FWS: No NSO Endangered Listing

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has issued a Federal Register notice that it will not elevate the status of the northern spotted owl to Endangered from Threatened:

“After a thorough review of the best available scientific and commercial information, we find that reclassification of the northern spotted owl from a threatened species to an endangered species is warranted but precluded by higher priority actions to amend the Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. We will develop a proposed rule to reclassify the northern spotted owl as our priorities allow.”

This part isn’t news, bur the statement states that:

“Based on our review of the best available scientific and commercial information pertaining to the factors affecting the northern spotted owl, we find that the stressors acting on the subspecies and its habitat, particularly rangewide competition from the nonnative barred owl and high-severity wildfire, are of such imminence, intensity, and magnitude to indicate that the northern spotted owl is now in danger of extinction throughout all of its range.” [emphasis added]

 

37 thoughts on “FWS: No NSO Endangered Listing”

  1. Here’s our press statement on the decision:

    For immediate release
    December 14, 2020

    Contacts:
    Susan Jane Brown, Western Environmental Law Center, 503-914-1323, brown@westernlaw.org
    Tom Wheeler, Environmental Protection Information Center, 707-822-7711, tom@wildcalifornia.org
    Joseph Vaile, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, 541-621-7808, joseph@kswild.org
    Kimberly Baker, Klamath Forest Alliance, 707-834-8826, klam_watch@yahoo.com

    USFWS: Northern spotted owls are endangered, but we’re too busy to help

    Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a finding on the northern spotted owl’s listing status, spurred by a lawsuit filed last week by wildlife advocates. The finding states “reclassification of the northern spotted owl from a threatened species to an endangered species is warranted but precluded by higher priority actions to amend the Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. We will develop a proposed rule to reclassify the northern spotted owl as our priorities allow.”

    The advocates’ complaint, filed last week, came after the Service failed to take multiple actions required by the Endangered Species Act to protect the northern spotted owl from extinction over the course of nearly a decade.

    “On the one hand, you have biologists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledging that northern spotted owls are extremely close to extinction and more must be done to prevent the extinction of the species,” said Susan Jane Brown, attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center. “On the other, you have the Trump administration catering to the demands of an out-of-touch timber industry. Placing commercial interests ahead of the continued existence of this iconic species is shameful, and thankfully, not permitted by the Endangered Species Act.”

    “While we are glad that the Service has acknowledged the reality—northern spotted owls are rapidly going extinct—today’s announcement is also illustrative of the failures of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Tom Wheeler, executive director of the Environmental Protection Information Center. “The Service only acted under threat of lawsuit and the agency still managed to squirm out of any real action by complaining it has too much work to do. Delay and inaction are precisely how we are driving the spotted owl to extinction.”

    Timber harvesting in the Northwest has resulted in a widespread loss of spotted owl habitat across its range, which was a main reason for prompting the listing of the species in 1990. Owls depend on habitat provided by the dense canopy of mature and old-growth forests; unfortunately, those forests are still a target for logging throughout the bird’s historic range. The northern spotted owl is already functionally extinct in its northernmost range, with only one recognized breeding pair left in British Columbia.

    “We know that climate change and the loss of high-quality habitat are imminent threats to the spotted owl,” said Joseph Vaile, climate director at Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center. “If we wait years or decades for federal officials to address these issues, it will be too late.”

    “The owl is biologically determined to be endangered, yet the agency continues to find excuses do nothing,” said Kimberly Baker, executive director of the Klamath Forest Alliance. “The Endangered Species Act demands action from the Service, not excuses.”

    “The Fish and Wildlife Service says the spotted owl deserves protection as an endangered species but can’t be bothered to actually do it,” said Doug Heiken with Oregon Wild. “This makes no sense. The Service has already made the finding that the owl is endangered of extinction. The owl is already listed as threatened. The owl already has critical habitat, and already has a recovery plan. How much more work is it to move the check mark from the threatened column to the endangered column and start giving the owl the protection it deserves?”

    “Despite today’s announcement that the northern spotted owl is ‘unofficially endangered’ and likely to go extinct, the Service has prioritized working against its recovery under the Trump administration,” Brown said. In August 2020, the Service settled a timber industry lawsuit by proposing to eliminate more than 200,000 acres of northern spotted owl critical habitat. Before January 20, 2021, the Service will make a decision that may diminish designated northern spotted owl critical habitat on a scale that dwarfs the aforementioned reduction proposal. “We will wait and see what further decisions the Service makes regarding the fate of the spotted owl before deciding how we move forward in light of today’s announcement,” Brown said.

