Wildlife defenders filed a petition just a few days before Christmas, advocating for endangered species protection for the California spotted owl. Logging has decimated owls’ forest habitat causing a significant decline in the population of the species. The Wild Nature Institute and the John Muir Project of the Earth Island Institute filed the request for protective conservation efforts to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
The petition challenged the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) practice of allowing loggers to log in burned forests where the owls flourish. USFS spokesperson, John Hail refuted these claims, stating that the wildfires are a greater threat to the California spotted owls than the logging. He maintains that the agency takes great care to defend, maintain and improve the wildlife habitat. Therefore, they do not believe that extinction is imminent.
Petitioner Chad Hanson, a forest ecologist with the John Muir Project, cites statistics that statewide, the California spotted owl population has declined by approximately 40 percent in the last 30 years. At last count there were about 1,200 nesting pairs scattered around the state from north to south. He insists that federal protection is critical in advocating for the survival of these birds over the next 30 years.
In addition to logging, human encroachment on wildlife areas for development projects cuts huge swaths through the wilderness. The resulting devastation has had serious consequences for the California spotted owls’ natural habitat, according to the Wild Nature Institute’s advocacy spokesperson, Monica Bond. She disputes Hail’s claim that forest fire does more damage than logging and building projects, insisting that the owls need to be defended against the habitat destruction caused by human activity. In addition, an invasive barred owl species has moved into the spotted owls’ habitat, causing competition for food sources that leads to shortages.
The USFWS denied a similar petition in 2006. With the new petition, they can take up to three months to research the evidence and decided if the science backs up the wildlife advocacy groups claims about the the declining population of the California spotted owl. Rangers continually monitor the species and are in the process of updating a study completed in 1992 so that officials have the most current data on which to base their decision regarding the best way to help the owls survive and thrive. If they deem the data substantiated and significant, discussion will commence regarding how to move forward with defensive measures. Until then, they USFWS has declined to comment. They plan to have the study prepared in early 2015 and work will commence on a conservation strategy with the goal to have it ready to roll by 2016.
Bond explains that every other spotted owl subspecies is defended under the Endangered Species Act. The diminishing population and the threats that face the California spotted owl are similar to the conditions facing the Northern and Mexican spotted owls when they were granted a place on the list in the early 90s. Hanson advocates that there is no time to waste in defending the California spotted owl by extending endangered wildlife protections.
By Tamara Christine Van Hooser
West Texas News
Image courtesy of Miguel Vieira – Flickr License