By a unanimous vote, on August 25, 2016, the California Fish and Wildlife Commission listed the northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis) under the California Endangered Species Act. The Commission’s decision ended the four year review process, first initiated by the Environmental Protection Information Center’s (EPIC) petition for listing in 2012.
EPIC’s petition follows numerous studies showing the owl’s quickening progress towards extinction. The northern spotted owl is under siege on many fronts. Northern spotted owls are threatened with extinction by past and ongoing habitat loss, primarily due to timber harvest, which can exacerbate competition from the aggressive and invasive barred owl. The increasingly rare and old growth forest adapted owls are now understood to be at risk from the use of rodenticides and other poisons used in large scale trespass marijuana operations, and there is increasing concern about what the impacts of climate change will be on the forest ecosystems that the owls call home.
“The listing of the northern spotted owl is one small step towards recovery,” said Tom Wheeler, Program Director at EPIC. “The owl was here long before us. It is our moral obligation to ensure that the owl will continue to roam our forests long after we are gone.”
While the northern spotted owl is found across the West Coast, California’s population is the species’ greatest stronghold. Protecting California’s owls is key to protecting the species at large. California’s population can act as a “source” for recolonizing areas where the local population is depressed or has gone extinct.
The northern spotted owl has been listed as “threatened” under the Federal Endangered Species Act since 1990. The listing of the northern spotted owl has slowed the decline of the spotted owl but has not arrested it. Additional protections and conservation measures are necessary to stop the owl’s decline and to put it on a track to recovery.
“As evidenced by the owl’s decline, our current protections are not up to snuff,” said Rob DiPerna, Forest and Wildlife Advocate for EPIC. “I hope that all stakeholders can set aside differences and work together towards recovery.”