Defenders of Wildlife Denounces Rumored Delay in Protecting Pygmy Owls

(11/05/1998) - Conservation Group Threatens Lawsuit against U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Defenders of Wildlife plans to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for violating the Endangered Species Act (ESA) if the agency delays necessary protections for endangered cactus ferruginous pygmy owls and their habitat in Arizona.

FWS is likely to push back a deadline for receiving public comments on guidelines and on a scientific survey protocol for private landowners with pygmy owl habitat on their property. FWS originally scheduled a September 14 deadline for those comments, but rescheduled the deadline for November 14. Now, FWS may push this deadline to March, allowing a rush of development on potentially occupied pygmy owl sites.

"We are tired of these delaying tactics. For nearly a decade the Fish and Wildlife Service has ignored its legal obligations, acquiescing to the pygmy owl's imminent extirpation from Arizona, all because of rampant development," said Defenders of Wildlife Litigation Counsel John Fritschie.

"If the Fish and Wildlife Service caves to political pressure again, we have no choice but to sue them for violating federal law. We call on the Secretary of the Interior to stop political interference with sound science," said Bill Snape, Legal Director at Defenders of Wildlife.

The cactus ferruginous pygmy owl population is in crisis. Only 31 known pygmy owls survive in southern Arizona, and the high pace of development and sprawl in Tucson continues to destroy the bird's habitat, further jeopardizing this highly endangered species. Habitat destruction is the biggest threat to the pygmy owl population, according to FWS.

In 1998, FWS allowed development to occur in prime pygmy owl habitat, even though the agency had not determined whether pygmy owls continued to use the site. "If FWS delays implementing the new survey protocol, a rash of development projects is imminent," says Laura Hood, Defenders' Science Department Director. "Any science-based management of this rare bird cannot go forward until the service puts adequate surveys in place. Meanwhile, the pygmy owl suffers from politics and special interests."



Roni Lieberman, 202-682-9400 x220 (Media)
Laura Hood, 202-682-9400 x283(Science)