Feds Expand Critical Habitat For Southwest Songbird
January 02, 2013

Photo courtesy U. S. Geological Survey.
Many are worried about the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher's habitat.

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- An endangered songbird that lives near rivers in the southwest will now have more protection thanks to a new federal designation announced Wednesday. But ranchers aren’t thrilled about it.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated 208,973 acres along 1,227 miles of desert rivers as critical habitat for the Southwest Willow Flycatcher. About 1,200 pairs of flycatchers live across California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Nevada.

This is an expansion of a previous flycatcher habitat designation. The first was challenged by the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association.

"Any critical habitat designation has the potential of limiting how ranchers manage their land, how they manage their cattle, and how they manage their watering facilities," said Caren Cowan, executive director of the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association. "We’re perplexed because one of the largest known populations of Southwestern Willow Flycatchers in the United States is on a ranch in southern New Mexico."

Cowan said the birds and the cattle coexist without a problem. In fact she said, the flycatchers flourish.

Noah Greenwald with the Center for Biological Diversity says as long as ranchers keep cattle away from the river banks and out of the streams, that can be true.

"Literally dozens, hundreds of studies have found that when you remove cows from streamsides it benefits the stream, it benefits water quality, it benefits fish, it benefits tons of species," Greenwald said.

Greenwald said livestock tend to eat willows, where the birds nest, and trample the stream banks. He’s been fighting for this designation under the Endangered Species Act for 15 years.