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Groups defend the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher

Southwestern Willow Flycatcher
Southwestern Willow Flycatcher. Photo by Jim Rorabaugh/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Longtime conservation partners the Center for Biological Diversity and Maricopa Audubon Society took to the courts recently to fight once more to protect the endangered Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, a subspecies of the widespread Willow Flycatcher. This tiny, highly endangered songbird depends on the increasingly rare and threatened streamside forests of the arid southwestern United States.

The groups intervened to defend the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s August 2017 determination that the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act. The New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association, represented by property rights firm the Pacific Legal Foundation, has challenged that determination in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

“This lawsuit is yet another flawed attempt to sideline science and advance an anti-wildlife agenda by undermining the Endangered Species Act,” said Noah Greenwald, Endangered Species director at the Center. “All the science supports the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision that the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher is a valid subspecies that desperately needs continued protection.”

For decades, the Pacific Legal Foundation has attempted to remove protections for a number of endangered species, including Marbled Murrelet, woodland caribou, Southern Resident orcas, California Gnatcatcher, and now the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher.

“Without the protections afforded by the Endangered Species Act, the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher would surely disappear,” said Charles J. Babbitt, interim president of the Maricopa Audubon Society. “Rampant livestock grazing directly harms the flycatcher’s fragile streamside habitat when cows are allowed to trample and destroy riparian areas. If cattle grazing interests are allowed to trump science and reason, our most endangered species — like the flycatcher — will be caught in the crosshairs.”

The Southwestern Willow Flycatcher’s population has steadily declined over the last century. The birds’ riparian habitat along desert rivers has been reduced by more than 90% because of livestock grazing, dams, water withdrawal, and sprawl.

The Center first petitioned for the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher to be protected as an endangered species in 1992 and has fought alongside Maricopa Audubon Society for decades to safeguard the bird’s highly imperiled critical habitat.

The small migratory songbird has grayish-green wings and travels from Latin America each spring to the southwestern United States to nest and breed. Historically, between May and September, Willow Flycatchers could be found nesting throughout dense riparian forests along rivers in Arizona, New Mexico, parts of central and southern California, southern Nevada, southern Utah, southwestern Colorado, and western Texas.

Now, what remains of the bird’s riparian nesting habitat is sparse and highly fragmented, and it is continually threatened by the effects of climate change and urban and agricultural development, particularly livestock grazing. As a result, the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher remains highly endangered.

Thanks to the Center for Biological Diversity for providing this news.

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