April 19, 2006 - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last week announced its intentions to remove the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl from the federal Endangered Species Act.
The owl no longer will have protection under that act, effective May 15. It will still have protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which prohibits killing the owls and possessing their feathers or eggs.
Pygmy owls live throughout Arizona, Texas and Mexico. The FWS determined that the Arizona owl's population "does not contribute significantly to the species as a whole," according to a statement released by the service.
The delisting also means a rescinding of any proposed critical habitat for the owls, which at last count numbered 20 in Arizona. One male pygmy owl makes its habitat in the Northwest, FWS biologist Scott Richardson said.
The owl's delisting will not deter Marana officials from moving forward with a planned overlay zone, east of Interstate 10, which would establish a development impact threshold for any new construction.
In particular, Marana aims to limit development to between 30 and 40 percent disturbance to surrounding environmental areas, the most sensitive of which would be preserved.
The overlay zone would simply keep things in check, "similar to the development which has been rezoned and platted over the last eight years," Town Manager Mike Reuwsaat said.
A draft of the proposed overlay zone could reach the town council sometime in the next two months, Reuwsaat added.
In addition, the town prior to the delisting submitted a draft of its habitat conservation plan, which takes into account habitats for not only the pygmy owl, but the burrowing owl, the Tucson shovel-nosed and ground snakes, the lesser long-nosed bat and the pale Townsend's big-eared bat.
The federal service has provided the town with feedback.
"We are currently evaluating the HCP draft comments in light of the delisting," Reuwsaat said. "However, this does not preclude moving forward with the HCP."
The pygmy owl is a reddish-brown bird less than seven-inches long and weighing as much as a tennis ball. The FWS first listed the owl as endangered in 1997. An appeals court decision last year forced the service to reevaluate the owl's importance and distinction from other populations, like those in Mexico.
Owl nests could be seen as recent as a few years ago around the Cortaro and Thornydale road area, near the Mason Audubon Center.
The owl's numbers in Arizona have plummeted from more than 40 to 20 since 2002. Nests have numbered no more than five since that time, according to the USFWS.