Conserving the Nature of America

News Release

Listing of California Spotted Owl Found Not Warranted

May 23, 2006


Division of Public Affairs
External Affairs
Telephone: 703-358-2220

More Information on California Spotted Owl

Service finds that most owl populations are stable or increasing in the Sierra Nevada

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has concluded that most owl populations in the Sierra Nevada are stable or increasing and is denying a petition to list the California spotted owl under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

In responding to a second petition to list the species in three years, the Service conducted a comprehensive study of the California spotted owl populations. It assessed the best scientific and commercial information available; reviewed comments and information received during two public-comment periods; and consulted with recognized spotted-owl experts and Federal and state resource agencies, including an interagency Science Team. The agency has concluded that the California spotted owl should not be listed as a threatened or endangered species under the ESA.

Among the Services conclusions:

  • The best available data indicate most California spotted owl populations in the Sierra Nevada are stable or increasing and adult survival rates show an increasing trend.
  • The San Bernardino population in Southern California does show a statistically non-significant decline. But in light of the health of all California spotted owl populations, this decline does not warrant a listing of the California spotted owl.
  • Forest fuels reduction activities, notably those provided for in the Sierra Nevada Forest Plan Amendment of 2004, may have a short-term impact on owl populations. But fuels reduction will have a long-term benefit to California spotted owls by reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfires that pose a major threat to California spotted owl habitat.
  • Barred owls, which have had an adverse impact on northern spotted owls in Washington and Oregon, have not been detected in the mountains of Southern California and have moved into the Sierra Nevada at much slower rates than they did in other parts of western North America.
  • The largest private landowner in the Sierra Nevada, Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI), has outlined strategies that provide certain owl protections on their land. SPI conducts surveys for spotted owls before timber harvests, buffers nest centers from disturbances, and protects forest units with nesting spotted owls from harvest altogether. According to documents the company submitted to California forestry officials, the company estimates that, as its forests mature, habitat with nest-site characteristics will more than double during the next 100 years.

"According to a team of scientists convened especially to review the status of the California spotted owl, catastrophic wildfire is the primary threat to spotted owls," said Steve Thompson, manager of the Fish and Wildlife Services California/Nevada Operations Office. "While the current evidence does not support listing the owl at this time, the fuels-reduction efforts begun by the U.S. Forest Service in the Sierra Nevada and Southern California will be essential to keeping the California spotted owl off the endangered species list in the future."

"We support fuel reduction efforts," said Ryan Broddrick, director for the California Department of Fish and Game. "Our desire is to monitor the habitat for all species and insure the overall health of our forests, avoiding the impacts on wildlife from catastrophic wildfires."

This is the Services second review of the species in recent years and both were triggered by petitions or lawsuits by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign and other organizations.

In February 2003, the Service found that listing of the California spotted owl was not warranted because the overall magnitude of threats did not rise to the level requiring protection under the ESA. In May 2004, the petitioners filed a lawsuit challenging that finding. In September 2004, they submitted a new petition to list the California spotted owl.

The petition contended that several changes have taken place in recent years that may affect the status and distribution of the California spotted owl. They include further range expansion of the barred owl (which competes with the spotted owl and takes over its territory); recent fires in spotted owl habitat; revisions to the Sierra Nevada Forest Plan Amendment; new state forestry regulations, and new information regarding the status of owls population.

In June 2005, the Service completed an initial review, known as a 90-day finding under the ESA, that found that conditions have changed, which warranted a more extensive study. This announcement is the result of that study.

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