Fish and Wildlife Evaluating Status of Spotted Owl, Endangered or Merely Threatened?


Northern Spotted Owl [Photo courtesy of Wikicommons]

Both the Department of Fish and Wildlife and EPIC have issued press releases about the re-evaluation of the status of the spotted owl. The spotted owl has become an icon for the conflict between the timber industry and environmentalists. “Save a logger/ Eat an owl” was a popular bumper sticker on the North Coast for several years during the

Press release provided by Department of Fish and Wildlife:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is commencing an evaluation of the status of the northern spotted owl, as required under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

This review is the result of a petition to change the status of the owl from threatened to endangered. The review will also serve as the five-year review of the species as required under the ESA, and which was last completed in 2011. A five-year status review evaluates whether a federally protected species should remain listed, or if it meets the criteria for reclassification.

A petition from the Environmental Protection Information Center requested the northern spotted owl be reclassified from threatened to endangered under the ESA. The ensuing 90-day finding, which will publish in the Federal Register on April 10, determined the petition included substantial information that warrants further review, which automatically triggers a 12-month species review The Service will not make any finding as to whether the status of the species has changed until after that review.

The population of the northern spotted owl, which is currently listed as threatened, is declining across most of the species’ range. The most recent available data on the owl report a 2.9 percent range-wide population decline per year, although declines as high as 5.9 percent per year have been observed in some areas.

The two main threats to the survival of the northern spotted owl are habitat loss and competition from barred owls. Barred owls have spread westward, encroaching on spotted owl territories and out-competing them. While the Northwest Forest Plan has helped reduce habitat loss on federal lands since 1994, the threat from barred owls has intensified. Preliminary results from an experiment testing the effects of removing barred owls from select areas of northern spotted owl habitat show promise in benefitting northern spotted owls and will help inform this review.

“The best tools we have to prevent spotted owls from going extinct are continued habitat protection and barred owl management, both of which are recommended in the recovery plan,” said Paul Henson, Oregon State Supervisor for the Service. “On a positive note, the experimental removal of barred owls is showing real promise, with early reports indicating that spotted owl populations rebound when barred owl populations are reduced. Our review of the spotted owl will tell us whether current efforts to address threats are sufficient.”

The Service will use the best available scientific and commercial information, including data from the barred owl removal experiment, in the review. To assist in the review, the Service is requesting input from the public and scientific community, including information on biology, possible threats, population trends and habitat conditions for the species. Information can be submitted electronically at, or by U.S. mail or hand delivery at Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–R1–ES–2014–0061, Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, Va. 22041-3803.
For more information on the northern spotted owl, visit

Press release provided by EPIC:

Today, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service issued a positive initial 90-day finding on an EPIC petition to reclassify the iconic northern spotted owl from a “threatened” to an “endangered” species under the Endangered Species Act. The positive 90-day finding on EPIC’s petition to reclassify the northern spotted owl demonstrates that sufficient evidence exists that existing conservation measures have not been enough to protect and recover the owl, and that additional, more stringent and immediate measures are necessary to achieve this goal.

EPIC submitted a reclassification petition for the northern spotted owl to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on August 15, 2012. Today’s decision clearly demonstrates that the owl is in trouble across the species’ range, and that more stringent protections and conservation measures are necessary.

The northern spotted owl is an iconic keystone species which is dependent on large blocks of intact old-growth forests to provide for habitat. The owl was a focal point of the timber wars of the 1980s and early 1990s and was listed as a “threatened” species under the ESA in 1990. The listing of the northern spotted owl under the ESA lead to sweeping changes in land management practices on public lands with the advent of the Northwest Forest Plan during the Clinton era. The Northwest Forest Plan created a large system of reserves for the northern spotted owl and other old-growth associated species known as “Late Successional Reserves.” Although logging of suitable spotted owl habitat has been substantially curtailed on public lands, it has not been completely eliminated. What’s more, conservation of the northern spotted owl on private lands has largely been left up to voluntary measures, such as Habitat Conservation Plans and Safe-Harbor Agreements. Logging of suitable owl habitat continues at a frightening rate on private lands in California and across the species’ range, and even the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service itself has decried the inadequacy of private lands regulatory mechanisms in California to protect and conserve the species.

