Feds move to protect bird habitat in Utah, West

More than 500,000 acres of public land in several Western states could receive federal protection as prime habitat for the yellow-billed cuckoo, a bird being considered for endangered species protection. Photo credit: Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program.

SALT LAKE CITY – The federal government is moving to protect hundreds of thousands of acres of land in Utah and several other Western states where the yellow-billed cuckoos spend time.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to designate more than 500,000 acres as critical habitat for the cuckoo, which is being considered for endangered-species designation.

Michael Robinson, conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the protections would give the birds a better chance of survival.

“The critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act provides protections from federal actions that might degrade the critical habitat or destroy it so that it’s not usable by whatever endangered or threatened animal it’s been designated for,” he said.

The yellow-billed cuckoo is a songbird that lives along rivers and streams in Utah, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas and Wyoming. The agency will take public comment on the proposal for 60 days.

Robinson said the bird once thrived along nearly every body of water in the West, but its population has been impacted by dams, livestock grazing, water withdrawals and channeling rivers. He said federal protections also would help safeguard human water sources for drinking and recreation.

“People in Utah who really relish the fact that there’s rivers like the Green River, and others that cuckoos can inhabit, will also be happy that the rivers will run free and clean for people as well,” he said.

Robinson said the critical habitat designation would primarily affect the Green River Basin in Utah.

The FWS report is online at <a href=”https://s3.amazonaws.com/public-inspection.federalregister.gov/2014-19178.pdf” target=”parent”>amazonaws.com</a>.

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