    In response to a court order, in 1990 the Service listed the northern spotted owl as threatened, citing low and declining populations, limited and declining habitat, competition from barred owls, and other factors in the bird’s plight. Even after its listing, northern spotted owl populations have declined by 70%, and the rate of decline has increased.

    Additional background from to the Service’s announcement today:

    “Habitat loss was the primary factor leading to the listing of the northern spotted owl as a
    threatened species, and it continues to be a stressor on the subspecies due to the lag effects of
    past habitat loss, continued timber harvest, wildfire, and a minor amount from insect and forest
    disease outbreaks.”

    “On non-Federal lands, State regulatory mechanisms have not prevented the continued decline of nesting/roosting and foraging habitat; the amount of northern spotted owl habitat on these lands has decreased considerably over the past two decades, including in geographic areas where Federal lands are lacking. On Federal lands, the Northwest Forest Plan has reduced habitat loss and allowed for the development of new northern spotted owl habitat; however, the combined effects of climate change, high severity wildfire, and past management practices are changing forest ecosystem processes and dynamics, and the expansion of barred owl populations is altering the capacity of intact habitat to support northern spotted owls.”

    “Based on our review of the best available scientific and commercial information pertaining to the factors affecting the northern spotted owl, we find that the stressors acting on the subspecies and its habitat, particularly rangewide competition from the nonnative barred owl and high-severity wildfire, are of such imminence, intensity, and magnitude to indicate that the northern spotted owl is now in danger of extinction throughout all of its range. Our status review indicates that the northern spotted owl meets the definition of an endangered species. Therefore, in accordance with sections 3(6) and 4(a)(1) of the Act, we find that listing the northern spotted owl as an endangered species is warranted throughout all of its range. However, work on a reclassification for the northern spotted owl has been, and continues to be, precluded by work on higher-priority actions—which includes listing actions with statutory, court-ordered, or court approved deadlines and final listing determinations.”

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  2. It seems to me that these are problems not amenable to regulations around ESA “climate change, high severity wildfire, and past management practices are changing forest ecosystem processes and dynamics, and the expansion of barred owl populations is altering the capacity of intact habitat to support northern spotted owls.” Either they are very difficult to change (climate change, wildfire) or impossible (past management practices). So what would be the requirements if the owl was to be declared endangered? Would the government be required to do more about climate change, wildfire, past management practices or barred owls?

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    • Well, to start, the government could stop cutting down the owl’s habitat, which still remains essential to the conservation of the species. Part of the reason why the spotted owl can’t “handle” fire and climate change is because we’ve logged most of its habitat, and it can’t surmount the additional stressors.

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      • It is well documented that wildfire, not logging, is the leading cause of NSO habitat loss.

        I like this quote from a (very relevant!) paper I read recently, “DellaSala et al. (2013) criticize these projects for having an impact on the NSO. They do not acknowledge, however, the possibility that the known adverse effects associated with a well-crafted project may be preferable to potential adverse effects associated with doing nothing in highly departed landscapes (North et al. 2010). We appreciate the many sources of uncertainty that impinge on such a choice, but as we described above, tools and techniques are available to create detailed, site-specific, risk assessments to inform these difficult management decisions.“

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        • The best available science concludes that wildfire and barred owls are the *contemporary* stressors of *greatest* (although not sole) concern, but the same research also concludes that retention of all suitable owl habitat is necessary to ensure the persistence of the species (largely because historical logging has eliminated the vast majority of suitable habitat in the first instance). This is not an either/or situation: all of the stressors must be addressed if we want the species to survive.

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        • Emily and Susan Jane,

          There is definitely some scientific dispute about wildfire as a threat to the owls. Here’s a press release about it from today. Unfortunately the links don’t show up in what’s pasted below, so you can also download the release from:
          http://johnmuirproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/PressReleaseReSpottedOwlUplistingDenied.pdf

          FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

          Title: Logging hurts Spotted Owls, forest fires benefit Spotted Owls
          Date: 14 December 2020
          Location: California, USA

          DerekLee@psu.edu – 415-763-0348 (cell)
          Monica@WildNatureInstitute.org – 415-323-8141 (cell)
          Dominick@Wild-Heritage.org; 541-621-7223 (cell)

          2020 saw record-breaking wildfires across the western United States, reigniting debate about Spotted Owls and wildfires. Federal and state authorities are pushing plans to increase logging in National Forests, ostensibly to protect Spotted Owls from wildfire, and just today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service blamed wildfire as a major reason for population declines of Northern Spotted Owls in denying a 2012 petition by conservation groups to ‘uplist’ the owl to endangered (i.e., a “warranted but precluded” decision; federalregister.gov/d/2020-27198).

