Judge: Feds Should Reconsider Listing Arizona Pygmy Owl Endangered

By Casey Kuhn
Published: Thursday, March 30, 2017 - 4:26pm
Bob Miles/Arizona Game and Fish Department
Pygmy owls live in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, the neighboring Mexican state of Sonora and southern Texas.

A federal judge ruled Wednesday in favor of a group looking to protect a species of owl native to the Sonoran Desert.

The Center for Biological Diversity says there are fewer than 50 cactus ferruginous pygmy owls left in Arizona due to development in their habitats, and they are still declining in the Sonoran Desert.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service denied endangered-species protection to the owl in 2011.

The department said the pygmy owl is not considered threatened in a significant enough part of its habitat range.

The center challenged that, saying that policy doesn’t reflect the original intent of the Endangered Species Act, and a federal judge agreed.

Noah Greenwald is the center’s endangered species director.

“The policy made it really hard to protect species that are only threatened in portions of their range, and we got that policy overturned, which will matter for species across the country,” Greenwald said.

Fish and Wildlife said that because the pygmy owl is doing well in a habitat farther south, it does not qualify for that protection.

“They’ve said ‘who cares if it goes extinct in the Sonoran Desert?’ And that’s not what the Endangered Species Act says and not what it’s supposed to do and not what the Fish and Wildlife Service is supposed to do.”

While the court overturned the policy decision, Fish and Wildlife still has to reconsider protection for cactus pygmy owls.