FWS Reopens Comment Period on Yellow-Billed Cuckoo Habitat

By Mark Hofberg

Yellow-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus). The comment period for the proposed critical habitat designation for the bird has been extended in response calls from Republican lawmakers.
Image Credit: Ronnie Maum, USFWS

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) reopened the comment period on its critical habitat designation proposal Wednesday for the western population of the yellow-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus). FWS originally announced their proposal for the bird’s critical habitat in August and closed the public comment period on October 14th. However, the agency decided to extend the comment period three more months to January 12, 2015 in response to criticism from House Republicans who called for more time to carry out public hearings in the affected areas.

The yellow-billed cuckoo is an elusive but distinctive bird that breeds in North America during the summer and spends its winters in South America. The species relies on cottonwood trees and willows along rivers and streams for habitat. Land use changes brought on by agriculture and water diversions by dams have resulted in dramatic declines in these trees and therefore the cuckoo.

The controversial critical habitat proposal spans nine western states, covering 546,335 acres with 242,000 of them on private property. House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash) and 17 other members of Congress communicated dismay over the proposal in a letter to FWS director Dan Ashe, noting that the agency underestimated “the true economic impact of the listing and habitat designation” of the species. They state that the $3.2 million per year in incremental cost estimated by FWS does not take into account impacts to grazing, development, and irrigation.

Comments may be submitted online at the Federal eRulemaking Portal at http://www.regulations.gov. The docket number for the proposed rule is FWS–R8–ES–2013-0011. Comments can also be sent by U.S. Mail or Hand Delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–ES–R8–2013–0011; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; U.S. Fish & Wildlife Headquarters, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803.

Sources: Greenwire (October 2, 2014), Environment and Energy News (October 7, 2014), Greenwire (October 15, 2014), Federal Register (August 15, 2014), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (November 10, 2014), Federal Register (November 12, 2014)