While the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service dallied in designating critical habitat for the threatened yellow-billed cuckoo, the situation for the beloved song birds worsened. Climate change and habitat degradation have led to serious population declines. But instead of stepping up efforts to protect these tiny long-tailed birds that were listed as threatened in 2014, FWS has now indicated it’s going to strip them of their ESA listing, prompting FoA’s Wildlife Law Program to once again step in to protect them.
FoA along with WildEarth Guardians filed comments with FWS in June calling on the federal agency to rely on scientific studies and verified reports as required by law and not just citizen science when evaluating data about the need to protect a species.
Yellow-billed Cuckoos have been on the decline since the mid-1800s and breeding cuckoos have been extirpated over much of their midwestern range. Once common from Seattle to Arizona, the western cuckoos have disappeared completely from the Pacific Northwest. Dams, livestock grazing, and conversion of flood plains for agriculture have encroached on their riparian environs. Development along rivers has destroyed as much of 90 percent of the birds’ habitat and loss of insect prey from pesticides along with draught and climate change have also threatened their survival.
This spring, FoA won a lawsuit requiring FWS to designate critical habitat for the birds—as mandated by an ESA listing — by August. But now FWS has indicated it’s going to delist the birds all together.
“The short-sighted interests of some in the ranching and mining industries are pressuring this administration to delist this remarkable songbird” said Jennifer Best, WLP assistant director. “If their political wishes win out over the needs of the western yellow-billed cuckoo, then they will continue to exploit riparian habitat desperately needed by the last remaining yellow-billed cuckoos. Protection under the ESA is critical to the survival of the songbird and valuable river ecosystems.”
A coalition of mainly cattle ranching and mining interests asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove ESA protections from the cuckoo in 2017.
“The claims in the delisting petition are unreliable and unsound,” said Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “All the best available science indicates that these rare birds are still declining and in need of protection.”