"This is happy year-end news for this unique owl found only in the Sonoran Desert. All indicators point to a severe decline in this species’ numbers, which are already low. Protection under the Endangered Species Act is now essential."
After more than a decade of petitions and lawsuits by Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed to protect cactus ferruginous pygmy owls once again under the Endangered Species Act.
In 2006, the owl lost ESA protections as an endangered species in Arizona following developers’ successful lawsuits against FWS. The proposed rule would protect the bird as threatened species since owl's population throughout its range in Arizona, Texas and northern Mexico are declining.
"This is happy year-end news for this unique owl found only in the Sonoran Desert," said Bryan Bird, Southwest program director for Defenders of Wildlife. "All indicators point to a severe decline in this species’ numbers, which are already low. Protection under the Endangered Species Act is now essential."
In response to a 1992 petition, the pygmy owl was protected as an endangered species in Arizona from 1997 to 2006. Following a 2001 suit brought by developers, however, protections were removed in 2006 based on a technicality.
Defenders and CBD filed a new petition in 2007, leading to a denial of protection in 2011 and a court challenge won by the groups in 2017. Both groups fought to reinstate protections for the owl as the species continues to be threatened by sprawling development, noxious weeds, livestock grazing, and increasingly frequent droughts brought on by climate change. The species is also imperiled by the border wall, which fragments owl populations, and invasive plants, such as buffelgrass, which accelerate fires that destroy its habitat and food sources.
The tiny owls, live year-round in what remains of their habitat near the U.S.-Mexico border.