California Spotted Owl Doesn’t Require ESA Protection, Wildlife Service Concludes

Fish & Wildlife News Release

SACRAMENTO, Calif. 2/10/03– The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that the California spotted owl, a native bird found in forests of the Sierra Nevada, the central coast range, and major mountain ranges of southern California, doesn’t warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) at this time.

The Service’s action comes in response to a petition filed in April 2000 by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Nevada Protection Campaign, and a subsequent Federal court order to finish the determination by February 10, 2003. Completing a 12-month review as required by the Endangered Species Act, Service biologists concluded, based on the best scientific and commercial information available, that the overall magnitude of current threats to the California spotted owl does not rise to a level requiring Federal protection.

The California spotted owl still occurs throughout all or most of its historical range. Survey data indicates there are approximately 2,200 sites or territories in the Sierra Nevada and southern California where spotted owls have been recently observed. Investigators have been studying the population dynamics of this owl for more than a decade with mixed results. While some study areas show recent declines, the Service found no clear statistical evidence to show that the California spotted owl is declining throughout its range. Its conclusion was based on the review of several study methods used to identify changes in the population.

" We have based our decision in part because we believe current land management direction on Federal lands (the Sierra Nevada Framework) and long-range timber harvest strategies on commercial timberlands have projected increases in habitats important to spotted owl nesting, roosting, and foraging," said Steve Thompson, manager of the Service’s California-Nevada Operations Office. "However, we are keenly aware of several new planning efforts underway by the U.S. Forest Service. Because the outcome of these efforts could substantially affect California spotted owls, we will monitor the development of management direction, offer scientific assistance, and review the effects at a later date, if necessary.

"We recognize there are difficult tradeoffs between short-term effects of fuels treatment on habitat and the long-term reduction of risks to this species as a result of catastrophic fire."

Because of the February 10, 2003 mandated deadline, the wildlife agency was unable to consider in its determination the Forest Service’s current management review of the Framework and the proposed Administrative Study on the Lassen and Plumas national forests.

Thompson said his agency is working closely with the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies and stakeholders on a variety of conservation strategies for a suite of wildlife species in the Sierra Nevada, including the California spotted owl, the Yosemite toad and the mountain yellow-legged frog.

Spotted owls are medium-sized brown owls mottled with white spots on the head, neck, back and underparts, and white and light brown bars on the wings and tail. Heads are round, without ear tufts, and pale brown facial disks are surrounded by a dark brown ring of feathers. Light-colored "eyebrows" and "whiskers" form a distinctive X between the eyes, which are brown, unlike those of most other owls whose eyes are typically yellow.

The California spotted owl is one of three subspecies of spotted owls. The other subspecies – the northern and Mexican spotted owls – have already been listed by the Service as threatened. The feathers of the California spotted owl are a lighter brown than those of the northern spotted owl, but darker than those of the Mexican spotted owl. Its spots are smaller than those of the Mexican subspecies, but larger than the northern subspecies’ spots. California spotted owls eat small mammals, birds and insects. Spotted owls have been known to live as long as 17 years.

The California spotted owl occurs in conifer and conifer/hardwood forests of California and is found primarily on the west side of the Sierra Nevada from Shasta County south to the Tehachapi Pass. It also occurs in the central Coast Ranges as far north as Monterey County, and in all major mountains of southern California, including the San Bernardino, San Gabriel, Tehachapi, north and south Santa Lucia, Santa Ana, Liebre/Sawmill, San Diego, San Jacinto, and Los Padres ranges.

The California spotted owl is recognized as a sensitive species by the U.S. Forest Service and a species of special concern by the California Department of Fish and Game.

A complete description of the Service’s finding on the California spotted owl will be published in an upcoming Federal Register. More information on the California spotted owl12-month finding, including a photo, a Q&A and link to the Federal Register notice (when available), can be found on the Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office’s Web page, at

Patricia Foulk (916) 414-6566


In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref.]

Back to Current Edition Citizen Review Archive LINKS Search This Site