Lawsuit Challenges Trump Administration’s Refusal to Protect California Spotted Owl

Administration denies protections by denying their own scientific assessment


Elizabeth Forsyth, Earthjustice, (213) 766-1067

Conservationists today sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for refusing to protect California spotted owls under the Endangered Species Act.

The lawsuit asserts that the November 2019 decision to deny protection to the California spotted owl was unlawful and not supported by the Service’s own scientific assessment, which confirmed dramatic population declines in four out of five study areas and found that the owls face increasing threats. It was filed in San Francisco by the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Forest Legacy, Defenders of Wildlife, a coalition represented by Earthjustice.

The California subspecies of spotted owls lives in old-growth forest in the Sierra Nevada and in the mountains of coastal and Southern California. Its habitat is under serious threat from current logging practices and climate change impacts, including increased drought, disease and uncharacteristic fires.

“This iconic species needs the protection provided by the Endangered Species Act if it is to survive,” said Elizabeth Forsyth, staff attorney at Earthjustice’s Los Angeles office. “The Fish and Wildlife Service’s own assessment shows the threats to the California spotted owl’s survival are increasing dramatically and that, without protection, the California spotted owl will likely be wiped out from large portions of its range.”

Conservation groups have been fighting for protections for decades, presenting evidence of population decline throughout the spotted owl’s range, as well as habitat degradation caused by forestry management practices.

“California spotted owls are in real trouble,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The destruction of their old-growth forest habitat through logging, urban sprawl, and climate change pose a dire threat to those birds, and only the Endangered Species Act can save them.”

“Despite 20 years of scientific data showing that California spotted owl populations are declining, the FWS once again caved to pressure from federal agencies and the timber industry by not listing this species,” said Susan Britting, executive director of Sierra Forest Legacy. “Our only recourse to save this species is to hold the agency accountable for ignoring the scientific data that supports listing.”

“For far too long, the California spotted owl has been caught in political crosshairs, while its populations steadily decline,” said Pamela Flick, California program director for Defenders of Wildlife. “Without federal protections to stem habitat loss and prevent forest mismanagement, the owl will likely remain on a path towards extinction. Defenders will continue to fight in court to save this species and the old forests these owls need to survive.”

Read the complaint.

A California spotted owl in the Stanislaus National Forest.
A California spotted owl in the Stanislaus National Forest. (Ryan Kalinowski / U.S. Forest Service)

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