Action timeline

May 26, 1992 – For the first time, the Center petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the pygmy owl as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act.

December 12, 1994 – The Service announced a proposal to list the pygmy owl as endangered in Arizona, and as threatened in Texas.

March 10, 1997 – Following three successful lawsuits, the species was designated as endangered in Arizona.

March 13, 1998 – The Center sought an injunction against Tucson’s Amphitheater School District, which wanted to build a new school where the endangered cactus ferruginous pygmy owl happened to live. Ultimately, the school was built.

July 12, 1999 – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated 732,000 acres of critical habitat for the owl.

2001 – Developers fought back with a lawsuit seeking to overturn the pygmy owl’s endangered listing. The court narrowly concluded that the Service had not adequately explained its decision that the Arizona population qualified as a “distinct population segment,” which is required in order for it to be protected as an endangered species. A federal judge removed the pygmy owl's critical habitat status on September 19.

August 3, 2005 – The Service published a proposal to delist the pygmy owl.

April 14, 2006 – The Service published a final delisting rule that removed the species from the endangered list.

March 15, 2007 – In March, the Center filed a petition to protect the pygmy owl again as a threatened or endangered species. The petition requested that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service consider protecting either the Sonoran Desert population of pygmy owls, including those living in parts of Sonora; the entire subspecies cactorum, which includes owls living in Arizona, Sonora and Sinaloa; or once again the Arizona population.

May 20, 2008 – The Center, Defenders of Wildlife and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility filed a notice of intent to sue the Service for failing to respond to our petition.

May 30, 2008 – The Service determined that protection for the pygmy owl may be warranted and began a status review.

January 30, 2009 – The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion affirming the decision to delist the pygmy owl, citing a need to defer to the Fish and Wildlife Service on its distinct population segment policy and interpretation of the Endangered Species Act. On the same day, the Center published a statement asserting our intention to continue fighting for the owl’s protection.

July 12, 2011 – The Center reached a landmark agreement with the Fish and Wildlife Service compelling the agency to move forward in the protection process for 757 species, including a new proposal to protect the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl.

August 21, 2012 – The Center and Defenders of Wildlife filed a lawsuit against the Service over the agency’s denial of Endangered Species Act protection to cactus ferruginous pygmy owls following our petition and settlement..

Photo © Robin Silver