The Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC), represented by the Western Environmental Law Center, gave formal notice of its intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (the Service) for violations of the Endangered Species Act that harm the threatened northern spotted owl. EPIC is challenging a permit issued by the Service to Sierra Pacific Industries, California’s largest landowner, to “take” northern spotted owls, which would impede their recovery.
The northern spotted owl was listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1990. Since listing, the owl’s decline has steepend and the species is at risk of extinction within 50 years. The northern spotted owl’s decline is primarily caused by historic and ongoing habitat loss and competition from invasive barred owls and both habitat protections and barred owl removal are necessary for the species’ survival. The northern spotted owl requires mature or old-growth forests to survive and its habitat demands have made conservation controversial. Already, northern spotted owls are functionally extinct in the wild in British Columbia.
“Bringing the spotted owl back from the brink of extinction will require a concerted effort between the federal government, states, private landowners, and the conservation community,” said Sangye Ince-Johannsen, staff attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center. “It isn’t too late for this iconic species, or it doesn’t have to be. But instead of applying lessons learned in over 30 years since listing the species, the Service rubber-stamped unproven experimental measures that will likely only accelerate its decline, and locked them into a 50-year permit.”
“The northern spotted owl is quickly trending towards extinction,” said Tom Wheeler, executive director of EPIC. “We don’t have time for games. We need to protect the owl’s remaining habitat and vigorously expand barred owl removal efforts to forestall the owl’s extinction.”
In the waning years of the Trump administration, the Service approved an “incidental take permit” for Sierra Pacific Industries allowing the company to “take” northern spotted owls—a legal term meaning to “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.” In exchange for the permit, the company agreed to some habitat protections—far less than what spotted owl biologists say are necessary for the species. This violates the Endangered Species Act and jeopardizes the northern spotted owl’s long-term survival.
EPIC is represented by Sangye Ince-Johannsen, Sadie Normoyle, and Pete Frost of the Western Environmental Law Center. The Service has 60 days to correct the aggrieved actions, after which EPIC will file suit.