Conservationists Seek to Compel FWS Action on Northern Spotted Owl Protection Status

A group of conservation organizations filed a lawsuit on Tuesday in the Northern District of California seeking to compel the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to publish overdue findings regarding the status of the northern spotted owl, currently listed as “threatened.” The Endangered Species Act (ESA) complaint alleges that the federal agency has failed to meet two deadlines: a five-year review of the species and a 12-month finding regarding the plaintiffs’ petition to up-list the owl to endangered status.

The plaintiffs are environmental and conservation organizations concerned with the welfare of endangered species and their habitats. The groups have thousands of members whose interests are at stake, the filing claims. The plaintiffs included the Environmental Protection Information Center, Cascadia Wildlands, Conservation Northwest, Klamath Forest Alliance, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, and Portland Audubon Society.

Allegedly, the northern spotted owl inhabits “structurally complex forests in the Pacific Northwest, from Washington State to Marin County, California.” The complaint states that even after the species’ 1990 listing as threatened, northern spotted owl populations have continued to decline due to various threats. These reportedly include timber harvesting, increased frequency and intensity of wildfires, and incursion by the non-native barred owl, which competes with the northern spotted owl for food and nesting sites.

In 2012, the environmental groups petitioned the FWS to up-list the northern spotted owl to endangered. In 2015, the FWS agreed that up-listing was a credible idea and took the matter under consideration, starting the clock for its 12-month finding.

In January of this year, the plaintiffs notified the FWS of their intent to sue because the FWS had still neither taken final action on the up-listing petition nor published its five-year species status review. On Mar. 25, the FWS responded, indicating that it would complete and publish the work this summer. To date, the filing contends, the FWS has not propounded either.

The action seeks declaratory and injunctive relief compelling the agency to complete its 12-month finding and five-year species review by “the earliest possible time.”

The plaintiffs are represented by Western Environmental Law Center and the Environmental Protection Information Center.