          In a reality check of owl population declines, Dr. Derek Lee, Associate Research Professor at Pennsylvania State University, conducted a meta-analysis of all studies about wildfire effects on all 3 subspecies of Spotted Owl and found that this key indicator of the health of old-growth forests is usually not affected by wildfire. In fact, wildfire significantly increases foraging, reproduction, and recruitment for owls. Lee’s conclusions are in stark contrast to claims made by many land managers who promote logging as a way to reduce fire in Spotted Owl habitats. “The Spotted Owl was listed under the Endangered Species Act because logging has degraded or destroyed most of its old-growth forest.

          Logging is enemy #1 of Spotted Owls, so logging now in the name of fire reduction will only do additional harm to this declining species,” said Lee. Lee analyzed the results from every published scientific study about the effects of wildfire on the threatened birds, summarizing his results in a paper published in 2018 in the journal Ecosphere. In a follow-up paper published this week in Ecosphere, Lee responded to criticisms of his 2018 paper. After reanalyzing the data according to suggestions, he came to the same conclusions: Wildfires either have no significant effect or a significant positive effect on Spotted Owl populations, suggesting that current forest management practices promoting logging as ‘restoration’ ‘fuels reduction’ and ‘thinning’ in remote backcountry areas are misguided and will only harm the Spotted Owl and other old forest dependent species. “Evidence-based forest management would promote wildfire as a natural process that significantly improves Spotted Owl habitat and accomplishes most forest ecosystem restoration goals,” stated Lee.

          “Fire creates suitable foraging habitat for Spotted Owl prey like gophers and deer mice. Spotted Owls feast on these rodents and this helps the Spotted Owl population, but only as long as the standing dead trees remain for them to perch and pounce on their prey,” said Dr. Monica Bond, a wildlife biologist who has conducted extensive research on effects of fires on Spotted Owls. “Post-fire logging and pre-fire logging are universally terrible for Spotted Owls, while fire is usually a habitat improvement.”

          Dr. Dominick DellaSala, a former spotted owl recovery team member and Chief Scientist at Wild Heritage, a project of the Earth Island Institute, added “the owl was originally listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1990 because of rampant habitat destruction and lack of protections from logging; however, the Service now wrongly casts the blame of ongoing owl declines on wildfires in failing to uphold the best available science in adequately protecting from logging a species now circling the extinction drain.”

          #########

          Reply
    • The Northwest Forest Plan does not preclude the logging of suitable spotted owl habitat, particularly in the matrix. Moreover, the BLM is no longer bound by the NFP and has been busily clearcutting suitable habitat on the O&C lands since 2016 (and before that as well: indeed, the “problem” of suitable owl habitat logging is much more of a BLM issue than a Forest Service problem).

      The NFP reduced the rate at which we were logging suitable habitat, but it did not stop the loss.

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      • Sorry for my confusion….is the logging of owl habitat actually clearcutting, or is it thinning with the stated purpose of restoring or creating resiliency? In other words, is the issue that there is a disagreement about whether the logging in question is good for the owls, or is the issue that habitat protections are not sufficient to stop logging that everyone agrees is bad for the owls?

        Because if this is a disagreement about the effect of logging, than the issue really is whether the threat of high severity wildfire is greater than the impact of logging to prevent that type of fire.

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        • A Recovery Plan doesn’t have to necessarily eliminate logging. I once worked on a project unit that was in a CASPO PAC, and the prescription was to cut trees between 10 and 14.9 inches in diameter. In the end, the unit was more of a non-commercial task, within the larger timber sale project. I would guess that we cut no more than 100 small trees in the unit.

          Then again, some people’s idea of thinning is to just take all the big ones. Personally, I think that thinning-from-below should be used as much as possible, if thinning is needed. It looks like the Northwest Forest Plan needs a ‘makeover’.

