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For Immediate Release, February 5, 2008

Contact:

Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495
Matt Kenna, Western Environmental Law Center, (970) 385-6941, kenna@westernlaw.org

Court Upholds Habitat Protection for Mexican Spotted Owl

PHOENIX, Ariz.— A federal court has upheld protection of 8.6 million acres of critical habitat spread across Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado for the threatened Mexican spotted owl. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated the critical habitat for the owl in 2004. The designation was quickly challenged by the Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association, and the Center for Biological Diversity intervened in support of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“The Mexican spotted owl will continue to get the habitat protection it needs to survive and recover,” said Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “To save endangered species, we have to protect the places they call home.”

The Arizona Cattle Growers alleged among other things that the Fish and Wildlife Service’s critical habitat designation unlawfully included areas not occupied by the species, failed to rely on the best available science, and failed to account for the economic impact of the designation. The court rejected all the Cattle Growers’ arguments.

“This was a complete victory for the Mexican spotted owl,” said attorney Matt Kenna of the Western Environmental Law Center, which represented the Center for Biological Diversity in the case. “All arguments of the Arizona Cattle Growers were rejected, and the critical habitat designation was upheld.”

Critical habitat provides essential protection for endangered species by requiring federal agencies to ensure that any projects they fund, permit, or carry out do not jeopardize the continued existence of endangered species or adversely modify their critical habitat. A published study by the Center for Biological Diversity found that species with designated critical habitat were more than twice as likely to have an improving status and were less than half as likely to be declining as compared to species without critical habitat. In the case of the Mexican spotted owl, critical habitat ensures that Forest Service logging does not drive the owl to extinction or limit their recovery.

“Despite the efforts of the Cattle Growers, the Mexican spotted owl has a chance at recovery,” said Greenwald. “Critical habitat provides an absolutely essential tool to save the owl and the forest habitats it depends on.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation group headquartered in Tucson, Arizona with over 40,000 members, that works to protect and restore endangered species and ecosystems. The Center was represented by Matt Kenna of the Western Environmental Law Center, a nonprofit public interest law firm that works to protect and restore western wildlands and advocates for a healthy environment on behalf of communities throughout the West.

A copy of the court’s decision can be found here:
http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/birds/Mexican_spotted_owl/pdfs/Feb-1-2008-Opinion-and-Order.pdf

A copy of the final rule designating critical habitat for the Mexican spotted owl can be found here:
http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/birds/Mexican_spotted_owl/pdfs/Aug-31-2004-CH-Rule.pdf


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