Today, U.S. Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet sent a letter with U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), urging support for local plans to protect the habitat of the endangered Southwestern willow flycatcher in Colorado's Rio Grande Basin.
In the letter to the FWS field supervisor on the issue, the lawmakers wrote that the Rio Grande Water Conservation District has spent almost six years developing a habitat conservation plan for the flycatcher that has the buy-in of the community and state and local partners. Although it is still in draft form, the plan could be implemented in July - the same time that FWS will need to take steps to enforce a revised critical habitat plan.
The lawmakers emphasize that the district's plan is a Colorado solution for a Colorado issue. Therefore, the community plan is ultimately more likely to be effective than a separate federal designation because it has local support from a wide range of stakeholders.
"If implemented, this Plan has the potential to protect the habitat and viability of the species through local partnerships between the conservation and water community on the ground in the San Luis Valley, and will ensure that local communities have a stake in protecting an endangered species in their own backyard," the lawmakers wrote.
A copy of the letter follows:
Steve Spangle, Field Supervisor
Arizona Ecological Services Office
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
2321 West Royal Palm Road, Suite 103
Phoenix, AZ 85021
Dear Mr. Spangle:
We understand that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is currently proposing to revise the critical habitat designation for the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher (the "Flycatcher") in the Rio Grande Basin of Colorado. We join with the Rio Grande Water Conservation District in requesting that USFWS acknowledge the planned recovery efforts of a Habitat Conservation Plan developed by the District as an effective and workable alternative to designation of critical habitat in the San Luis Valley. The plan fosters participation by local entities and landowners in recovery of the Flycatcher, while allowing on-going approved water and land use activities.
First initiated in 2005, the Rio Grande Water Conservation District has spent nearly six years developing a thorough Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) aimed at protecting the Flycatcher and its habitat in an effective manner, based on community consensus. This plan is the result of collaboration and cooperation with the USFWS, the State of Colorado, and local partners and will incorporate proactive efforts to protect the species. Local stakeholders include the Boards of County Commissioners from Alamosa, Conejos, Costilla, Rio Grande, Saguache and Mineral Counties, as well as members of conservation and water communities. Although still in draft form, the plan is only months away from finalization and would be ready for implementation next July, when, according to the Federal Register, the FWS will need to take steps toward revised critical habitat enforcement.
We ask you again to consider the HCP developed by the Rio Grande Water Conservation District as an assurance of the commitment from the project partners to protect the physical and biological features of the flycatcher's critical habitat. If implemented, this Plan has the potential to protect the habitat and viability of the species through local partnerships between the conservation and water community on the ground in the San Luis Valley, and will ensure that local communities have a stake in protecting an endangered species in their own backyard.
Thank you for your consideration of this truly Colorado solution to species recovery. Please keep us informed of any developments related to this process.