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        • On BLM lands, the harvest method is usually regeneration harvest that leaves the remaining habitat, if any, unsuitable for up to 120 years (according to FWS’ biops). On Forest Service lands, the agency focuses mostly on thinning: while there is disagreement about how thinning affects owl habitat, I feel comfortable with the direction in the spotted owl recovery plan, which allows for thinning to reduce wildfire risk in suitable habitat and directs the agency to focus on removing small trees and retaining large trees and biological legacies. Of course, recovery plans aren’t binding on action agencies, so they can – and BLM regularly does – disregard those recommendations.

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          • On some BLM lands, BLM tried Jerry Franklin and Norm Johnson’s “ecological forestry” — openings to encourage the growth of early seral habitat, with thinned or unharvested areas.

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            • Yes, tried and failed. According to the good doctors (and I would agree), Franklin/Johnson gave the BLM some tools to try to meet volume targets while also retaining biological legacies, but the BLM got greedy (taking too many of the large trees) and conducted sloppy NEPA, ending up in court (and losing). Not a good first showing.

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      • I thought the nesting sites were protected even in the matrix and that people had to hoot for owls and keep the nesting sites out of timber sales. Maybe I’m confused, as Larry points out about the different kinds of habitat?

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        • The parts of the matrix that timber folks are interested in are very likely to be ‘colonized’ by a new pair of birds (both owls and goshawks). Those birds seem lazy about building new nests. I’m not sure about Region 6 protocols but, in Region 5, multiple surveys need to be done, within a schedule. Same with other ‘ologist’ surveys.

          I wonder if nesting problems couldn’t be mitigated by building nests in potential nesting habitats. I’d bet that owls or goshawks would use a human-built nest, eventually.

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    • Depends on what you mean by “protect” 🙂

      The NFP does not prohibit logging of suitable owl habitat. There is a limit on harvest of trees 80+ in late-successional reserves, and there’s the jeopardy standard as a floor, but beyond that, there is no prohibition on logging owl habitat. And, the BLM is no longer bound by those limits since it revised its RMPs in 2016.

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  3. Crazy how we used to talk about the coming fire storms while the USFS was logging all the remaining old growth in the PNW in the 1980’s. We would say that logging the old growth is not only going to push species like NSO to the brink of extinction because of habitat loss, but that the logging of old forests was as well going to make the future fires worse. Now the future fires are worse and the loggers want to tell us that the fires are what is causing the NSO to go extinct, not the logging which created the fire prone landscape. It is an absurd theater at best.

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  4. I see that no one is talking about the TWO kinds of habitats that spotted owls need. If we are willing to let their scarce nesting habitats burn to a crisp, then we’ve already accepted the owl’s demise. Turning nesting habitats into ‘foraging’ areas is very, very bad for the species, even if they will nest in other forests that are younger. I’m sure there is a number of known nests that have been lost to wildfires in the last 10 years. Are we going to ignore that number?

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  5. Here’s another study by Ganey et al. https://www.fs.fed.us/rm/pubs_journals/2017/rmrs_2017_ganey_j003.pdf

    Seems to me that this is one of those things that would benefit from codesign and coproduction of research to iron out some of the unknowns in a mutually agreed upon design.
    Also, doing fuel treatments is not entirely about the NSO.. there are other values worth protecting in many areas. That’s not to say that ESA doesn’t make species values primary, just saying that outside Legal World there are competing values.

