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November 18, 2004
04-116

US Fish and Wildlife Service
     
             Northern Spotted Owl Still Threatened
               Despite Progress in Addressing Habitat Needs


After completing a formal 5-year status review of the northern spotted owl,
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has concluded that the species continues
to warrant the protection of the Endangered Species Act as a threatened
species.

The Service's review uncovered both good news and bad news related to the
species. On the positive side, the risks faced by the species when it was
first listed, such as habitat loss on federal lands, have been reduced due
to the success of the Northwest Forest Plan and other management actions.

On the negative side, the species' overall population in Washington, Oregon
and California continues to decline and new potential threats have emerged
that need to be studied further, including fire, competition from barred
owls, and West Nile Disease.

"We can celebrate the success we've had in reducing habitat loss on federal
lands, but at the same time we must recognize that there are new risks out
there that could present an even greater threat to the species," said Dave
Allen, director of the Service's Pacific Region. "Our conclusion is that
while the species is still threatened it does not need to be elevated to
endangered status."

The 5-year review considered all information that has become available
since the original listing of the northern spotted owl, such as: population
and demographic trend data; genetics; species competition; habitat
condition; adequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; and management and
conservation planning information. The review assessed: (a) whether new
information suggests that the species' population is increasing, declining
or stable; (b) whether existing threats are increasing, stable, reduced or
eliminated; (c) if there are any new threats; and (d) if new information or
analysis calls into question any of the conclusions in the original listing
determination as to the species' status.

Key findings of the review include:

     The rate of habitat loss on federal lands has been substantially
reduced.  This change in threat level was considered a reflection of the
effectiveness of the Northwest Forest Plan in addressing what was
identified as the paramount threat at the time the owl was listed.
Nonetheless, habitat loss continues, especially on private lands, and
uncharacteristic wildfires appear to be removing habitat at an increasing
rate.


     Demographic data collected over 15 years document declining
population trends across the species' range, with the most pronounced
declines in British Columbia, Washington, and northern Oregon.  This area
of pronounced decline constitutes approximately 50 percent of the
geographic range of the northern spotted owl, supports about 25 percent of
all known northern spotted owl activity centers, and contains greater than
25 percent of all northern spotted owl habitat, most of which is federally
managed.

      These declines in the Washington and northern Oregon demographic
study areas, as well as in Canada, indicate the northern spotted owl meets
the definition of a threatened species (likely to become endangered
throughout all or a significant portion of its range).  However,
populations are still relatively numerous in the southern portion of its
range and are present in most of the species historic range, suggesting the
threat of extinction is not imminent.  The spotted owl is not "endangered"
even in the northern part of the range where the demographic results are
least promising.

     Management of federal lands under the Northwest Forest Plan was
considered to provide a more certain contribution to conservation of the
northern spotted owl. However, the continued decline of northern spotted
owls in the northern portion of the range, despite the presence of a high
proportion of habitat on federal lands, suggests that the threats
contributing to declines have not yet been responsive to habitat
management.

     The nature, magnitude, and extent of barred owl effects on northern
spotted owls remain uncertain. Barred owl effects across the range must be
weighed carefully, given uncertainty about how the species interact and
potential time-lags in detecting effects. Likewise, the new threats of West
Nile virus and Sudden Oak Death were perceived as both potentially severe
and imminent, but substantial uncertainty about their effects mediated
against placing too much weight on these factors.

The 5-year review also identified additional research needs, particularly
on the effects of barred owls,  West Nile virus, and the interactions
between northern and California spotted owls.

In conducting the 5-year review, the Service chose an independent
contractor, Sustainable Ecosystems Institute (SEI), to review, analyze and
summarize all available scientific and demographic information about the
northern spotted owl that has become available since it was listed.  SEI
convened a panel of experts who, assisted by a staff of scientists and
outside experts, reviewed thousands of pages of data and reports over a
period of 10 months.  SEI also held four public meetings to gather
additional information and to air preliminary findings.  SEI's report,
"Scientific Evaluation of the Status of the Northern Spotted Owl," provided
the primary biological basis for the conclusions of the 5-year review.  The
report made no recommendation on the listing classification of the owl.

The Service then convened a panel of seven agency managers, assisted by
species experts, who met for 1.5 days to review the SEI report and other
information in the context of federal policy and guidelines.

The 5-year review can be found on the Pacific Region's website at
http://pacific.fws.gov/ecoservices/endangered/recovery/5yearcomplete.html.

The Service conducted the 5-year review of the northern spotted owl
following a lawsuit filed by the Western Council of Industrial Workers.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency
responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and
plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American
people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge
System which encompasses 545 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small
wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national
fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 81 ecological services
field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the
Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores
nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat
such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation
efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds
of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to
state fish and wildlife agencies.

                                 -- FWS --
 

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