats to the California spotted owl 
including present or threatened destruction, modification, or 
curtailment of the subspecies' habitat or range; other natural or 
manmade factors affecting the subspecies' continued existence; 
predation; and the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms to 
protect the subspecies. This notice constitutes the 90-day finding for 
the April 3, 2000, petition.
    The California spotted owl is one of three recognized subspecies of 
spotted owls. The other subspecies, the northern spotted owl (Strix 
occidentalis caurina), and the Mexican spotted owl (Strix occidentalis 
lucida), were listed by the Service as threatened. The final rule to 
list the northern spotted owl was published in the Federal Register on 
June 26, 1990 (55 FR 26114-26194) and the final rule to list the 
Mexican spotted owl was published in the Federal Register on March 16, 
1993 (58 FR 14248-14271). Genetic studies have found evidence of 
interbreeding between the northern and California subspecies 
(Barrowclough et al. 1999).
    The California spotted owl occurs on the west side of the Sierra 
Nevada from Shasta County south to the Tehachapi Pass. It also occurs 
on the eastern side of the Sierra, in the central Coast Ranges at least 
as far north as Monterey County, and in all major mountains of Southern 
California including the San Bernardino, San Gabriel, Tehachapi, north 
and south Santa Lucia, Santa Ana, Liebre/Sawmill, San Diego, San 
Jacinto, and Los Padres ranges.
    The petition and accompanying documentation state that the 
California spotted owl qualifies for listing under the Act due to 
potential habitat destruction and modification, predation, the 
inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms to protect the subspecies, 
and other natural or human-caused factors affecting its continued 
existence. The petitioners contend that the California spotted owl is 
threatened by destruction, modification, or curtailment of habitat or 
range by logging on public and private lands, urban development, 
livestock grazing, mining, recreation, and road construction. According 
to the petitioners, logging, livestock grazing, and fire suppression 
have altered fire regimes over the range of the California spotted owl, 
putting some owl habitat at risk to loss by catastrophic fire. They 
also assert that habitat loss and modification may increase predation 
or the negative effects of climate on California spotted owls. Finally, 
they cite existing regulations or guidelines to manage California 
spotted owl habitat on public and private lands as inadequate 
regulatory mechanisms to protect the owl and its habitat.
    The distribution and abundance of California spotted owls before 
intensive surveys were initiated in the late 20th century is largely 
unknown. As summarized in the petition, recent estimates of population 
change suggest populations of California spotted owls in the Lassen, 
Eldorado, and Sierra National Forests and in the San Bernardino 
Mountains of southern California have been significantly declining over 
the past several years, while a population of owls in the Sequoia/Kings 
Canyon National Park may be stable (Steger et al. 1999). These 
differences were attributed to higher rates of adult survival in the 
park (Steger et al. 1999).
    Where owls are declining, modeled estimates indicate annual 
declines of 7-10 percent, but these estimates may not reflect true 
rates of declines for several reasons as discussed by Noon et al. 
(1992), Verner (1999) and USDA (2000). However, the declining trends of 
California spotted owls suggested by these models are generally 
corroborated by actual declines in occupied sites (Gordon Gould, 
California Department of Fish and Game, pers. comm., 2000). Most or all 
researchers studying the demography of California spotted owls agree 
that populations are declining, but uncertainty exists about the 
steepness of the decline (Verner 1999). For the Sierra Nevada, the 
Forest Service (USDA 2000) concluded ``In summary, the demographic 
studies strongly suggest population declines in California spotted 
owls. The declines are sufficient to warrant concern, even in light of 
uncertainties in the magnitude of the declines.''
    No studies have been designed to test cause and effects of 
population declines of California spotted owls (Verner 1999). Gutierrez 
(1994) stated that logging has caused the greatest loss of habitat for 
all subspecies of spotted owls. California spotted owls in the Sierra 
Nevada may have undergone at least three periods of decline due to: (1) 
The elimination of prey species by intensive livestock grazing and 
burning in the 1800s; (2) logging beginning in the late 1800s, which 
removed basic elements of owl habitat; and (3) recent logging of 
regenerated stands (Gutierrez 1994).
    We have reviewed the petition and other information available in 
our files. Based on this review, we find that listing the California 
spotted owl as threatened or endangered may be warranted. When we make 
a positive finding, we are also required to promptly commence a review 
of the status of the species. Based on available and any newly obtained 
information, we will issue a 12-month finding as required by section 
4(b)(3)(B) of the Act.
    The petitioners requested that critical habitat be designated for 
the California spotted owl and also requested emergency listing and 

[[Page 60607]]

designation of critical habitat. We note that emergency listing and 
designation of critical habitat are not petitionable actions under the 
Act. Based on the information presented in the petition, the habitat 
loss and other threats to the species have been long-standing and 
ongoing for many years. There are no imminent, devastating actions that 
could result in the extinction of the species. Therefore, we find that 
an emergency situation does not exist. The 12-month finding will 
address the issue of critical habitat.

Public Information Requested

    The Service hereby announces its formal review of the species' 
status pursuant to this 90-day petition finding. We request additional 
data, comments, and suggestions from the public, other concerned 
governmental agencies, the scientific community, industry, or any other 
interested parties regarding the status of the California spotted owl. 
Of particular interest is information pertaining to the factors the 
Service uses to determine if a species is threatened or endangered: (1) 
the present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of 
its habitat or range; (2) overutilization for commercial, recreational, 
scientific, or educational purposes; (3) disease or predation; (4) the 
inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; and (5) other natural or 
manmade factors affecting its continued existence.
    If you wish to comment, you may submit your comments and materials 
concerning this finding to the Field Supervisor, Sacramento Fish and 
Wildlife Office (see ADDRESSES section). Our practice is to make 
comments, including names and home addresses of respondents, available 
for public review during regular business hours. Respondents may 
request that we withhold their home address, which we will honor to the 
extent allowable by law. There also may be circumstances in which we 
would withhold a respondent's identity, as allowable by law. If you 
wish us to withhold your name and/or address, you must state this 
request prominently at the beginning of your comment. However, we will 
not consider anonymous comments. To the extent consistent with 
applicable law, we will make all submissions from organizations or 
businesses, and from individuals identifying themselves as 
representatives or officials of organizations or businesses, available 
for public inspection in their entirety. Comments and materials 
received will be available for public inspection, by appointment, 
during normal business hours at the above address.

References Cited

    You may request a complete list of all references we cited, as well 
as others, from the Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office (see ADDRESSES 
    Author: The primary author of this document is Catherine Hibbard, 
Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office (see ADDRESSES section).

    Authority:  The authority for this action is the Endangered 
Species Act of 1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.).

    Dated: October 5, 2000.
Jamie Rappaport Clark,
Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 00-26181 Filed 10-11-00; 8:45 am]