Northern spotted owls—the species that catapulted Oregon's fight to save its forests into national spotlight in the '90s—are still in trouble.
The dark brown, beady-eyed creatures live in old-growth forests, a habitat that's been diminished by logging. They've been classified as a threatened species since 1990.
Now, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a report today declaring that spotted owls should be reclassified from "threatened" to "endangered."
"Populations of northern spotted owls in several long-term demographic monitoring areas have declined more than 70% since the early 1990s," reads the report. "The extinction risk for northern spotted owl populations has increased, particularly in Washington and Oregon."
Spotted owl populations have declined annually at an average rate of 3.8%, and as high as 8.4% per year in some areas of the Pacific Northwest.
According to the USFW's findings, the old problems persist: "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."
But now, there are additional threats to spotted owls: barred owls and megafires.
Barred owls are a nonnative species and much more aggressive than the smaller spotted owl. Barred owls are successfully competing against spotteds for habitat, which has been further diminished by the increased frequency of high-intensity fires.
Despite USFWS's conclusion that the spotted owl meets the definition of an endangered species, it hasn't officially been added to the endangered species list because the agency doesn't have the budget to take immediate action on its findings.
"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," the report says. "We will develop a proposed rule to reclassify the northern spotted owl as our priorities allow."