A tiny little owl has loomed large in the development history of this area. Now that bird, which had lost Federal protection, has it again.

The average Pygmy Owl stands about six inches tall and weighs about two and half ounces but it has been a heavy weight in environment and development issues here.

When the Center for Biological Diversity sued and got the owl Federal protection in the late 1990s developers complained they had to meet restrictions to protect a bird so rare they might question if it was really there.

For environmentalists, the rarity helped make the point that the owl needed protection.

Homebuilders sued and got the protections removed. Now the Center for Biological Diversity has won lawsuits to get the protections restored.

Noah Greenwald with the Center describes the number of Pygmy Owls in Arizona as in the hundreds. He says theyre gone from Northwest Tucson now and not seen reliably anymore in the Organ Pipe area.

So we have seen some declines, but they are still there. They’re in Altar Valley and the Avra Valley and the Tohono reservation and they’re still found in all those places.

But Pima County expects much less impact on developers than the last time the owl had Federal protection. Since then, the County developed the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. It says when a project develops natural land, an area as large or larger can be set aside to stay undeveloped to preserve space for desert plants and animals.

Sherry Ruther of Pima County Sustainability and Conservation says that covers developers under the Endangered Species Act.

And you go and develop your project and do the grading as permitted. And the county then goes and provides the mitigation elsewhere. And we’re good to go.

And the County says the plan protects many more animals and plants beyond the Pygmy Owl.