Conserving the Nature of America
Press Release
Northern Spotted Owl’s Threatened Status to Remain Unchanged
Conservation, timber regulations won’t change under ‘warranted but precluded’ decision

December 14, 2020

Contact(s):

Jodie Delavan, 503-231-6984 or jodie_delavan@fws.gov 



PORTLAND, Ore. — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today a “warranted but precluded” finding for the northern spotted owl. The decision means that a reclassification from threatened to endangered is warranted, but the Service will not take any new actions at this time because listing as endangered is precluded by higher priority actions.  

This decision is based on a rigorous scientific report that was peer reviewed by academic, industry and resource agency experts. The primary threat to the survival of the northern spotted owl is competition from the aggressive and invasive barred owl, while ongoing habitat loss, primarily from wildfire, constitutes an additional threat.   

A change in status from threatened to endangered would not result in any additional regulatory restrictions under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), nor substantively impact the conservation of spotted owls.  

“Ongoing research tells us that northern spotted owls are in danger of disappearing in large parts of their range,” said Robyn Thorson, Regional Director for the Service’s Columbia-Pacific Northwest Region. “Habitat conservation measures on federal lands have been working well, but increased competition from the invasive barred owl has severely impacted spotted owl populations.  We’re committed to continue working closely with federal and state agencies, timber interests, and other stakeholders to conserve the spotted owl and support sustainable timber harvest and rural communities.”  

Through collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management under the Northwest Forest Plan, the Service has successfully managed timber harvest on federal lands to conserve northern spotted owl habitat since 1994.  However, loss of habitat from wildfire is ongoing, and the threat from the barred owls has greatly intensified.  Barred owls have increased their range during recent years, encroaching on spotted owl territories and out-competing the smaller, less-aggressive spotted owl.   

An experiment was initiated in 2013 to test whether the removal of barred owls from northern spotted owl habitat is a feasible management tool to conserve populations of spotted owl; preliminary results of that experiment have been promising, though final results are still a few years away.  

For more than 20 years, federal and state agencies, communities and industry have collaborated to protect habitat for the owl. As a result of this hard work, the Service has avoided needing to list other species, including the Siskiyou Mountain salamander. 

The Service endeavors to balance essential protections for the owl with critical economic activity provided by the timber industry in the Pacific Northwest and northern California. The Service will continue to collaborate with federal agencies and partners on active forest management projects that promote forest health, support jobs and sustain local communities while protecting owls and other forest species. Consultation and coordination with other federal agencies will proceed under streamlined consultation procedures that result in reduced timeframes and redundancies. 

The reclassifying the northern spotted owl will be included in the Service’s National Listing Workplan, which established prioritized workload for listing decisions based on the needs of the species and our review of scientific information.   

The warranted but precluded finding will publish in the Federal Register on December 15, 2020. For more information on the northern spotted owl, visit https://ecos.fws.gov/ecp/species/1123


The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.

For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit http://www.fws.gov/. Connect with our Facebook page, follow our tweets, watch our YouTube Channel and download photos from our Flickr page.