Groups Petition California Fish and Game Commission to List Western Burrowing Owl
Groups Petition California Fish and Game Commission to List Western Burrowing Owl

On March 5, 2024, the Center for Biological Diversity and several other groups submitted a petition to the California Fish and Game Commission (the Commission) to list the western burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia hypugaea) as endangered or threatened pursuant to the California Endangered Species Act. The petition identifies five separate populations (or evolutionarily significant units (ESUs)) of burrowing owls and petitions to list three as endangered and two as threatened. Alternatively, the petition requests that the Commission consider either (i) listing a greater number of ESUs or (ii) listing the entire California population.

The western burrowing owl occurs west of the Mississippi River in the United States and north into Canada and south into Mexico. Its range includes much of California including the Central Valley, Central Coast, Bay Area, Southern California, the Mojave, and the Modoc Plateau. Petitioners contend that the species has seen a significant range decline, arguing it has been extirpated from at least 19 California counties and is nearing extirpation in 10 other counties. The petition identifies habitat loss and fragmentation as primary factors accounting for the status of the population in California.

While the federal Endangered Species Act extends protection to species, subspecies, and distinct population segments, the California Endangered Species Act only extends protection to species and subspecies. Nonetheless, the decision of a Court of Appeal to uphold the listing of two ESUs of coho salmon in 2007 appears to have affirmed the Commission’s interpretation of the term subspecies as used in the California Endangered Species Act to include ESUs. (Cal. Forestry Assn. v. Cal. Fish & Game Com. (2007) 156 Cal.App.4th 1535.)

Commission staff must conduct a 10-day review of the petition for completeness. If Commission staff deem the petition complete, the next step is referring it to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to conduct a 90-day evaluation of the petition.

  • Paul S. Weiland

    Paul Weiland is Assistant Managing Partner and a member of the Environment & Land Use Group. He has represented clients – including public agencies, publicly regulated utilities, corporations, trade associations and ...

Nossaman’s Endangered Species Law & Policy blog focuses on news, events, and policies affecting endangered species issues in California and throughout the United States. Topics include listing and critical habitat decisions, conservation and recovery planning, inter-agency consultation, and related developments in law, policy, and science. We also inform readers about regulatory and legislative developments, as well as key court decisions.

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