Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, August 30, 2016

Contact: Justin Augustine, (503) 910-9214,

Settlement Sets Deadline for Protection Decision for California Spotted Owls

OAKLAND, Calif.The Center for Biological Diversity reached a settlement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today requiring the agency to decide by 2019 whether California spotted owls warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act. The owls thrive in the mature, conifer forests of the Sierra Nevadas but are in decline due to a host of threats, including clearcutting on private lands and commercial and post-fire logging on public lands, as well as climate change, development and competition from barred owls. The most recent analyses of the owls’ condition show they are in serious decline everywhere in the Sierra except on national park lands, where logging is prohibited. 

California spotted owl
Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service. This photo is available for media use.

“Endangered Species Act protection is essential if we’re going to turn around the decline of California spotted owls,” said Justin Augustine, an attorney at the Center. “The Endangered Species Act’s singular focus on species conservation is what these owls desperately need. Again and again the Act’s proven to be the critical factor in putting this country’s wildlife on the road to recovery.”

The Center first petitioned to protect California spotted owls in 2000 and has filed multiple lawsuits on behalf of these imperiled birds. In 2006 the owls were denied Endangered Species Act protection, in part because the Fish and Wildlife Service believed the owl population data was uncertain. Ten years later, however, research unequivocally shows that these birds have been, and continue to be, in a steep downward trend. The U.S. Forest Service and private timber companies manage the majority of conifer forest in the Sierra region and continue to routinely log it, threatening the owls’ future. 

“Californians and visitors from around the world dearly love the forests and mountains of the Sierra,” said Augustine. “Protecting spotted owls under the Endangered Species Act will not only give these beautiful birds the help they urgently need — it’ll also provide priceless benefits to everyone who cares about the wildness of the Sierra.”

Under the terms of a 2011 agreement with the Service, the Center can choose 10 species per year for expedited decisions on whether they should receive Endangered Species Act protection. The other nine priority species for 2016, with the years in which they will receive decisions, include the monarch butterfly (2019), alligator snapping turtle (2020), Virgin River spinedace (2021), Northern Rockies fisher (2017), foothill yellow-legged frog (2020), Canoe Creek pigtoe (2020), beaverpond marstonia (2017), cobblestone tiger beetle (2019) and Barrens topminnow (2017). Under the settlement 147 species have gained protection to date, and 35 species have been proposed for protection.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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