    “Evidence of increasing fire extent and severity in the western US in recent decades has raised concern over the effects of fire on threatened species such as the spotted owl (Strix occidentalis Xantus de Vesey), which nests in forests with large trees and high canopy cover that are vulnerable to high-severity wildfire. A dichotomy of views exists on the impact of high-severity wildfire on the spotted owl. One view holds that reduction in the extent of forests with large trees and high canopy cover due to high-severity wildfire is a primary threat to spotted owls, and that fuels reduction treatments that successfully reduce the risk of high-severity wildfire can aid in sustaining desired conditions for this owl. A conflicting view maintains that high-severity wildfire was relatively common in many forest types occupied by spotted owls and does not pose an immediate threat to spotted owls, and that fuels reduction treatments are misguided because they degrade owl habitat and do not reduce the extent of high-severity fire. Based on the existing literature, we argue that considerable uncertainty remains regarding the response of spotted owls to high-severity wildfire, especially over longer time frames and across the three subspecies (California [Strix occidentalis occidentalis Xantus de Vesey], Mexican [S. o. lucida Nelson], and northern [S. o. caurina Merriam]) of spotted owls. The considerable extent of high-severity wildfire within the ranges of these subspecies over recent years, coupled with the trend toward increasing extent and severity of megafires, suggests that the cumulative effects of these fires could be significant throughout the range of this owl. Forest restoration or fuels reduction treatments may aid in reducing habitat loss, particularly when strategically located to optimize reduction of fire risk, but also may locally impact spotted owl habitat. We advocate further evaluation of both the impacts of such treatments to spotted owls and the effectiveness of such treatments in mitigating fire behavior. We also advocate wider use of managed fire to reduce risk of high-severity wildfire. Finally, given the paucity of long-term data on this topic, we recommend targeted research aimed at a decade or longer time periods after fires. These studies should include measures of demographic performance, and should be designed to elucidate differences in those metrics related to landscape pattern, forest type, and subspecies ecology. Such information would inform the debate over how to integrate the conservation of spotted owls and their habitat with fuels reduction and forest restoration objectives.”

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  6. If high-severity wildfires are a problem, it is because of past logging (strangely not mentioned here). Isn’t this really a natural range of variation (NRV) problem? If the combination of past logging and recent fires have put the amount of spotted owl habitat outside of its historical range, then that creates a risk that should require close scrutiny of any further reduction in habitat – even if the purpose is to reduce fire risk. There should be an obligation to demonstrate that the benefit of a treatment outweighs the risk in each specific situation.

    The Fish and Wildlife Service has limited authority to do anything with their biological opinions on a project-by-project basis because an individual timber project is unlikely to jeopardize this wide-ranging species. However, a BLM (or FS) plan might; maybe it’s time to reinitiate that consultation based on the same new information that warranted the uplisting proposal. It also seems like any ESA §4(d) rules that allow logging (because of its threatened status) should be suspended now that it is proposed for uplisting to endangered.

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    • “If high-severity wildfires are a problem, it is because of past logging.” Past logging is an issue, but has far less of an impact than fire suppression. A study published in Geophysical Research Letters in November found that wildfires in the West are more severe than in the past. The authors, Sean Parks, a research ecologist with the US Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, and John Abatzoglou, a professor at the University of California, Merced, calculate that the area burned by severe fire—areas where more than 95 percent of trees are killed—has increased eight-fold in western US forests over the past four decades.

      In California spotted owl country, in the central and southern Sierra Nevada, a combination of fire suppression, drought, and climate change has decimated even unharvested stands with large, mature trees. When fire visits, as it did in the 380,000-acre Creek Fire on the Sierra National Forest in 2020, the effect on owl habitat is devastating. These decline sin forest health are, I think, bound to move north. Here in NSO country, we can stand back and watch, or we can help forests become more resilient to the coming changes. Even on the wetter west side.

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    • Jon, I’m puzzled by the “high severity wildfires being caused by past logging.” Much of the west was logged back in the 1800’s, and a bunch of trees grew in since and fire suppression happened. And yet the increase in high-severity wildfires is fairly recent (that’s why folks say “exacerbated by climate change”). I guess I’m interested in the mechanism by which logging in which places in the past has led to current high severity wildfire.

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      • I echo Steve and Sharon’s comments. On the Mendocino NF, less than ~3,000 acres have been harvested a year since the mid-1990s. And yet, 434,000+ acres have burned at high severity since 2018. Almost 1 million acres have burned total. Fire suppression and climate change, not logging, are the culprits. The forest evolved under a frequent fire regime, and we have squashed that regime since the early-1900s.

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        • Emily,

          RE: The forest evolved under a frequent fire regime, and we have squashed that regime since the early-1900s.

          How much of the Mendocino National Forest has been logged since early-1900s? How much of the area that became the Mendocino National Forest has been logged since 1849?

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          • Matthew, it seems to me that an important piece of information would be understanding the mechanics of how past logging might increase fire intensity. If you remove trees, be it 1890 or 1970, they grow back and grow old and perhaps fall victim to bark beetles, disease or …? How does taking out trees lead to more intense fires?

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            • Sharon, It seems to me that you have to know a lot more about forest ecology and how logging may affect forest ecology and forest succession than what you letting on here. The Naficy, et al study does address some of your questions.

