Yellow-billed cuckoos seen two times in Delta County

PHOTO COURTESY OF U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE

The western yellow-billed cuckoo will continue to receive protection under the Endangered Species Act, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finding with local implications due to a proposal to designate critical habitat for the species along local rivers.

The agency said in a news release that after reviewing “the best available science and commercial information,” it has found that the bird will remain listed as a threatened species, meaning it continues to receive Endangered Species Act protection.

It was acting on a delisting petition by the group American Stewards for Liberty, after determining in 2018 “that information provided in the petition that the bird was using additional habitat was sufficient to initiate a full review of the species’ status,” it said in the release.

But the agency decided not to delist what’s called the western distinct population segment, or DPS, of the species after considering factors, including new information on the bird’s distribution, habitat and breeding areas.

“These data indicate that the primary threats to the species identified at the time of listing, including habitat loss and fragmentation, poor water quality, and invasive species, continue to impact the yellow-billed cuckoo western DPS. Recent mining projects in central and southern Arizona are also affecting the species,” the agency said in its release.

The species travels between wintering grounds in Central and South America and breeding grounds in 12 Western U.S. states and six states in Mexico.

Earlier this year the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed designating nearly 500,000 acres of critical habitat for the bird in several Western states. While it dropped a previous proposal that would have affected several rivers in Colorado, it continues to propose critical habitat on about 4,000 acres along 25 miles of the Colorado River in Mesa County, and additional critical habitat on a stretch of the North Fork of the Gunnison River between Hotchkiss and Paonia.

Mesa County commissioners have opposed the critical habitat proposal in the county. They question whether the bird frequents the area enough to warrant designating habitat, and worry about possible impacts to local agricultural operations.

Federal agencies are required to ensure actions they fund, approve or carry out aren’t likely to jeopardize endangered or threatened species or result in destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat. Private landowner activities in critical habitat that don’t involve federal action aren’t affected by the designation. Most of the proposed Mesa County acreage is owned privately or by the state, but the county is concerned that a designation could affect things such as maintenance and improvement of irrigation facilities and fuel-reduction projects to reduce wildfire risk.

“We’re grateful that this wondrous bird will continue to receive the life-saving protections of the Endangered Species Act,” Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity said in a news release. “Now it’s time to designate critical habitat to ensure that when the cuckoos migrate here each summer from South America, they’ll still have places to nest and fledge their chicks.”

The agency’s decision is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register today. Further information will be available at www.regulations.gov, by searching for Docket No FWS -R2-ES-2020-0004.