One of the first imperiled animals the Center championed, the southwestern willow flycatcher has suffered more than a century of steady decline. Livestock grazing, dams, water withdrawal, and sprawl have robbed the sentinel-like songbird of more than 90 percent of its riparian habitat — and left it all the more vulnerable to other birds that prey on its eggs or use its nests to incubate their own eggs. After a Center petition and years of legal wrangling, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finally declared the flycatcher endangered in 1995, but it’s been plagued with administration disregard ever since.
As destruction of southwestern streamside forests continues, the Center is taking concrete action to win adequate protections for flycatcher habitat. In 2008, we sued over a politically motivated Bush-era decision that reduced the bird’s protected habitat by more than two-thirds of the area originally proposed after a Center lawsuit — and in January 2013, the Obama administration protected more than 200,000 acres along 1,227 miles of river. In 2009, we went to court over a plan allowing an imported tamarisk leaf-eating beetle to seriously harm flycatcher habitat in southern Utah and northern Arizona. Simultaneously, we’re defending flycatcher habitat along Arizona’s San Pedro River from unsustainable groundwater pumping, off-road vehicle destruction and other ecosystem threats.
Since the flycatcher’s listing, the Center has won an injunction protecting a critical flycatcher population at Lake Isabella, California; convinced the U.S. Forest Service to remove cattle from rivers in Arizona and New Mexico; produced a pivotal report on the bird’s status; and helped develop a federal recovery plan. In 1996, we sued the Bureau of Reclamation for not analyzing the effects of enlarging Arizona’s Roosevelt Dam, which was to flood out the state’s largest flycatcher population. And in 2000, we reached a landmark settlement with the Forest Service to protect 50 endangered species — including the flycatcher — in Southern California’s four national forests.
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