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The Mountain-Prairie Region


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228


September 23, 1998

Stuart Leon (505) 248-6657
Ben Ikenson (505) 248-6911

Recovery Planning Under Way for Southwestern Willow Flycatcher

Planning for one of the nation’s largest and most comprehensive recovery efforts for an endangered species is now under way for the southwestern willow flycatcher, a rare inhabitant of streamside riparian areas in the Southwest. The southwestern willow flycatcher was listed as an endangered species on February 27, 1995. Completion of a draft Recovery Plan for the bird is targeted for next fall with implementation to occur soon thereafter.

One of four currently-recognized willow flycatcher subspecies, the southwestern willow flycatcher is a neotropical migratory bird that breeds in southwestern U.S. and migrates to Mexico, Central America, and possibly northern South America during the non-breeding season. The primary reason for the bird’s decline is loss of riparian habitat throughout the Southwest.

"The southwestern willow flycatcher is critically endangered and can only be saved by widespread participation and support of all affected stakeholders in its range," said Nancy Kaufman, Regional Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southwest Region. "We intend to involve all interested and parties in the recovery of this bird."

In January, 1998, thirteen scientists were appointed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southwest Regional Director Nancy Kaufman to serve on the Technical Subgroup of the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher Recovery Team. Selected individuals are experts in a variety of subjects including southwestern willow flycatcher biology, cowbird biology, population biology, avian breeding ecology, fluvial geomorphology, riparian ecology, and range ecology. Members will complete all biological portions of the recovery plan inclusive of population objectives and monitoring guidelines. Current Technical Subgroup members are:

Debbie Finch, Ph.D. [Team Leader], Researcher, Rocky Mountain Research Station, USDA Forest Service

Jon Boren, Ph.D., Wildlife Extension Specialist, New Mexico State University

William Graf, Ph.D., Department of Geography, Arizona State University

Jerry Holechek, Ph.D., Department of Animal and Range Sciences, New Mexico State University

Barbara Kus, Ph.D., USGS Western Ecological Research Center, San Diego State University

Rob Marshall, Conservation Planner, The Nature Conservancy, Tucson, AZ

Stephen Rothstein, Ph.D., Professor of Zoology, Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology, UC Santa Barbara

Susan Sferra, Willow Flycatcher Coordinator, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

Mark Sogge, USGS Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center, Colorado Plateau Field Station

Julie C. Stromberg, Ph.D., Plant Biology Department, Arizona State University

Brad Valentine, Senior Wildlife Biologist, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection

Mary Whitfield, Research Associate, Kern River Research Center

Sandy Williams, Ph.D., Endangered Species Biologist, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish

Additionally, seven "Implementation Subgroups" have been appointed to the Recovery Team to implement recovery actions in the U.S. regions of the bird’s geographic range. These regional groups consist of more than 300 community representatives across the Southwest including ranchers, environmental representatives, water and power interests, state and federal land managers, and local governments.

The core team of scientists has the role of providing scientific information and recommendations to the Implementation Subgroups; who will then decide which recommendations will be most effective in their particular areas and how best to implement recovery actions. The Technical Subgroup has already met with the Nevada, Utah, and Lower Colorado River Implementation Subgroups; remaining first-round meetings will be held this fall in Ventura, CA, Phoenix, AZ, Albuquerque, NM and Las Cruces, NM.

"These regional meetings are essential to developing a better understanding of specific threats within different watersheds, as well as the various activities already occurring, or that could occur, to ameliorate these threats," said Debbie Finch, Technical Subgroup Leader. Since its first meeting on March 3, 1998, the core group of scientists has spent considerable time examining the status of the southwestern willow flycatcher and the threats the subspecies faces throughout its range. To date, the focus has been to understand the influence on flycatchers of dams, surface and groundwater losses, encroachment of nonnative riparian plant species, parasitism by the brown-headed cowbird, and livestock management.

The problem of riparian habitat loss, which adversely affects many different species, is widespread throughout the Southwest due to urban development, hydrologic modification such as dams, diversions and groundwater overdraft, and overgrazing by domestic livestock. The southwestern willow flycatcher also contends with brood parasitic brown-headed cowbirds. Cowbirds lay their eggs in the nests of other birds which expend parental care on the young cowbirds at the expense of their own young, reducing nesting success of birds like the southwestern willow flycatcher.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System comprised of more than 500 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries and 78 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.

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