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Imperial Valley's western burrowing owls suffer a steep drop in population

September 27, 2010 |  6:54 pm

BurrowingOwl

Southern California's Imperial Valley, long considered a place where the western burrowing owl thrives, has seen a dramatic decline in the species' population in recent years.

The steep drop -- from 4,879 pairs in 2007 to 3,557 pairs in 2008 -- has prompted conservationists to call for an immediate inquiry by state wildlife authorities.

In 2003, the California Fish and Game Commission rejected a petition from groups including the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society to offer state Endangered Species Act protections to the owls.

In the wake of the recent population drop, environmentalists are renewing their call for the species to receive a "threatened" listing.

"It's alarming to see such a rapid, single-year drop in owl numbers in an area that is supposed to be a stronghold," Jeff Miller, conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. "Breeding owls have been eliminated from a quarter of their former range in California over the past two decades as their habitat has been destroyed and they've been shoved aside for urban development."

Learn more about the Imperial Valley's western burrowing owl population at The Times' environmental blog, Greenspace.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: A western burrowing owl. Credit: Robin Silver Photography / Center for Biological Diversity

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