Conserving the Nature of America

News Release

Service Designates Critical Habitat for Endangered Southwestern Bird

October 20, 2005


Division of Public Affairs
External Affairs
Telephone: 703-358-2220

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published today a final rule designating 737 miles of waters within the 100-year floodplain 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. A list of exclusions follows.

"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, acting Deputy Regional Director of the Services Southwest Region. "We do not add the designation to those places where we are assured the birds 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 ¾-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 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 ten 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.

This is the second time the Service has designated critical habitat for the southwestern willow flycatcher. This critical habitat designation was completed in compliance with a Sept. 30, 2003, opinion issued by the District Court of New Mexico (Center for Biological Diversity v Norton, (iv. No. 02-1067 LH/RHS (D.N.M)). The court assigned a schedule whereby the Service would arrive at a final determination by Sept. 30, 2005.

In 30 years of implementing the Endangered Species Act, the Service has found that the designation of critical habitat provides little additional protection to most listed species, while preventing the Service from using scarce conservation resources for activities with greater conservation benefits.

In almost all cases, recovery of listed species will come through voluntary cooperative partnerships, not regulatory measures such as critical habitat. Habitat is also protected through cooperative measures under the Endangered Species Act including Habitat Conservation Plans, Safe Harbor Agreements, Candidate Conservation Agreements and state programs. In addition, voluntary partnership programs such as the Services Private Stewardship Grants and Partners for Fish and Wildlife program also restore habitat. Habitat for endangered species is provided on many national wildlife refuges, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state wildlife management areas.

A copy of the final rule, economic analysis, and other information about the southwestern willow flycatcher critical habitat and recovery planning are available at or by contacting the Field Supervisor at the Arizona Ecological Services Field Office, 2321 W. Royal Palm Rd., Ste 103, Phoenix, AZ 85021.

Areas Excluded from Final Critical Habitat Designation:

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. The majority of the areas were excluded because habitat protection is being provided for via a different method, such as a habitat conservation plan. In these instances, a critical habitat designation becomes redundant. A few areas were removed because after further evaluation they did not contain the essential habitat elements for the southwest willow flycatcher.

The following are those areas which have been excluded and/or exempted.

Habitat Conservation Plans that cover the flycatcher. The plans have undergone public review and comment, and provide assurances that the conservation measures for the species will be implemented and effective.

Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan, CA

San Diego County Multiple Species Conservation Plan, CA

City of Carlsbad Habitat Management Program, CA

Lower Colorado River Multiple Species Conservation Plan, AZ, CA and NV

Roosevelt Lake Habitat Conservation Plan, AZ

U.S. Department of Defense sites with an Integrated Natural Resource Management Plan that adequately address flycatcher conservation measures.

Camp Pendleton, Naval Weapons Fallbrook and Naval Weapons Station, CA

The Service also evaluated information provided in comments on the proposed critical habitat designation, environmental assessment and economic analysis and considered it in the development of the final critical habitat designation for the flycatcher.

Tribal partnerships on flycatcher management that contain conservation measures for the species will be implemented and effective.

Hualapai, AZ

Chemehuevi, CA

Colorado River, CA/AZ

Fort Mojave, CA/AZ

Quechan ( Fort Yuma), CA/AZ

Yavapai-Apache, AZ

San Carlos, AZ

Isleta Pueblo, NM

La Jolla, CA

Rincon, CA

San Illdefonso Pueblo, NM

San Juan Pueblo, NM

Santa Clara Pueblo, NM

State and Federal conservation plans that provide assurances that the conservation measures for the species will be implemented and effective.

Overton State Wildlife Area, NV

Key Pittman State Wildlife Area, NV

Alamo State Wildlife Area, AZ

Kern River Wildlife Area, CA

Sprague Ranch, CA

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, National Wildlife Refuge System with Comprehensive Conservation Plans (CCP) and/or programs that provide for long-term assurances that conservation measures for the species will be implemented and effective. The CCPs are required under the Refuge Improvement Act of 1997.

Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge, NV

Havasu National Wildlife Refuge, AZ

Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, AZ

Imperial National Wildlife Refuge, AZ

Bill Williams National Wildlife Refuge, AZ

Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge, CO

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, NM

Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, NM

Local government, multi-organization partnerships and private entity management plans that provide protections and assurances that the conservation measures for the species will be implemented and effective.

Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Southwestern Willow Flycatcher Conservation Strategy, Owens River, CA

San Luis Valley Partnership, CO

Hafenfeld Ranch, CA

Salt River Project: Horseshoe Lake, AZ

U-Bar Ranch, NM

Rio Grande Valley State Park, City of Albuquerque, NM

River segments re-evaluated and removed in their entirety.

Pinto Creek and South Fork of Little Colorado River, AZ

Yucaipa Creek, Wilson Creek, San Timoteo Wash and Cuyamaca Reservoir, CA

fter factoring in the above exclusions, three rivers had such minor sections not already covered by some type of conservation that the resulting section was not essential habitat. Thus, these rivers were not included in the designation.

Cristianitos Creek, CA,

Bill Williams River, AZ

San Diego River, CA

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses 545 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to State fish and wildlife agencies.

NOTE TO EDITORS: Photographs of the southwestern willow flycatcher, critical habitat fact sheets and maps, and relevant documents are available at and

Information contained in older news items may be outdated. These materials are made available as historical archival information only. Individual contacts have been replaced with general External Affairs office information. No other updates have been made to the information and we do not guarantee current accuracy or completeness.

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