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Yellow-billed Cuckoo Needs Continued Legal Protections

June 26, 2019
Taylor Jones (720) 443-2615, tjones@wildearthguardians.org
In This Release
Rivers, Wildlife   Yellow-billed cuckoo
#LivingRivers, #RethinkRivers, #ReviveTheRio
Washington, D.C.—WildEarth Guardians and Friends of Animals today submitted joint comments to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service opposing the removal of Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for the Western population of yellow-billed cuckoo. The groups’ letter highlights the importance of the declining population of this unique songbird and the parallel disappearance of riparian riverside habitat—mainly native cottonwood and willow—that are indicative of healthy, living rivers in the West.

“If we value living rivers and all that rivers provide to both people and wildlife, we must protect these imperiled birds that are the ‘canary in the coal mine’ for our western rivers,” said Jen Pelz, Rio Grande Waterkeeper and director of Guardians’ rivers program. “The effort to delist the cuckoo is just another attack on the wild by special interests.”

Cuckoo populations have declined drastically since the early 1900s due to habitat loss and modification. They were once found throughout the West from Canada to Mexico, but now are restricted to a few isolated breeding populations in California, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, and possibly Nevada. The Rio Grande in central New Mexico is home to the largest breeding group of yellow-billed cuckoos north of Mexico.

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 Service is currently considering the request and accepting public comments.

“The short-sighted interests of some in the ranching and mining industries are pressuring this administration to delist this remarkable songbird” said Jennifer Best, assistant director of the Wildlife Law Program at Friends of Animals. “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.”

The ESA is America’s most effective law for protecting wildlife in danger of extinction. It serves as an essential safety net when state management has failed to protect imperiled plants, fish, and wildlife. Since the law’s enactment, 99 percent of listed species have avoided extinction, and hundreds more have been set on a path to recovery. The law is especially important as a defense against the current extinction crisis; species are disappearing at a rate much higher than the natural rate of extinction due to human activities, resulting in what some scientists term a “biological annihilation.” Global animal abundance has declined by 58 percent since 1970. According to a recent United Nations report, over a million species are currently at risk of extinction. Researchers estimate that, if not for ESA protections, 227 species would have gone extinct by 2006. The ESA is a wildly successful and popular law, which has nonetheless been under constant attack by the Trump administration.

“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.”

Other Contact
Jennifer Best, Friends of Animals, (720) 949-7791, jennifer@friendsofanimals.org