A tiny songbird that has been on the endangered species list for more than 20 years could be delisted, but not because its populations are increasing.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last week published a finding indicating that there was “substantial information” that the Southwestern willow flycatcher is not a subspecies, the designation under which it was classified as endangered in 1995.
The findings published in the National Register on Wednesday indicate that delisting the bird may be warranted “based on information related to taxonomic status.”
While the several groups that petitioned to have the bird delisted also argued it was warranted because of a lack of threats and current regulations that sufficiently protect the bird, a Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman said that taxonomy was the only assertion that was accepted.
“We’re still determining our way forward on resolving that question and are seeking information on the subspecies’ classification and genetics,” apokesman Jeff Humphrey said.
Humphrey said the agency will consider opposing points of view on the subspecies question and a final determination would be made in about 12 months.
Caren Cowan, executive director of the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association, one of several groups that petitioned to delist the bird, which typically weighs less than one-half of an ounce, said the change would help ranchers.
“We’re not anti-bird,” she said, adding that it’s the protection of critical habitat that comes with the endangered species designation that is hard on ranchers. “It dramatically affects the way ranchers can use live water, and we believe there is adequate habitat so it doesn’t need to be on the list.”
Cowan said she was pleased that the Fish and Wildlife Service found the concerns raised by the petitioners to be valid.
The New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau, New Mexico Wool Growers, the Center for Environmental Science, Accuracy, and Reliability, and the Pacific Legal Foundation were among the groups that filed the petition to delist the bird, which is found in seven Southwestern states and Mexico.
Michael Robinson, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity, pointed out that the finding by the Fish and Wildlife Service was based on just one recent study, which he said is already being disputed.
“It goes against many, many years of scientific consensus,” he said. “It’s by no means certain that this subspecies that has been recognized as such will be lumped in as just any flycatcher. Everything we’ve seen is this little bird desperately needs the safety net of the Endangered Species Act.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service published the findings of 29 petitions to list, delist or reclassify species under the act. Among them were findings that the Rio Grande chub and Rio Grande sucker, two native fish, will undergo a full status assessment to determine whether listing them as threatened or endangered is warranted.