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.
“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.
For more information on the controversy over flycatchers and the protection of their habitat, please go here: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/birds/southwestern_willow_flycatcher/index.html.