Southwestern willow flycatcher keeps 'endangered' status


Ranching organizations in New Mexico that asked the federal government to remove a small bird from its list of endangered speeches received some disappointing news last week.

On Thursday (Dec. 28), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service announced the southwestern willow flycatcher would keep its protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The New Mexico Cattle Growers Association, New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau and New Mexico Wool Growers Inc. filed a petition in 2015 to have the bird removed from the federal list of at-risk species. The New Mexico organizations were joined by a building industry organization in California and represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative law firm that has also litigated to overturn jaguar habitat designations in Southern New Mexico.

The groups challenged that the southwestern willow flycatcher is not a valid subspecies and argued that the bird no longer faced a variety of threats that put it on the endangered  list.

"An exhaustive review of the best available scientific information... led to the conclusion that the southwestern willow flycatcher is a subspecies protectable under the [Endangered Species Act]," according to the Thursday press release from the wildlife agency.

While some populations of the bird have made progress toward recovery, the bird and its habitat "are experiencing substantial threats."

The bird populations have "declined because of removing, thinning, or destroying riparian vegetation; water diversions and groundwater pumping which alter riparian vegetation; overstocking or other mismanagement of livestock; and recreational development," according to the agency.

Taos County is home to habitat for the southwestern willow flycatcher, including along the Río Grande del Rancho. "The habitat is degraded but has potential to be high quality," read a Carson National Forest review of wild and scenic eligible rivers released in September. None of the subspecies have been observed in that habitat since 2014.

"We are disappointed," Caren Cowan, executive director of the cattle growers' association, told The Taos News Wednesday (Jan. 3).

"This is an issue we've been involved with since 1997. Most of the damage has been done," Cowan said. "The [endangered status] decision was made based on the habitat, which is a means of control of lands and people and not necessarily addressing the bird itself."


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Meg Scherch-Peterson

Did you watch the amazing walk-in touchdown that cinched the win for the Vikings? Now imagine a sports reporter writing about that historic catch with a lead paragraph that--wait for it---describes the woe-is-us Saints bench. Yeah. Pretty lame.

And yet, this is just what this environmental reporter did to the historic save of the southwestern willow flycatcher. Instead of emphasizing what the EPA decision means to the health of our rivers, to land managers, to birdwatchers, to conservationists, to scientists, this reporter dishes out some woe-is-us quotes from ranching organizations. Not that there is anything wrong with ranching organizations. Just not my team. And when my team wins, I want to read about that.

In fact, a quick search of the Taos News' own archives would have revealed local wildlife lovers who could have bolstered the flycatcher's success story and what it means, not just for the bird, but for our river ecosystems.

I know, I know. The flycatcher is just a bird, you say. But that's what folks said decades ago about the iconic bald eagle. Now, as a result of EPA protections, you can see these "fisher eagles" flying and diving for fish along the Rio Grande. Which is a terrific win for my team.

But, Taos News, please don't try and tackle the tale of our winning "fisher eagle." Otherwise, we may be forced to read a woe-is-us fish story.

Thursday, January 18 | Report this