Ecojustice Case – Nature Case Status: Victory

Fighting to protect the last remaining wild Spotted Owls

Kegan Pepper-SmithLawyer
Devon PageLawyer
Adult northern spotted owl
Photo by Jared Hobbs

Before industrial logging in British Columbia, there were an estimated 500 pairs of spotted owls living in the old growth forests southwest B.C. Today, there are only three adult owls, including one breeding pair, left in the wild.

This dramatic decline led Ecojustice to send a letter to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change in October 2020, demanding he step in to implement emergency order protections under the Species at Risk Act.

On behalf of Wilderness Committee, Ecojustice argued that decades of provincial mismanagement had left spotted owls without legal protection and decimated the old-growth forests where they once lived.

“Without federal emergency action,” Ecojustice lawyers Kegan Pepper-Smith said in a press release, “There is a high likelihood that this species will disappear from the wild in the near future.”

In February 2021, the provincial and federal governments responded to Ecojustice’s calls to protect spotted owls by announcing a halt to all logging within the forests of Spô’zêm First Nation territory, specifically the Spuzzum and Utzlius watersheds, that are home to the last known wild spotted owls in Canada. The logging moratorium is scheduled to last a minimum of one year while a more permanent solution is negotiated.

Why was Ecojustice involved?

There are only three adult spotted owls remaining in the wild. All three live on the territory of the Spô’zêm Nation.

Spotted owls need old growth forest to survive. Despite this, the B.C. government continued to allow logging in spotted owl habitat through the province’s own logging agency, BC Timber Sales. Additionally, B.C. is one of the few provinces that lacks a standalone law to protect endangered species – even though it is home to more than 2,000 species at risk of disappearing.

While the province maintains a captive breeding program, it has yet to successfully introduce a single captive raised spotted owl into the wild.

Without federal intervention to protect the species, Ecojustice and Wilderness Committee argued, spotted owls — and their old-growth forest habitat — were at serious risk of disappearing from the wild.

What does this victory mean?

The logging moratorium in spotted owl habitat is a win for this endangered bird and for the old growth forests where it lives. However, the moratorium is not a permanent solution.

B.C. needs a law to protect biodiversity in the province. Otherwise, species such as the spotted owl will disappear from the province forever.

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