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."