Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Designation of Critical Habitat for Southwestern Willow Flycatcher

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Here’s the ruling from the USFWS published in the Federal Register:

We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), designate revised critical habitat for the southwestern willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus) (flycatcher) under the Endangered Species Act. In total, approximately 1,975 stream kilometers (1,227 stream miles) are being designated as critical habitat. These areas are designated as stream segments, with the lateral extent including the riparian areas and streams that occur within the 100-year floodplain or flood-prone areas encompassing a total area of approximately 84,569 hectares (208,973 acres). The critical habitat is located on a combination of Federal, State, tribal, and private lands in Inyo, Kern, Los Angeles, Riverside, Santa Barbara, San Bernardino, San Diego, and Ventura Counties in California; Clark, Lincoln, and Nye Counties in southern Nevada; Kane, San Juan, and Washington Counties in southern Utah; Alamosa, Conejos, Costilla, and La Plata Counties in southern Colorado [ed. emphasis mine]; Apache, Cochise, Gila, Graham, Greenlee, La Paz, Maricopa, Mohave, Pima, Pinal, Santa Cruz, and Yavapai Counties in Arizona; and Catron, Grant, Hidalgo, Mora, Rio Arriba, Socorro, Taos, and Valencia Counties in New Mexico. The effect of this regulation is to conserve the flycatcher’s habitat under the Endangered Species Act.

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

The designation covers about 208,000 acres of riparian habitat along 1,227 miles of rivers and streams in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Nevada. Some of the critical habitat is along the banks of well-known rivers, including the Rio Grande, Gila, Virgin, Santa Ana and San Diego.

The flycatcher is a small, neotropical, migrant bird that breeds in streamside forests. It was first listed as endangered in 1995 in response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Protection of critical habitat for this tiny, unique bird could make a crucial difference to its survival, and also gives urgently needed help to the Southwest’s beleaguered rivers,” said Noah Greenwald, the Center’s endangered species director. “For all of us who love our desert rivers, this protection is great news.”

The USFWS initially designated 599 miles of riverside habitat in 1997 but was challenged by the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association. That led to a revised designation in 2007 that protected more stream miles.
But that was not enough to ensure recovery of the species, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, which challenged the rule, pointing out that it failed to consider hundreds of miles of rivers identified in a scientific recovery plan for the flycatcher.

“Like so many desert plants and animals, southwestern willow flycatchers have suffered from the wanton destruction of rivers by livestock grazing, mining, urban sprawl and overuse,” Greenwald said. “We have to take better care of our rivers.

This week’s designation still excludes hundreds of miles of river habitat that was identified in 2011 plan. Greenwald said his organization will take a close look at these the exclusions to determine if the recovery of the flycatcher was properly considered.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

Federal wildlife officials designated just over 9,000 acres in the San Luis Valley Tuesday as critical habitat for the southwestern willow flycatcher. While the move excluded all of the endangered bird’s habitat on private and state­owned land, it designated an 11.4 ­mile stretch of the Rio Grande through the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge and another 12.7­ mile segment that sits downstream under Bureau of Land Management jurisdiction.

The bird, which also received habitat protection from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in five other southwestern states, makes its home in the dense streamside cover often provided by willows, cottonwood trees and tamarisk.

Mike Blenden, who oversees the Alamosa refuge for the service, said the designation would change little about how the refuge is operated but added that activities such as ditch cleaning and prescribed burning would involve more discussion with others in the agency.

Likewise, Denise Adamic, a BLM spokeswoman, said little would change for how the agency manages its land along the Rio Grande, save for a stricter consultation process with the service to comply with the Endangered Species Act.

The official rule designating the habitat said 11 miles on the Rio Grande and 64 miles on the Conejos River were excluded because of work by the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and other local governments to set up a conservation plan for the bird.

The ruling also noted that the flycatcher’s habitat had benefited from the establishment of conservation easements on nearly 9,000 acres of private land lining the Rio Grande and Conejos.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.

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