The California Fish and Game Commission, the regulatory body responsible for administration of the California Endangered Species Act (CESA), has decided to delay its decision on whether or not listing the northern spotted owl is warranted until its next regularly scheduled meeting, to be convened in June, in Bakersfield.
The three-person Commission panel voted unanimously to delay rendering a final determination on whether or not the listing of the critically-imperiled spotted owl is warranted, in favor of directing the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to begin the process of developing a stakeholder working group to address the management needs for the fast-disappearing species.
The Commission’s decision to delay comes on the heels of almost universal agreement at its April 14, 2016 meeting, among a broad array of stakeholders that provided testimony, all of which clearly indicates that the northern spotted owl is in peril in California, and that additional management actions are likely necessary to prevent the extinction of the species in the short-term. However, instead of determining that the listing is warranted on the basis of the insurmountable mountain of rigorous scientific evidence showing that the owl is in trouble, the Commission chose to defer to the concerns of the timber industry over the possible additional regulatory constraints that would result from listing of the owl under CESA, despite the fact that the act of listing itself does not actually result in any change in regulation on the timber industry.
Astoundingly, during Commission deliberations, the President of the Fish and Game Commission, Eric Sklar, all but acknowledged that the plain language of the law likely compelled the Commission to make a “warranted” determination on the listing petition, but, instead of doing so, Sklar and the Commission decided to defer to the interests of “the people” that would supposedly be adversely affected by the listing determination economically.
CESA listing of a species as “threatened” or “endangered” does not automatically result in regulatory changes to any industry sector or entity that may adversely affect the habitat of a listed species; any actual regulations changes that could potentially affect private lands forestry operations must be fully noticed, vetted, and adopted by the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, an entity that is in no way beholden to change anything simply as a result of a warranted listing determination under CESA for any species, the spotted owl included.
The Commission’s decision to delay making a final listing determination on EPIC’s petition for the northern spotted owl comes in the wake of a series of delays, legal and otherwise, perpetrated by both the Commission itself, and the Department of Fish and Wildlife, that have stymied the listing process for nearly four years now, despite overwhelming and compelling evidence that the spotted owl is in rapid and precipitous declines in California and elsewhere, and that the rate of decline is increasing, with a veritable laundry list of stressors and threats confounding management, conservation, and recovery of the species in the wild.
The Commission will again take up the question of whether or not listing of the northern spotted owl is warranted at its June 23, 2016 meeting in Bakersfield, California. EPIC staff are diligently preparing, and will be present, in hopes of persuading the Commission to act to list the spotted owl in accordance with the standards of applicable California law.