Latest version of long-contested plan encompasses more than 2,000 stream miles of riparian habitat
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Federal biologists are moving one step closer to finalizing a critical habitat designation for the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher.
In the latest version, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service wants to remove a 60-mile stretch of the Lower Colorado River from critical habitat proposed previously. A total of 2,113 stream miles are being considered for critical habitat designation.
The migratory bird depends on stream-side habitat that dwindled over the years, largely as a result of water diversions and water development projects that affected riparian areas in the Southwest.
According to a 2007 survey, there are about 1,299 territories spread across the range of the species, with substantial populations on the upper Gila River and middle Rio Grande in New Mexico, Roosevelt Lake and the lower San Pedro in Arizona and numerous scattered locations in California.
Within this range, the flycatcher has lost more than 90 percent of its habitat to dams, water withdrawal, livestock grazing, urban sprawl and other factors.
The bird was listed as endangered in 1995. Ten years later, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated 737 river miles of flycatcher critical habitat (after initially proposing 1,556 river miles).
Conservation groups said that wasn’t enough and promptly sued the agency. The most recent critical habitat proposal stems from a settlement of that lawsuit. In 2011, the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed designating more than 2,000 river miles in California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico as critical habitat.
The proposal now posted for public comment would cut that by about 902 miles, with the recognition that many of the riparian areas at issue are protected under voluntary habitat conservation agreements with private landowners or other agencies.
The agency has also completed a draft economic analysis of the habitat proposal, available at this USFWS website, along with all the other relevant documents and detailed maps of the proposal.
Based on updated science, the USFWS is also proposing two additional locations in Arizona. Six additional areas are being considered for exclusion from the designation, including the Santa Clara River and Castaic Creek, Calif. (14.5 mi.), lower Colorado River (70 mi.), Pinal Creek, Ariz. (3.5 mi.), and Rio Grande, N.M. (46.1 mi.).
The two new segments are on Cienega Creek and Empire Gulch (totaling 15.5 mi.), both in Arizona.
The Service will hold a public hearing on the proposal, draft economic analysis, and draft environmental assessment, on Aug. 16 at the Apache Gold Convention Center (Geronimo Room), located five miles east of Globe, Ariz. on Highway 70. An informational session will be held from 3 to 4:30 p.m. followed by a public hearing from 6:30 to 8 p.m. for receiving oral comments.
Because flycatcher habitat and Southwest rivers are dynamic, a broad distribution of flycatcher populations throughout the bird’s range is important to retain population stability and gene flow, and to prevent simultaneous catastrophic loss of populations and local extirpation.
The flycatcher breeds and rears its chicks in late spring and through the summer in dense vegetation along streams, rivers, wetlands, and reservoirs in the arid Southwest. The most recent 2007 flycatcher rangewide assessment described 288 separate flycatcher breeding sites The flycatcher migrates to Mexico, Central, and possibly northern South America for the non-breeding season.
The 5¾-inch flycatcher breeds and rears its nestlings in late spring and through the summer in dense vegetation along streams, rivers, wetlands, and reservoirs in the arid Southwest. The most recent 2007 flycatcher rangewide assessment described 288 separate flycatcher breeding sites (areas that contain a collection of territories) and estimated 1,299 flycatcher territories. A territory is a discrete area defended by a resident single flycatcher or pair of flycatchers during a breeding season. The flycatcher migrates to Mexico, Central America, and possibly northern South America for the non-breeding season.
The proposed rule, revision, maps, draft economic analysis, and draft environmental assessment and other information about the southwestern willow flycatcher are available on the Internet at http://www.fws.gov/southwest/es/arizona/ or http://www.regulations.gov, or by contacting the Service’s Arizona Ecological Service Office at (602) 242-0210. Comments on the proposal and related documents will be accepted through September 10, 2012, and can be submitted electronically via the Federal eRulemaking Portal at: http://www.regulations.gov, or can be mailed or hand delivered to Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–R2-ES-2011-0053; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222; Arlington, VA 22203.
The ESA provides a critical safety net for America’s native fish, wildlife, and plants. This landmark conservation law has prevented the extinction of hundreds of imperiled species across the nation and promoted the recovery of many others. The Service is working to actively engage conservation partners and the public in the search for improved and innovative ways to conserve and recover imperiled species. To learn more about the Endangered Species Program, visit http://www.fws.gov/endangered/.
Filed under: biodiversity, endangered species, Environment, rivers, water Tagged: | biodiversity, Colorado River, endangered species, endangered species act, Environment, Gila River, southwestern willow flycatcher, United States Fish and Wildlife Service