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Tiny pygmy owl has renewed chance at protection in Arizona

December 24, 2021 GMT
FILE - In this Jan. 16, 1998, file photo, pygmy owls, similar to this one shown at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, Ariz., that make their nest inside cavities of Arizona's saguaro cactus have a new chance for federal protection. Federal wildlife officials are proposing restoring some protection for a tiny desert owl known for nesting in Arizona's saguaro cactus. The Arizona Daily Star reports the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week formally registered a proposal to list the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl as a threatened species. (AP Photo/John Miller, File)
FILE - In this Jan. 16, 1998, file photo, pygmy owls, similar to this one shown at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, Ariz., that make their nest inside cavities of Arizona's saguaro cactus have a new chance for federal protection. Federal wildlife officials are proposing restoring some protection for a tiny desert owl known for nesting in Arizona's saguaro cactus. The Arizona Daily Star reports the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week formally registered a proposal to list the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl as a threatened species. (AP Photo/John Miller, File)
FILE - In this Jan. 16, 1998, file photo, pygmy owls, similar to this one shown at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, Ariz., that make their nest inside cavities of Arizona's saguaro cactus have a new chance for federal protection. Federal wildlife officials are proposing restoring some protection for a tiny desert owl known for nesting in Arizona's saguaro cactus. The Arizona Daily Star reports the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week formally registered a proposal to list the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl as a threatened species. (AP Photo/John Miller, File)

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — A tiny desert owl known for nesting in Arizona’s saguaro cactus may get some federal protection restored, according to a proposal from federal wildlife officials.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week formally registered a proposal to list the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl as a threatened species, the Arizona Daily Star reported.

Being classified as threatened rather than endangered signals officials’ belief the owl faces potential harm. Factors that could put the owl in danger include climate change, loss of habitat and the presence of invasive species.

The service’s proposal is the culmination of years of petitions and lawsuits filed by environmental groups. In 2017, a federal judge ruled the wildlife service failed to accurately interpret the Endangered Species Act. Fish and Wildlife later agreed to partner with other groups and conduct a new “species status assessment” of the owl.

“It’s a shame it lost protection for 15 years. It took us another petition and several rounds of litigation to get its protection back,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s clear the situation for the owl has only gotten worse in 15 years. We’re glad we finally prevailed.”

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An approved listing would mean some restrictions on development around Pima County and elsewhere.

The owl lives in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, the neighboring Mexican state of Sonora and southern Texas. The brown and white bird measures about 6.7 inches (17 centimeters).

The pygmy owl was protected as an endangered species from 1997 to 2006, but lost that status following a developer’s lawsuit that resulted in the protection’s removal. The Southern Arizona Home Builders Association, which was the plaintiff in that lawsuit, has not weighed in on this development.

“Any time there is an issue that could make it harder to build, increase the cost of housing and set back our economy — such as an endangered or threatened species listing — we take it seriously,” said David Godlewski, the association’s president. “At this point, however, we have just begun to learn of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services decision on the pygmy owl and are evaluating whether, and to what extent, we will engage.”

The Fish and Wildlife proposal still needs to go through a 60-day public comment period.