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      • I would start with Zald and Dunn 2018 (Severe fire weather and intensive forest management increase fire severity in a multi‐ownership landscape), which talks about this link. Note that full suppression began around the turn of the century and intensive logging of public lands took off in the 1940s, so what we see today is a product of those anthropogenic changes PLUS climate change.

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        • This study seems to be about pre-60’s logging. My first observation of a logging operation was in 1971, outside of Estacada Oregon. I can safely say that the silviculture and tree removal activities were quite different than current practices.

          So it seems to me that “some kinds of logging” “followed by some kinds of further management” could indeed lead to more intense fires. But this discussion started out with “If high-severity wildfires are a problem, it is because of past logging (strangely not mentioned here).”

          Not fire suppression, not climate change, not lack of fire suppression resources, not changes in suppression policy..
          See, I think it’s all complex and we don’t and can’t really know how much each piece contributes.

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  7. What I actually meant is that if high severity wildfires are a problem FOR OWLS it is because past logging has imposed unnatural stressors that make natural stressors more of a threat. Owls evolved with a lot more big, old trees, and those trees have not grown back just because we reduced logging recently. Yes, climate is also part of it, but if they could have all those logged forests back, I’ll bet the owls would be a lot more resilient.

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    • So if I hear you, you are saying that if owl habitat had not been reduced, there would continue to be higher numbers of owls, which in turn could contain more genetic/behavioral diversity, which then would lead them to be more resilient to climate change? Or simply that more owls could tolerate more loss from intense fires?

      Just trying to get the mechanics here…

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  8. What does it matter?

    We are seeing evolution in action. As we have dicussed repeatedly in posts ad-nauseum, all the literature shows that the Barred Owl is a much better survivior than the NSO.

    The BO is more flexible in terms of range of habitat, climate & forage needs. And of highly significant importance – it’s breeding frequency, # offspring per breeding & rate of 1st yr survival are off the charts compared to that of the NSO. Add in the BO’s greater physical prowess and you should be able to see that the handwritting is on the wall.

    All the money thrown at saving the NSO & shooting it’s competitor the BO has done nothing to slow down, much less, stop the death spiral of the NSO over four or five or more decades.

    All of the conjecture on this site about anthropogenic causation after so many years of intensive & extensive study only goes to show that mankind can not begin to comprehend the intertwining ecosystem complexities involved.

    Mother Nature has already solved the problem with something called evolution which all of the so called nature lovers don’t seem to want to accept. GET OVER IT.

    If you want “hands off” of ecosystem forming forests, you should be able to see the tail wagging the dog to save a bird subspecies that is being replaced by a more advantageous (over the long term considering climate change alone) natural process.

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  9. In answer to Sharon’s question, yes to either or both. Greater population size/diversity normally means more stability/security when threatened by whatever (right?).

    I might agree with Gil if this was really just evolution (although I don’t think ESA allows us to write off species threatened by evolution, or allows us to “GET OVER IT” regardless of the cause). In the case of barred owls (as with probably many species that are threats to other species with small populations), the ongoing “evolution” likely has a major human influence: “The most common theory is that the barred owl’s westward movement was caused by changes to the environment in the Great Plains as people increasingly settled there and dramatically altered the landscape” (USFWS). (Like the eastern blue jays I’ve now got in my back yard in Montana.) So now we are legally bound to not “get over it,” and ethically compelled to acknowledge and try to counter our role in causing it.

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  10. Jon

    Regarding your statements above: “I don’t think ESA allows us to write off species threatened by evolution” and “So now we are legally bound to not “get over it,” and ethically compelled to acknowledge and try to counter our role in causing it”

    You are correct, –BUT– The Congressional Spending Cap and the Slowly Grinding Wheels of a nation wide “all listed” and “petitioned” projects prioritization process required to stay within that cap will do exactly what you say isn’t allowed and won’t do what you say is ethically compelled. The slowly grinding wheels will squash a great many of the species that the USFWS deems are are not new petitions or species for which they don’t think that there is enough money available to do any good. And they are within the law.

    IT IS AN IMPOSSIBLE TASK TO PLEASE ALL OF THE PEOPLE ALL OF THE TIME. You could say that it is Congress and Limited Resources provided by Congress that is at fault. – BUT – It is really you and me and all of the taxpayers that are at fault since most seem to prioritize social programs, fighting climate change and not paying as much in taxes as we are in the present as opposed to worrying about the future of a bunch of animals that don’t have a chance of surviving climate change or more successful competitors. In addition, there are too many uninformed fingers in the pot trying to get their priorities put ahead of the priorities of others thereby taking funds away from each other as I will show.

