This Little Owl has a Big History

The cactus ferruginous pygmy owl (CFPO) is only 6 inches tall but plays a big part in the Coalition’s story.

Even after all this time, this little owl is a symbol of our mission – protecting the biodiversity of the Sonoran Desert and the fragile ecosystem so many depend on for survival.

In 1997 the cactus ferruginous pygmy-owl was listed as an endangered species. This spurred over 40 conservation and neighborhood groups to come together to form the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection in February 1998. It was the first time that local entities, including Pima County, addressed the issue of an endangered species within their municipalities. Essentially, the pygmy owl being listed as endangered was the canary in the coal mine – rising development in Pima County and the effects of climate change were threatening this species and others within the Sonoran Desert. This issue could no longer be ignored.

Photo Credit: Aaron Flesch

Cactus ferruginous pygmy owls need protected desert open spaces, saguaros and mature trees to nest in, and assisted resilience to climate changes and increasing development to once again thrive. At the time of being listed as endangered, only a handful of individuals could be found in Arizona.

A pair of pygmy owls.
Photo Credit: Aaron Flesch
A pygmy owl peers out of its saguaro-cavity nest.
Photo Credit: Aaron Flesch

This single species brought everyone together, including the environmental community, ranchers, Pima County, homebuilders, developers and realtors. Uniquely, everyone had the same interest – protecting the beauty of Sonoran Desert and the biodiversity within it, as well as providing certainty with future development. The benefits of a healthy ecosystem were of great public and conservational interest and the input from a diverse range of stakeholders was the only way to create a solution. This collaboration planted the seeds for the ground-breaking Sonoran Desert Conservation plan (SDCP) and the Multi-Species Conservation Plan (MSCP) in 1998.

The goal of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan is to ensure the long-term survival of the full spectrum of plants and animals that are indigenous to Pima County through maintaining or improving the habitat conditions and ecosystem functions necessary for their survival.

The SDCP has grown in stature and continues to be implemented by Pima County to this day. The MSCP was formally approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2016. At the start, the Coalition’s main goal was to bring sound science and planning into the equation as Pima County adopted and began its implementation of the SDCP. Over the years, the Coalition’s scope and mission has broadened to include involvement in virtually every conservation issue in Pima County.

Watch a short (5+ minute) video about the SDCP produced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The 2006 decision, based on a lawsuit by the National Association of Homebuilders, to de-list the owl removed its federal protections, as well as withdrawing the designation of over 732,000 acres of Critical Habitat – this was a shock to many. The federal government claimed it delisted the owl because it didn’t believe the Arizona population’s loss would significantly affect the bird’s entire range and population in both the United States and Mexico, despite the fact that by 2006, only one individual could be found north of Tucson. Thankfully, because the CFPO was included in the MSCP, it was still protected in Pima County as though it was endangered, even though federal protections were revoked. Efforts by Coalition member groups, Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife, led to a revisit of the 2006 decision and just last year, 2023, the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl regained federal protection as a threatened species!

Cactus ferruginous pygmy owls still need our attention. Habitat loss continues to be the number one driving force behind the owl’s population decline in addition to habitat fragmentation and climate change. After all these years, the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection is committed to our mission of protecting species like the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl, as well as the ecosystem it depends on for survival. This is especially relevant in our fight against the proposed west option of I-11, that would fragment and destroy vital habitat for many species, including the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl. This was precisely why the Coalition and our member groups, filed additional charges against the Federal Highway Administration – for ignoring the irreparable damage I-11 would cause to the habitats of threatened and endangered species within Avra Valley.

Donations to the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection make it possible for us to continue our important work of protecting and restoring the Sonoran Desert for generations to come. Your gift will support the Coalition’s ongoing work to protect and connect the Sonoran Desert’s vital habitat for many species, including the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl.

Photo Credit: Sky Jacobs

In honor of this special owl, we’re excited to announce our new cactus ferruginous pygmy owl design – a highlight in our wildlife sticker collection. Consider supporting the Coalition and our programs by purchasing a sticker today through our website, or order these designs on t-shirts, tote bags, and more, on our threadless page!

For a limited time for ARIZONA GIVES DAY: As a token of our appreciation, donations of +$100 on April 2nd will receive the first editions of the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl sticker!

We thank you sincerely for your support. You are the reason we can continue our important work.

Wildlife Stickers are available on our webstore!
Get your own cactus ferruginous pygmy owl sticker today!

Related Posts:

Recommended Reading:

2021 Species Status Assessment Report for Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy-owl (Glaucidium brasilianum cactorum)

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