The continuing decline of the Mexican spotted owl mirrors the declining health of Southwestern old-growth forests and riparian areas. Logging of ancient forests, domestic livestock grazing, and a century of fire suppression have reduced spotted owl populations to only 2,000 known owls.

The Center for Biological Diversity has been working to protect the Mexican spotted owl and its old-growth habitat for over 13 years. While much has been accomplished, the struggle to preserve our remaining old-growth and stop the spotted owl's slide towards extinction is far from over . . .

"Our studies support the listing of the Mexican spotted owl as threatened. Based on estimates of vital rates and owl abundance, we have strong evidence of population declines."

Seamans, M.E. R.J. Gutièrrez, C.A. May, and M.Z. Peery. 1999. Demography of two Mexican spotted owl populations. Conservation Biology
13 (4): 744-754

The mysterious and beautiful Mexican spotted owl is the Southwest's most famous old-growth denizen. The spotted owls' scientific name, Strix occidentalis, translates to "owl of the west"—an appropriate name for a species found from southern Utah and Colorado through the mountains of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas southward into the mountains of Central Mexico. Nearly 90% of known owl territories exist on Forest Service administered-lands in Arizona and New Mexico.

Like the other two subspecies of spotted owl, California and Northern, Strix occidentalis lucida has suffered extensive population declines, primarily resulting from extensive logging of ancient forests, associated roadbuilding, and other forest development. It has also been negatively impacted by domestic livestock grazing and the widespread devastation grazing has had on the rare and invaluable riparian forests of the Southwest.

By the late 80's, at the height of the logging industry's and Forest Service's destruction of National Forest lands, only 2,000 Mexican spotted owls were estimated to remain in the world. Recognizing that the owl would soon be extinct if immediate action was not taken, Dr. Robin Silver of the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned to have the species listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1989. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife agreed that the petition was warranted, and the owl was listed as Threatened in March, 1993.

Despite these successes, spotted owl populations continue to decline and the agencies responsible for its protection continue to favor extractive and commercial interests at the expense of this magnificent and mysterious species. Worsening the situation, the Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service have failed to develop and implement long-term population monitoring studies of spotted owl populations; as a result, no one know how many owls exist today or what its population trends are.

However, independent research has documented spotted owl populations on the Gila and Coconino National Forests as declining by at least 10% per year between the years 1991-1997. Since the two populations are approximately 200 miles apart, the researchers believe the entire metapopulation may be declining. Unfortunately the scientists have also continued to detect dwindling populations since 1997. Alarmingly, no owls successfully reproduced in the Gila study area last year.

graphic Andrew Rodman ©2002
August 1, 2003
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