Pact takes rare birds in Colorado under its wing

Federal and state officials have come together on a plan to protect the southwestern willow flycatcher in southern Colorado. Enlarge photo

Associated Press file photo

Federal and state officials have come together on a plan to protect the southwestern willow flycatcher in southern Colorado.

ALAMOSA Two types of rare birds found in southern Colorado have a new protection plan.

Federal wildlife officials and southern Colorado water and government officials have finalized a plan for the southwestern willow flycatcher and the yellow-billed cuckoo, the Pueblo Chieftain reported.

The plan aims to protect the birds while allowing farmers and ranchers to avoid more stringent provisions in the Endangered Species Act.

Were happy to see our conservation partners in the San Luis Valley develop this plan that will allow people to sustain their rich tradition of working the fertile landscape of the valley while simultaneously contributing to the conservation of fish and wildlife in their own backyards, Noreen Walsh, an acting U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regional director, said in a statement last week.

The southwestern willow flycatcher is listed as endangered by the federal government. The yellow-billed cuckoo is a candidate for federal listing.

The flycatcher summers in the valley, establishing nests in the willows and smaller cottonwoods near wetlands and slow-moving or standing bodies of water. Likewise, the cuckoo is drawn to cottonwood and willow thickets.

But, in many spots along the valley floor, such habitat is on land also used by farmers and ranchers.

The plan, which was approved by the wildlife service, protects certain agricultural practices, such as grazing, fence building and ditch maintenance, among others.

It also limits removal of river-side vegetation in Alamosa, where, in the past, the city had cleared as much as 20 acres of willows from along the Rio Grande. The agreement limits that activity to four acres per year.

But the plan, which was spearheaded locally by the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, also keeps local governments and landowners from having to apply individually to the service for permission to conduct any of the covered activities.

Finally, the agreement calls on the district to implement conservation easements with willing landowners, habitat restoration and other management agreements to make up for the loss of habitat through the covered activities.

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