Thursday, September 21, 2023
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Embattled Pygmy Owl Won’t Get Protection

WASHINGTON (CN) - The cactus ferruginous pygmy owl is not threatened with extinction throughout its range, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The agency also determined that there is insufficient evidence as to the level of genetic difference between the eastern distribution of the owl and the western population to recognize two distinct population segments, nor will it recognize a separate western subspecies commonly known as the Ridgeway pygmy-owl, as the listing petition requested.

The cactus ferruginous pygmy owl was listed as endangered in 1997 after the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), which filed the current listing petition, won three lawsuits forcing the agency to recognize the species. In 1999, the agency designated 732,000 acres of the owl's range as critical habitat, with significant financial impacts on land use development in Arizona.

After a series of lawsuits filed by developers to overturn the listing decision and critical habitat designation, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the agency had failed to adequately explain why it chose to list the bird as endangered in Arizona but not in Mexico, and remanded the decision to the agency for reconsideration.

The agency chose to delist the species in 2006 despite the fact that there were only 13 known pygmy owls left in Arizona at that time according the CBD.

The agency maintains that there are approximately 50 adult pygmy owls in Arizona and that it recognizes there is some indication that the number of owls in both Arizona and Texas have declined, there is insufficient evidence to suggest that this is a long term trend ending in extinction of the species.

For instance, the agency said that detailed information on the impacts of the threats the pygmy owl faces is only available for 27 percent of the owl's range, mostly for areas in the United States. The agency admits that threats faced by the owl in those areas are severe but that those threats are much less severe, or even non-existent, in the southern part of their range.

The agency agreed with the petitioner that the primary threat the owl faces is loss of habitat due to urbanization and the conversion of forest and wild desert lands to fields of African buffelgrass to support livestock grazing.

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