    Here are the supporting facts for my statements above:
    The 12/15/20 NSO Finding as published in the Federal Register reveals that there is a means for prioritizing otherwise contradicting laws that the USFWS must follow. As I read it, It appears to me that the USFWS is well within the prioritized laws as dictated by the overriding requirement which is the Congressional “Spending Cap” as quoted below in items 3 & 4.

    SUMMARY:
    A) The research used to determine a “12 Month Finding after” ‘an accepted’ “Petition” is considered to be a “5 Year Review”. Therefore there is no violation of the 5 Year Review requirement since the last Finding (i.e. Proxy for a 5 Year Review) was in April of 2015 and this Finding was Dec 2020.(3) Therefore Statutory and other Legal requirements Have Been Meet.
    B) ‘Action may be precluded based on completing the Nation Wide Prioritization Process.'(2)
    C) Since 1998, the Congressional Spending Cap has been the ‘Controlling Law’. It “was designed to prevent the listing function from depleting funds needed for other functions under the Act”.(1) So the funds for listing are what is left over after “listing actions with statutory, court-ordered, or court-approved deadlines and final listing determinations” have been meet.(4) SOOoooo the more Legal Challenges & Petitions across all species – The less money left to do anything but the bare minimum which is 5 Year Reviews which includes any Findings made within 12 months of a “Petition”. i.e. Red Tape Can Kill Taking Action. Enviro’s need to get together and prioritize their Petitions and Legal Actions because they are working against each other and the ESA by Overwhelming the System and “the system” has it’s own legal recourse for dealing with that (increasingly slowing, grinding wheels).

    Supporting Quotes:
    1) SPENDING CAP “The resources available for listing actions are determined through the annual Congressional appropriations process. In FY 1998 and for each fiscal year since then, Congress has placed a statutory cap on funds that may be expended for the Listing Program (“Spending Cap”). This spending cap was designed to prevent the listing function from depleting funds needed for other functions under the Act (for example, recovery functions, such as removing species from the Lists), or for other Service programs (see House Report 105-163, 105th Congress, 1st Session, July 1, 1997). The funds within the spending cap are available to support work involving the following listing actions: Proposed and final rules to add species to the Lists or to change the status of species from threatened to endangered; 90-day and 12-month findings on petitions to add species to the Lists or to change the status of a species from threatened to endangered; annual “resubmitted” petition findings on prior warranted-but-precluded petition findings as required under section 4(b)(3)(C)(i) of the Act; critical habitat petition findings; proposed rules designating critical habitat or final critical habitat determinations; and litigation-related, administrative, and program-management functions (including preparing and allocating budgets, responding to Congressional and public inquiries, and conducting public outreach regarding listing and critical habitat).”
    2) PRECLUDED: “Background Under section 4(b)(3)(B) of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), we are required to make a finding on whether or not a petitioned action is warranted within 12 months after receiving any petition that we have determined contains substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted (“12-month finding”. We must make a finding that the petitioned action is: (1) Not warranted; (2) warranted; or (3) warranted but precluded. “Warranted but precluded” means that (a) the petitioned action is warranted, but the immediate proposal of a regulation implementing the petitioned action is precluded by other pending proposals to determine whether species are endangered or threatened species, and (b) expeditious progress is being made to add qualified species to the Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants (Lists) and to remove from the Lists species for which the protections of the Act are no longer necessary. Section 4(b)(3)(C) of the Act requires that, when we find that a petitioned action is warranted but precluded, we treat the petition as though it is resubmitted on the date of such finding, that is, requiring that a subsequent finding be made within 12 months of that date. We must publish these 12-month findings in the Federal Register.”
    3) PREVIOUS FEDERAL ACTIONS: “On April 10, 2015, we published a 90-day finding (80 FR 19259), in which we announced that the petition presented substantial information indicating that reclassification may be warranted for the northern spotted owl and that our status review will also constitute our 5-year review for the northern spotted owl.”
    4) SPENDING PRIORITIES: “work on a reclassification for the northern spotted owl has been, and continues to be, precluded by work on higher-priority actions—which includes listing actions with statutory, court-ordered, or court-approved deadlines and final listing determinations.”

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