Making room for flycatchers

 

The endangered Southwestern willow flycatcher may get an additional 1,300 river miles of critical habitat set aside for it in 6 Western states, according to a new proposal from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The six-inch-long, olive and yellow bird nests in the dense vegetation along Southwestern waterways. In 2005, the agency set aside about 730 river miles of "critical habitat", which is supposed to include all areas "essential to the conservation of the species." In those areas, the Endangered Species Act prohibits destruction or "adverse modification" of the habitat.

The Center for Biological Diversity sued FWS, saying the 2005 critical habitat designation was insufficient; the settlement resulted in this much larger proposal, which is meant to allow the bird's population to increase, not just keep it from shrinking further.

 

The Associated Press reports:

The thing that really sets this proposal apart is we've set recovery as our vision for this critical habitat designation," said agency spokesman Jeff Humphrey. "In the past, the Fish and Wildlife Service and everyone has really struggled with the role of critical habitat and the courts have increasingly made it clear that recovery should be our vision, not just conservation at a static point."

Humphrey explained that past critical habitat designations were made essentially to maintain populations. Some conservationists argued that was a recipe for managing a species to remain either endangered or threatened.

"What we're doing is moving beyond that. We have clearer instruction now and we're moving toward recovery," he said.

Not surprisingly, farmers, ranchers and other water users along the newly-added streams and rivers are unhappy about possible critical habitat designation, which would  subject their actions to federal scrutiny to ensure that they're not harming the bird.

Ironically, efforts to rid Southwestern rivers of invasive, water-sucking tamarisk have been harmful to the flycatcher. The Eurasian saltcedar has displaced willow, the bird's preferred habitat. But the birds adapted, learning to nest in tammies instead. When scientists began trying to control tamarisk by releasing a tammie-eating beetle, Diorhaba elongata, the biocontrol worked – the beetles denuded at least 11 million acres, and environmentalists began to worry that flycatcher populations were suffering as a result. 

(Interestingly, HCN reported last fall that flycatchers that nested in tamarisk and failed to raise chicks because beetles denuded the trees actually learned from those failures, and nested in willows instead the following year.)

The feds stopped releasing tamarisk-eating beetles last year, but they'd already spread in Oregon, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona, where they'll presumably continue to munch away. And many biologists think that's a good thing, since tammies burn readily, narrow stream channels, and support fewer native species. By killing tamarisk, the beetles could make way for native species  to regrow, including the willows the flycatchers originally preferred to nest in, and the bugs themselves provide a source of food for many birds. 

The agency is working on economic and environmental analyses of the critical habitat proposal. Public comment is open until Oct. 14.

Jodi Peterson is the managing editor at High Country News.

High Country News Classifieds
  • PUBLIC LANDS PROGRAM MANAGER
    Conserve Southwest Utah is seeking a candidate with excellent communication skills and a commitment to environmental conservation for the position of Public Lands Program Manager....
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Western Slope Conservation Center in Paonia, CO, seeks a dynamic leader who is mission-driven, hardworking, and a creative problem-solver. WSCC is committed to creating...
  • PLANNED GIVING OFFICER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks a Planned Giving Officer. Do you find energy in...
  • NORTHERN NEW MEXICO PROJECT MANAGER
    Seeking qualified Northern New Mexico Project Manager to provide expertise, leadership and support to the organization by planning, cultivating, implementing and managing land conservation activities,...
  • REGIONAL TRAIL STEWARDSHIP COORDINATOR
    Are you passionate about connecting people to the outdoors? The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is looking for someone with trail maintenance and volunteer engagement...
  • TRAIL CREW MEMBER
    Position Title: Trail Crew Member Position Type: 6 month seasonal position, April 17-October 15, 2023 Location: Field-based; The RFOV office is in Carbondale, CO, and...
  • CEO BUFFALO NATIONS GRASSLANDS ALLIANCE
    Chief Executive Officer, Remote Exempt position for Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance is responsible for the planning and organization of BNGA's day-to-day operations
  • IDAHO DIRECTOR - WESTERN WATERSHEDS PROJECT
    Western Watersheds Project seeks an Idaho Director to continue and expand upon WWP's campaign to protect and restore public lands and wildlife in Idaho, with...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT, NA'AH ILLAHEE FUND
    Na'ah Illahee Fund (NIF) is seeking a highly qualified Development Director to join our team in supporting and furthering our mission. This position will create...
  • DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS, NA'AH ILLAHEE FUND
    Na'ah Illahee Fund (NIF) is seeking a highly qualified Operations Director to join our team. This position will provide critical organizational and systems support to...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) is seeking a leader to join our dynamic team in the long-term protection of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM). We...
  • GRASSLAND RESEARCH COORDINATOR
    The Grassland Research Coordinator is a cooperative position with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that performs and participates in and coordinates data collection for...
  • HYDROELECTRIC PLANT
    1.3 MW FERC licensed hydroelectric station near Taylorsville CA. Property is 184 deeded acres surrounded by National Forrest.
  • "PROFILES IN COURAGE: STANDING AGAINST THE WYOMING WIND"
    13 stories of extraordinary courage including HCN founder Tom Bell, PRBRC director Lynn Dickey, Liz Cheney, People of Heart Mountain, the Wind River Indian Reservation...
  • GRANT WRITER
    JOB DESCRIPTION: This Work involves the responsibility of conducting research in the procurement of Federal, State, County, and private grant funding. Additional responsibilities include identifying...
  • ASPIRE COLORADO SUSTAINABLE BODY AND HOME CARE PRODUCTS
    Go Bulk! Go Natural! Our products are better for you and better for the environment. Say no to single-use plastic. Made in U.S.A., by a...
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field seminars for adults in the natural and human history of the Colorado Plateau, with lodge and base camp options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • ATTORNEY AD
    Criminal Defense, Code Enforcement, Water Rights, Mental Health Defense, Resentencing.
  • LUNATEC HYDRATION SPRAY BOTTLE
    A must for campers and outdoor enthusiasts. Cools, cleans and hydrates with mist, stream and shower patterns. Hundreds of uses.
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.