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Environment: Feds face lawsuit over tamarisk-killing beetle

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Southwestern willow flycatcher. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Non-native bugs threatening habitat for endangered songbirds

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Conservation advocates say non-native tamarisk-eating bugs have gone haywire, destroying habitat needed by endangered southwestern willow flycatchers, native songbirds that need thick riparian vegetation to survive.

The exotic beetles were imported from Asia to destroy invasive tamarisk plants seen as a threat to water resources, but now the bugs have invaded the nesting areas of southwestern willow flycatchers in southern Utah, Nevada, and northern and western Arizona. If the beetle spreads farther without mitigation, it could seriously threaten the flycatcher’s survival, according to Dr. Robin Silver, with the Center for Biological Diversity. 

Efforts to eradicate tamarisk are costly and labor-intensive, and some recent research by the U.S. Geological Survey indicates that exotics (including Russian Olive) use about the same amount of water as native willows and cottonwoods.

In June 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture temporarily restricted release of the insects based on concerns about impacts to flycatcher habitat. The decision is outlined in this USDA memo. Continue reading

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Biodiversity: Southwestern willow flycatcher gets critical habitat designation — finally

USFWS finalizes southwestern willow flycatcher critical habitat. Photo courtesy USFWS/Jim Rorabaugh.

USFWS finalizes southwestern willow flycatcher critical habitat. Photo courtesy USFWS/Jim Rorabaugh.

Several streams and rivers in southern Colorado included

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — After losing more than 90 percent of its habitat to water development and urban sprawl, southwestern willow flycatchers will get some measure of protection, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized a critical habitat designation for the endangered birds. Read the agency’s official notification here.

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. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Public comment sought on proposed critical habitat designation for southwestern willow flycatcher

Latest version of long-contested plan encompasses more than 2,000 stream miles of riparian habitat

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to protect hundreds of miles of streamsides as critical habitat for the southwestern willow flycatcher.

Southwestern willow flycatcher.

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. Continue reading

Feds to add critical habitat for SW willow flycatcher

A southwestern willow flycatcher. PHOTO COURTESY U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY.

Under legal pressure from conservation groups, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes adding new stream-side areas to protect the endangered birds

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A tiny bird that depends on shrinking riparian habitat may soon have a better chance to survive  along streams and ponds in the harsh southwestern deserts.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said last week it plans to revise a critical habitat designation for the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher, which nests, feeds and breeds along streams in California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico.

Some riparian areas along the Colorado River in the western part of the state could be designated as critical habitat under the proposal.

The flycatcher was listed as an endangered species in 1995 in response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity. 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. Continue reading

Feds nix bugs for tamarisk control on Colorado River

A nest of southwestern willow flycatchers nesting in saltcedar. PHOTO COURTESY U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY.

Impacts to endangered birds at issue; latest studies show the non-native plants don’t use as much water as previously believed

SUMMIT COUNTY — Land managers looking for ways to control invasive tamarisk trees in the Colorado River Basin may have to search for a new tool.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has terminated the use of a non-native insect used to destroy tamarisk after concluding that the bug was destroying critical habitat used by the southwestern willow flycatcher, listed as endangered by the federal government. The decision, announced in a June 15 memo, affects biological control efforts in 13 states.

Tamarisk, also called saltcellar, is native to the Mediterranean and central Asian region. It was brought to the U.S. to be used as a windbreak and for ornamental purposes. It quickly spread across at least 1.5 million acres in the arid climate and alkaline soils of the Southwest. In an ironic twist, the endangered flycatcher has taken to nesting in tamarisk.

In the past 10 years, various public agencies launched a costly and labor-intensive effort to prevent the stubborn shrub from spreading farther, and to eradicate it in areas where it’s already established. Initial estimates of tamarisk water use were alarming, which created a sense of urgency.  Continue reading

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