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For Immediate Release, January 30, 2009

Contact: Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495

Center for Biological Diversity Continues Fight to Protect
Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy Owl

TUCSON, Ariz.—Despite an adverse ruling today from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on a challenge to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2006 decision to remove protection for the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl, the Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife continue to advocate for the small, desert-dwelling owl through a petition to have the species protected again under the Endangered Species Act. In response to this petition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined on May 30, 2007 that protection for the pygmy owl may be warranted again and initiated a one-year status review.

“With a new administration, we’re hopeful that the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl will receive the protection it desperately needs to survive and recover,” said Noah Greenwald, biodiversity program director with the Center for Biological Diversity and primary author of the petition. “The court has never said that the pygmy owl does not deserve protection, but rather that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has the discretion to determine whether and how it will provide such protection.”

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. As part of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s status review, the agency is now considering whether to protect the pygmy owl in Arizona and portions of Mexico.

“We hope the Fish and Wildlife Service under the Obama administration will move quickly to restore protection to this unique bird before it is too late,” said Greenwald.

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.

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