The northern spotted owl is also faced with several new threats that were not contemplated or foreseeable at the time of the original listing. In particular, the severe threat now being posed by the invasive barred owl (Strix varina) has complicated and confounded northern spotted owl conservation and recovery efforts. While the true impacts of barred owls on northern spotted owls is still being studied and is not fully-understood, it has become clear that aggressive measures may be necessary to curtail the negative effects of barred owls on spotted owl populations.
Indeed, the latest study on northern spotted owl populations shows significant declines in several northern spotted owl vital statistics across most demographic areas studied, including the Green Diamond study area here in Humboldt County. Another population study, due out in June, is predicted to have even more dire results, showing alarming declines across the population.

“The positive initial 90-day finding on our petition to reclassify the northern spotted owl from a threatened to an endangered species demonstrates that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can no longer deny the extreme threats now facing the species,” said Rob DiPerna, California Forest and Wildlife Advocate at EPIC. “It is now clear that more stringent, more aggressive, and more immediate actions are necessary to ensure that the northern spotted owl survives, recovers, and thrives in the wild.”

Other conservation groups have supported EPIC’s efforts to see the spotted owl listed as endangered, including Conservation Congress. “While it is important the Fish and Wildlife Service is acknowledging the dire population declines in northern spotted owls warrants a review for endangered status, it remains incomprehensible that the agency continues to sign off on logging of owl habitat under the unscientific ruse of saving habitat from fire while also authorizing ‘take’ of reproductively successful pairs,” said Denise Boggs, Executive Director of Conservation Congress. “The Service must insist on protecting all remaining suitable owl habitat and no ‘take’ should be authorized for a species with declining populations throughout its range,” she said.

The positive initial 90-day finding by the Service will now set into motion a 12-month period in which it will conduct a full status review for the spotted owl in order to determine if reclassification is warranted. The Service expects to complete this 12-month review in 2017. EPIC will continue to engage at each stage of the listing process and will continue to advocate for the reclassification of the northern spotted owl, and for implementation of more stringent, more aggressive, and more immediate actions in order to save this iconic and imperiled species from extinction.



  • They need to open a season on Barred Owls, and publish a few recipes.
    Spotted owls love to eat flying squirrels, and flying squirrels need old growth with defect for nest holes. Maybe a project to build nest boxes for second growth forest would work.

    OR… Maybe there are just too damn many people in the world, but I’m not getting off. (Hey, I was here first) There were less than 2.5 billion people when I was born. (1945) The world population exceeded 7 BILLION on March 12, 2012. Do you see the problem?

    • According to long-time local spotted owl researcher Lowell Diller the diet of the spotted owl is different in the Redwood region and their prime prey in our area are wood rats. That changes to favor the squirrels as you go north in their range. That’s one of the reasons we formed our little group to get rat poison removed from local store shelves. Of course that didn’t stop the trespass growers who buy the stuff in bulk or have access to the big box stores. The poison is a suspected factor in declining reproduction success of the owls, along with everything else, endangered or not, that eats rodents around pot grows or rural homesteads that use the poison.

  • Ernie, geez, ‘hunters’ shoot cows thinking they are deer…you think they are going to care about the difference between a Spotted Owl and a Barred Owl?…I can sure see a ‘defense’ where somebody gets caught shooting a Spotted Owl, (cause logging, jobs, etc) and then claims he was helping the scientists shoot Barred Owls….not that it would work in court but some shooter may think it would.

    Or maybe you were being funny and suggesting this.

    Actually, it’s one of the issues scientists wrangled with, it was bad enough for them to be shooting Barred Owls, but it may seem to also encourage people to shoot owls even more than they may actually do now.

    Barred owl’s call is ‘who shoots at you-o-o-o’…a little known factoid.

  • “Ernie, geez, ‘hunters’ shoot cows thinking they are deer…
    I have to admit that there are a new breed of people here that might make those kinds of mistakes, but a few short years ago there were people here that didn’t make those mistakes. They knew what they were shooting at, and seldom missed.

    I quit hunting years ago because I like to see the wild animals. But, there was a time when winters were tough to get through without doing a little meat hunting. I don’t recall ever mistaking a cow for a deer. I never shot at anything that wasn’t a clear target, nor did I shoot a anything that didn’t have a solid background for the bullet to stop. People that were raised here were universally raised with guns. We took great care in how we handled them. They were thought of as a valuable tool, not a toy or a weapon.

    Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox now.

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