California Spotted Owl Gets Endangered Species Act Protections After 23 Years


Agreement leads federal agency to implement some safeguards


Justin Augustine, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 844-7102,

Elizabeth Forsyth, Earthjustice, (206) 531-0841

Jacqueline Covey, Defenders of Wildlife,

Susan Britting, Sierra Forest Legacy,

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it will protect the California spotted owl under the Endangered Species Act. The owls have seen their numbers dwindle because of logging and climate change, among other threats.

Today’s proposal would list the owl’s southern/coastal population as endangered. The Sierra population would receive threatened status, but a 4d loophole would exempt many logging operations from having to comply with the Act’s rules.

This announcement stems from a legal agreement that was reached between the Service and Sierra Forest Legacy, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Center for Biological Diversity, which were represented by Earthjustice. The lawsuit sought to push the agency to reconsider its 2019 decision not to protect the owl.

Today’s decision marks the culmination of more than 20 years of advocacy by environmental groups to achieve protections for the owl to address its rapidly declining population. The California spotted owl is one of three spotted owl subspecies and the last to be protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The California subspecies of spotted owl lives in mature and old-growth forests 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, including increased drought, disease, and more extreme wildfires. Habitat destruction is the number one driver of global biodiversity loss.

The groups sued the Service in 2020 challenging the agency’s finding that protection wasn’t warranted.

“California’s spotted owl is an iconic species that exists nowhere else in the world,” said Elizabeth Forsyth, Earthjustice biodiversity defense program attorney. “The Endangered Species Act is the strongest tool we have to protect imperiled animals and plants, and we celebrate this crucial step toward ensuring the California spotted owls’ continued survival.”

“These much-needed protections for the California spotted owl are long overdue,” said Pam Flick, California program director with Defenders of Wildlife. “The best available science demonstrates that most California spotted owl populations have been declining for many years. These new protections under the Endangered Species Act will give this species a fighting chance at recovery.”

“It took way too long for California spotted owls to be proposed for Endangered Species Act protections, but I’m thrilled they may finally get these crucial safeguards,” said Justin Augustine, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “I urge the Fish and Wildlife Service to move quickly to bring these endearing birds back from the brink.”

“The listing of California spotted owl gives us a much-needed conservation tool to protect this imperiled species and its habitat,” said Susan Britting, executive director for Sierra Forest Legacy. “We are looking to work with the Service and others to use these protections to reverse the decline of this magnificent species.”

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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