Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.


April 16, 2003

CONTACT: Martin Taylor, Ph.D., Conservation Biologist, 520 623 5252 x 307

TUCSON, ARIZONA: Location data for the Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy Owl recently
released by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reveal that the recently proposed
critical habitat area does not even include all known owl locations.

After a lawsuit in Washington DC by a national developers’ lobby, Fish and
Wildlife Service was ordered to release historical and recent locations. Center
biologist and member of the Recovery Team Dr Martin Taylor analyzed the newly
released data and discovered that the area of critical habitat proposed by Fish
and Wildlife leaves out 12% of recent owl locations.

“The law says critical habitat is supposed to include not just all the occupied
areas, but unoccupied areas that they can expand into as they start to recover.
But this proposal doesn’t even meet the first test” Taylor explained.

Locations from different periods were extracted from newly released documents,
entered into a database and analyzed using Geographic Information Systems, as
shown on the attached map. It was found that:-

  • Of 170 discrete locations stretching back to the late 1800s, 46 (27%) fall
    outside of proposed critical habitat. 138 discrete locations have been recorded
    since 1990, and of these, 17 (12%) fall outside of the proposed critical

  • Owls went extinct in Maricopa county as recently as the 1980s, and many recent
    surveys have failed to turn up survivors. The areas where they used to be found
    have been largely paved over or channelized by development and agriculture.

  • Owls were found nearly to Clifton on the Gila River and around Dudleyville on
    the San Pedro River as recently as the 1980s, but few surveys for owls seem to
    have been done since. Owls may still be present and yet no critical habitat is
    in place to protect them.

  • Owls were found in the 1990s in the canyons east of Tucson, in northwest
    Tucson just outside the edges of critical habitat, and near Patagonia Lake, but
    none of these areas are included in critical habitat.
  • Locations for owls on Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and Saguaro National
    Park and perhaps also on other Federal Lands are still being withheld by the
    Fish and Wildlife Service. However, owls have previously been reported to occur
    in Organ Pipe and likely also to occur in Saguaro National Park, and yet
    portions of these areas are also left out of critical habitat.

The Center is concerned that with only 18 owls left, the Bush administration is
denying the owls desperately needed critical habitat that could mean the
difference between recovery or extinction.

“We did another analysis of nearly 700 endangered species and found that
populations were much more likely to be recovering if they had critical habitat.
” Taylor revealed, referring to an analysis showing that species with critical
habitat were 9% less likely to be declining in population numbers and 13% were
more likely to be improving than species without critical habitat in the 1996
survey of population status done by the Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Critical habitat has been amputated by the Bush administration at a time when
owl numbers are plummeting and development is wiping out their habitat in
northwest Tucson,” Taylor added.

Fish and Wildlife Service reported only 18 owls were found last year, half of
the number found in 2001. The pygmy owl was declared endangered in 1997, five
years after the original petition was filed by the Center in 1992. Major threats
to the owl and its habitat are urban development, agriculture, loss of
historical streamside habitat due to aquifer depletion, dams and diversions,
livestock grazing, and disturbances such as construction, vehicles and shooting.


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