SAN FRANCISCO — Federal wildlife officials on Wednesday announced a proposal to classify one of two dwindling owl populations in California found to be endangered following a lawsuit by conservation groups demanding the government review again a decision by the Trump administration not to protect the brown and white birds.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service has suggested that California spotted owls have their coastal habitats and Southern California protected under the Endangered Species Act.
That population “does not have a strong ability to withstand normal changes in environmental conditions, sustain catastrophic events, or adapt to new environmental conditions throughout its range, ” which led the agency to recommend listing it as endangered, wildlife officials said.
The rest of California’s spotted owl population, which lives in the Sierra Nevada forests of California and western Nevada, is classified as threatened, the agency said.
The habitat of the medium-sized brown owl with white spots on its head and chest and a barred tail is under serious threat from current logging practices and climate change, including more drought, disease and more severe wildfires.
Most of the owls seen in California live on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the US Forest Service.
How much the population has declined since conservation groups began their efforts to protect it more than 20 years ago is unclear.
The only available demographic data on spotted owls living in coastal and Southern California was collected in the San Bernardino National Forest and showed a 9% decline, the federal wildlife service said.
The population of the Sierra Nevada showed a decrease from 50% to 31% percentage in some areas, the agency said.
The federal agency’s decision follows an agreement reached in November between the US Fish and Wildlife Service and several conservation groups that sued the federal agency in 2020 over its decision not to protect the owl population in California.
Justin Augustine, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups suing, applauded the agency’s decision and said he was glad to see that the owls found in California will finally get protections. that they need.
Augustine said he plans to use the 60-day public comment period to push for more protections for California’s spotted population in the Sierra Nevada.
“One of the things I’m going to talk about is the issue of how to make sure that the (Sierra Nevada) barred owls are actually protected under their threatened status rather than maybe allowing some logging to happen that’s harmful, ” he said.
The California spotted owl is one of three spotted owl subspecies and the last to be protected under the Endangered Species Act, Augustine said.
The other two subspecies are the northern spotted owl and the Mexican spotted owl.
The northern spotted owl habitat is in Oregon, Washington State and Northern California. The little owl was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1990, sparking a fierce logging battle in the region. In 2020, the Trump Administration refused to upgrade it to endangered status despite losing nearly 4% of its population every year.
The Mexican spotted owl was first listed as threatened in the US in 1993. It is found in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, parts of West Texas and Mexico.
The species is at risk of extinction due to habitat loss to logging, development, mining and fires.