Uncle Sam Hurts Tiny Owls, Enviros Say

     TUCSON (CN) – The U.S. Forest Service is harming the recovery of the endangered Mexican spotted owl by approving logging and cattle grazing projects in Arizona and New Mexico, WildEarth Guardians claims in Federal Court. The little owls that grow to be only 17 to 19 inches tall prefer old-growth forests, have not fared well since being added to the Endangered Species List in 1993.

     The Arizona-based environmental group says that owl populations in the Southwest “appear not to have increased” since the species was listed. It blames the loss of owl habitat on Forest Service land and the agency’s failure to follow its own guidelines for monitoring endangered species.
     “The most recent studies by federal government biologists indicate that the species population has declined and continues to decline,” the group claims, alleging violations of the Endangered Species Act.
     “Those biologists estimate that the population of Mexican spotted owls in New Mexico is declining at the rate of approximately 6 percent annually, while the population in Arizona appears to be stable but is not increasing,” according to the complaint.
     WildEarth Guardians says that the Forest Service has approved logging and cattle grazing projects that continue to endanger the owl.
     Ninety-one percent of the known Mexican spotted owls lived on land controlled by the Forest Service when it was listed.
     Yet the agency has approved recent projects that include timber harvests in the Coronado National Forest near Tucson and livestock grazing permits on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Northern Arizona’s pine country. The latter project was approved though the Forest Service and other federal agencies “acknowledge that such grazing may adversely affect the Mexican spotted owl,” according to the complaint.
     The group also cites Forest Service reports that indicate that “personnel and funding levels are not adequate to meet monitoring requirements.”
     WildEarth Guardians wants the Forest Service enjoined from “authorizing and/or implementing any site-specific management activities that may adversely affect” the owl or its habitat. It also wants the court to order the agency to resume consultations with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and to amend a 2005 biological opinion on to the bird.
     WildEarth Guardians is represented by Steven Sugarman of Cerrillos, N.M.

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