The endangered southwestern willow flycatcher, a songbird that lives and breeds along the Santa Ana River and other streams in the southwest United States, was given additional habitat protections Wednesday, Jan. 2.
In all, 208,973 acres of habitat considered critical to the bird’s survival was designated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The acreage is along 1,227 miles of streams and rivers in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Nevada.
The habitat designation does not prohibit development, affect land ownership or create a refuge, but it does require federal agencies that fund or permit activities on the land to consult with Fish and Wildlife to ensure critical habitat is not destroyed or adversely modified.
This is the third such designation for the migratory flycatcher in the past 15 years and is by far the largest. The last two expansions of critical habitat were the result of lawsuits by the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association and, most recently, the Center for Biological Diversity, headquartered in Tucson, Ariz.
Locally protected areas include the headwaters of the Santa Ana River in the San Bernardino National Forest and the river’s tributaries – Bear Creek, Mill Creek, Oak Glen Creek, Waterman Creek, San Timoteo Creek and Bautista Creek.
Steve Spangle, Fish and Wildlife field supervisor in Phoenix, said the revision was the result of better knowledge of the bird’s biology and habitat.
“One flood can take out a whole stand of willows and the habitat is lost. But willows grow so fast that in a few years they can be suitable (habitat) again,” he said.
The decision was lauded by Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity.
“It’s not just a benefit for the flycatcher, it’s a benefit for hundreds of wildlife species, plus people who depend on and enjoy southwestern rivers and streams,” he said.