The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has substantially expanded the critical habitat for the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, adding 490 stream miles and 88,149 acres of land to the designation. The Southwestern Willow Flycatcher is a small songbird that nests in vegetation along rivers and streams or other wetlands; is known to occur only in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas and Utah; and has been listed as endangered since 1995 under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
“The FWS’s recovery plan for the flycatcher recommends establishing a network of stable flycatcher populations throughout the bird’s range,” said Steve Holmer, senior policy advisor for American Bird Conservancy. “This decision constitutes about a 65 percent increase in stream miles designated as critical habitat and about a 75 percent increase in acreage designated compared to the previous designation, a major step towards achieving that goal.”
The revised FWS designation now includes a total of 1,227 stream miles in California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico encompassing a total area of approximately 208,973 acres. The FWS used the flycatcher’s 2002 recovery plan and 10 years of additional science to revise the critical habitat designation so it provides federal agencies with the information needed to contribute to the bird’s recovery.
The species is on the ABC Watchlist that identifies species in greatest need of immediate conservation attention and is highlighted in the American Bird Conservancy Guide to Bird Conservation, in the chapter on Western Arid Lands Birdscape; is also featured in The American Bird Conservancy Guide to The 500 Most Important Bird Areas in the United States in the chapter on Sonoran and Mojave Deserts, and in the ABC and National Wildlife Federation publication The Birdwatchers Guide to Global Warming -- page 21.
Another 948 stream miles initially proposed as critical habitat were excluded, exempted, or otherwise removed from the final revised designation in response to public comments, peer review and full consideration of existing habitat protections provided by Habitat Conservation Plans, various conservation plans, Department of Defense commitments, and tribal partnerships.
A critical habitat designation does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge or preserve, and in general has no impact on private landowners taking actions on their land that do not require federal funding or permits. The new designation becomes effective on Feb. 4.
The Southwestern Willow Flycatcher migrates from its southwestern breeding grounds to winter in Central and northern South America. Its annual spring return to the U.S. coincides with the hatching of riparian woodland insects. This and other insectivorous birds consume huge numbers of these insects, including mass quantities of mosquitoes. Conserving threatened and endangered species and protecting their wild places, helps preserve the benefits they provide.
The revised rule, revision, maps, economic analysis, and environmental assessment and other information about the southwestern willow flycatcher are available at http://www.fws.gov/southwest/es/arizona/ or regulations.gov [Docket number FWS–R2-ES-2011-0053], or by contacting the Service’s Arizona Ecological Service Office at 602 242-0210.