The Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that the California spotted owl does not warrant protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. Disregarding stated concerns in a petition to list the owl as endangered submitted by the Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign and the Center for Biological Diversity in April 2000, and ignoring a record showing the most comprehensive studies to date on owl population trends, the Bush Administration has made it clear that it cares more about corporate logging interests than the protection of old growth forests and at-risk wildlife such as the California spotted owl.
“We believe the Fish and Wildlife Service finding is arbitrary and not supported by evidence in the record,” said Craig Thomas, Director of the Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign, co-author of the owl-listing petition.
“There is no scientific information in the record to suggest a lessening of concern for the owl population in the Sierra Nevada. Ten years of population tracking studies suggest the owl is declining, and the concern for the stability of the population is still high,” said Thomas.
In July 2001, Earthjustice brought a lawsuit on behalf of the Sierra Campaign and others to force the Service to consider a petition to list the owl as endangered. As a result of that lawsuit, the Service was required to determine whether the owl warranted Federal protection by February 10, 2003.
“It appears that we must turn once again to the federal courts to ensure that our environmental laws are enforced and our wildlife are protected,” said Greg Loarie, attorney at Earthjustice.
“It took one lawsuit to put the owl on the Service’s radar screen. Unfortunately, it looks like it will take another before the Service wakes up and acknowledges that this important species is in serious trouble,” said Loarie.
“We believe the Bush Administration has inappropriately interfered with the listing process and prejudiced the outcome. We believe the record will show that due to lack of funding, staffing issues and clear political pressure to change the finding, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has been taken hostage by Department of Interior Secretary Gail Norton and Bush Administration officials who refused to accept legitimate concerns raised by staff,” said Thomas.
“For the Fish & Wildlife Service to claim that harvest strategies on commercial timberlands will provide habitat for owl is ridiculous. The intensive clearcutting, short rotations, and development of uniform plantations on industrial private lands in the Sierra Nevada preclude the development of habitat that supports productive owls,” said Thomas.
There are about 1.8 million acres of industrial forestlands in the Sierra Nevada. These lands also occur within the range of the California spotted owl.
The California spotted owl has been subjected to multiple threats for over a decade throughout its range in the Sierra Nevada and southern California. Recent research links owl productivity and success with tree canopy cover in excess of 50%. However, the proposals released by the Forest Service last week to change the Sierra Nevada Framework suggest that they are considering reducing canopy cover requirements to 40% and increase the harvest of large (>20″ diameter) trees.
“Last week’s proposal by the Forest Service to change management in the Sierra Nevada will result in the immediate loss of habitat quality and puts owl survival in jeopardy,” said Susan Britting, science and policy analyst, Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign.
“In the Bush Administration’s first two years in office it listed 22 species, compared to 199 during first two years of the Clinton Administration. This is a clear demonstration of the Bush Administration’s disregard for the environment and species at risk across the nation and in California in particular,” said Noah Greenwald, ecologist for the Center for Biological Diversity, co-author of the listing petition.
“The degree of threats and decline for the California spotted owl are substantially better documented than for the Northern spotted owl and Mexican spotted owl that are currently listed,” said Greenwald.
In the last six weeks alone, Bush and Norton have denied protection for six species including: the California spotted owl, the Green Sturgeon (1/29); the Tri-state flock trumpeter swans (1/28); the Mountain quail (1/22); and the flat-tailed horned lizard (1/3); the Mono Basin area sage grouse (12/26).