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Twentieth Anniversary of ESA Listing for Mexican Spotted Owl Brings New Round of Litigation

Date
March 13, 2013
Contact
Bryan Bird (505) 988-9126 x1157
In This Release
Public Lands
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Twentieth Anniversary of ESA Listing for Mexican Spotted Owl Brings New Round of Litigation

WildEarth Guardians Sues Fish and Wildlife Service over its Failure to Reasonably Protect the threatened bird
Contact: Bryan Bird (505) 988-9126 x1157

Tucson, AZ – On the twentieth anniversary of the federallisting of the Mexican spotted owl under the Endangered Species Act, WildEarthGuardians sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) alleging it has failedto ensure the species’ survival and recovery. Specifically, WildEarth Guardiansalleges that the FWS’s recent Biological Opinions for 11 national forests inArizona and New Mexico are groundless and deny the owl protections won two decadesago. These Biological Opinions,which followed a previous round of litigation by Guardians against the U.S.Forest Service, are simply at odds with the best available. The complaint asserts the FWS hasfailed to consider the impacts of widespread forest thinning and logging insouthwestern national forests and has failed to hold the Forest Service to its commitmentto track the bird’s numbers.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service isgiving forest managers a free pass,” Said Bryan Bird, Wild Places ProgramDirector. “No one knows what is worse for the owl — fire or large scalethinning and logging in its critical habitat. The Forest Service has information that the owl actuallyreproduces unusually well in burned forests. Nonetheless the Forest Service charges ahead in a haze offire hysteria.”

The Mexican spotted owl was provided protection under theEndangered Species Act two decades ago on March 16 and lawsuits by WildEarthGuardians lead to robust protections for the bird in the mid nineties. One ofthe strongest requirements was for the Forest Service to monitor the populationtrends of owls and the effects of its forest management activities on thosetrends. However, WildEarth Guardians charges that the Forest Service failed toacquire this critical information and that the FWS turned a blind eye in recentBiological Opinions.

Meanwhile, even after two decades of protected status,circumstances for the Mexican spotted owl continue to deteriorate. The best available evidence onpopulation trends of owls shows that the species has suffered recent declinesin its population – with some local populations appearing to have gone extinctsince listing. At the same time,the FWS endorses the Forest Service’s increasingly aggressive thinning and loggingprojects on national forest lands, at levels of intensity far greater thancontemplated by the FWS’s Recovery Plan and the Forest Service’s owl standardsand guidelines under the pretext that such thinning is necessary to protect theowl and its habitat.

“The 20th anniversaryof the Mexican spotted owls’ formal status as a threatened species serves as aclarion call that ESA listing is not enough to conserve and recover thatspecies. Listing is meaningless iffederal agencies do not follow through,” said Steven Sugarman, attorney forWildEarth Guardians. “It isespecially disheartening to witness the Fish and Wildlife Service – a species’last line of defense – subordinate science to politics.”

Recent moves by the Forest Service to weaken safeguards forthe Mexican spotted owl in Arizona and New Mexico in order to facilitatelogging ignore any and all science. Most alarmingly, draft forest plans fromArizona have dropped the standards and guidelines protecting the owl that werehard won by environmentalists two decades ago. Clearly the FWS and the Forest Service share responsibilityfor their woeful mismanagement of owl conservation, and Guardians is todayproviding the Forest Service with a 60-day notice of its intent to join the ForestService as a defendant in the lawsuit.

View the complainthere

A Short Summary ofthe MSO

Key Excerpts from the2012 MSO Revised Recovery Plan

 

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“The Fish and Wildlife Service is giving forest managers a free pass,” Said Bryan Bird, Wild Places Program Director. “No one knows what is worse for the owl -- fire or large scale thinning and logging in its critical habitat. The Forest Service has information that the owl actually reproduces unusually well in burned forests. Nonetheless the Forest Service charges ahead in a haze of fire hysteria.”
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