For Immediate Release, May 30, 2008
Contact: Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495
Pygmy Owl One Step Closer to Being Protected
Again as an Endangered Species
TUCSON, Ariz.— In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that protection for the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl as an endangered species may be again warranted and will now conduct a one-year status review.
“The pygmy owl should never have been removed from the endangered species list,” said Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity and primary author of the petition. “The pygmy owl is near extinction in Arizona and sharply declining in northern Sonora. It desperately needs the protection of the Endangered Species Act to survive.”
The cactus ferruginous pygmy owl was listed as an endangered species in Arizona in 1997. In 2003, a federal court ordered the Fish and Wildlife Service to better explain its decision that the Arizona population is “distinct” from birds in Mexico. In response, the agency removed the population from the list in 2006, arguing that while the pygmy owl is highly endangered, it does not qualify as a “distinct population segment” because it is not significant to the species as a whole. This conclusion ignored information, which was very much available at the time, that the pygmy owl in Arizona, Sonora, and Sinaloa is a distinct subspecies and that birds in Arizona and Sonora are distinct. Today’s finding indicates the agency will now consider this information.
“Today’s decision is a first step toward correcting the politically motivated, poorly supported, and wrong-headed decision to remove the pygmy owl’s protection,” said Greenwald. “We hope the Fish and Wildlife Service will move quickly to restore protection to this unique bird before it is too late.”
The pygmy-owl population in Arizona is perilously small and has declined from 41 birds in 1999 to fewer than 30 birds in recent years. Rampant urban sprawl has contributed to the near-extirpation of pygmy owls in northwest Tucson, where only one individual was found in 2006. Likewise, in northern Sonora, surveys demonstrate that pygmy owls have declined by 26 percent since 2000.