Should California's Spotted Owl Be Protected? State Seeks Your Thoughts

Northern spotted owls | Photo: BLM/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Are you a Californian with something to say about the possibility of adding the Northern spotted owl to the state's Endangered Species list? The state's Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) wants to hear from you.

CDFW started a year long study called a "status review" last month, in which the agency will decide whether the diminutive owl ought to be protected as either Threatened or Endangered under the California Endangered Species Act. As part of that status review, CDFW is soliciting public comment on the owl until May 1, 2014.

The move comes in response to a 2011 petition by the Arcata-based Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) which sought listing for the owl. EPIC filed the petition after a timber company proposed to clearcut more than 7,000 acres of the old-growth forest habitat on which the owl depends.

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The Northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) ranges from British Columbia to Marin County in California. A related subspecies, the California spotted owl (Strix occidentalis occidentalis), lives in the Sierra Nevada's remaining old-growth forests. Medium-sized with soft brown eyes, spotted owls show remarkably little fear of people and will take offerings of live food, like so:

The Northern spotted owl is no stranger to the press: during the 1990s, it was the focal point of controversy during the so-called "Timber Wars" in the Pacific Northwest. Listed as Threatened under the Federal Endangered Species Act in 1990, the owl's protection was blamed by many in the timber industry for loss of jobs as a few percent of the continent's old-growth forests were protected.

Strongly dependent on forest habitat with very old trees, the owls nest in cavities and prey on small ancient-forest rodents such as the red tree vole. Timber cutting hurts the owls not only by depriving them of suitable habitat and prey, but by making it easier for competitors such as barred owls to displace them.

Listing under the California Endangered Species Act would place additional restrictions on logging of the owl's old-growth habitat, with CDFW required to review timber harvest plans for their potential impact on the species. EPIC is also working to persuade the California Board of Forestry to change its timber harvest rules to better protect the owl.

CDFW is asking for public comment on the owls' biology, habits, distribution, abundance, and other relevant issues, as well as your recommendations for how best to manage the species. Comments on the potential listing must be emailed with the subject heading "Northern spotted owl" or mailed to California Department of Fish and Wildlife Nongame Wildlife Program; Attn: Neil Clipperton; 1812 9th Street, Sacramento, CA 95811.

For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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