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 http://www.dchieftain.com/news/55896-11-02-05.html November 2, 2005

Service designates critical habitat for endangered Southwestern bird

Submitted to El Defensor Chieftain

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has published a final rule designating 737 miles of water in seven states as critical habitat for an endangered migratory bird.

The area lies within the 100-year flood plain in California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and New Mexico as critical habitat for an endangered migratory bird, the southwestern willow flycatcher. The designation identifies the stream and lake-edge habitats that are believed essential to help recover the species.

Impacts associated for all flycatcher conservation efforts in the proposed designated areas, not just those exclusively associated with habitat designation, are estimated to range from $29.2 million to $39.5 million annually, and include costs associated with the listing of the species under the Endangered Species Act for the designated areas.

The final designation is a 53 percent reduction in river miles and a 68 percent reduction in acreage from a proposal prepared last year.

"While a few areas were excluded because they were not essential habitats, most of the areas are already protected under some form of agreements," said Larry Bell in a news release, who is acting deputy regional director of the service's southwest region.

"We do not add the designation to those places where we are assured the bird's habitat is being enhanced by positive conservation measures."

Many areas identified as eligible for designation were excluded from final critical habitat designation as they are already protected by conservation management plans. There are over sixteen conservation plans already established to provide protections and assurances that the conservation measures for the species will be implemented and effective.

"Information supplied by individuals and groups during the comment period was essential in evaluating and finalizing critical habitat areas," said Bell.

Critical habitat was designated along the streams, rivers, wetlands and reservoirs. The 5-inch flycatcher builds nests in the dense vegetation lining wet areas in the arid Southwest. It breeds and rears its chicks in late spring through the summer in the United States. The flycatcher migrates to Mexico, Central and possibly northern South America for the winter.

Critical habitat is a term in the Endangered Species Act. It identifies geographic areas that contain features essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and that may require special management considerations or protection. The designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, wilderness, reserve, preserve, or other conservation area. It does not allow government or public access to private lands.

The critical habitat designation includes locations that support 10 or more flycatcher territories or which provide opportunities for nesting birds to access other flycatcher populations. Dispersing to other territories ensures that birds can expand into other locales and maintain genetic flow among territories, providing overall population stability. The locations designation also provides migration stopover habitats and habitat for non-breeding and dispersing southwestern willow flycatchers.

The flycatcher was added to the endangered species list in 1995 as its populations declined due to habitat loss resulting from river and water management practices; agricultural, residential and urban development; recreation; and livestock and wild hoofed animals overgrazing in breeding habitat, as well as the threat of the expanded range of the cowbird, which parasitizes songbird nests.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service excluded more than 50 percent of the river miles and 68 percent of the acreage proposed as critical habitat for the endangered southwest willow flycatcher in its final rule.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, National Wildlife Refuge System with Comprehensive Conservation Plans and programs that provide for long-term assurances that conservation measures for the species will be implemented and effective are being conducted locally under the Refuge Improvement Act of 1997 at both Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge and Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge.

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