Habitat conservation plan breeds success

ALAMOSA — Conserving endangered species is an ongoing challenge, but the San Luis Valley Habitat Conservation Plan represents one of the Valley’s many success stories in doing so.

The SLV Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) was a proactive effort on the part of many local groups to preserve habitat specifically for the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher and Yellow Billed Cuckoo while maintaining necessary agricultural practices such as ditch cleaning. The Southwestern Willow Flycatcher is listed as an endangered species at the federal and state levels, and the Yellow Billed Cuckoo is listed as threatened. Both species thrive in riparian areas such as willows and cottonwood stands along the Rio Grande and Conejos Rivers.

Chris Ivers, the HCP coordinator employed through the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, gave a recent update on the plan. He said the HCP provides protection for these endangered and threatened species in specifically designated areas of the San Luis Valley, such as the Alamosa Wildlife Refuge, to offset agricultural and other practices that might disturb their habitat in other areas of the Valley. These activities would include grazing, irrigating, mowing, ditch diversions and maintenance, levee work and sediment removal.

The plan covers the entire San Luis Valley and all six counties.

The HCP does not cover such activities as permanent developments, Ivers explained. He added that the HCP does not prohibit such activities, but they would not be covered under the HCP and developers would have to go through their own permitting process.

Ivers said the HCP provides more than 370 mitigation acres in the Valley conducive to these two bird species’ habitat but is required to provide about 245 acres under the HCP.

“We maintain high quality habitat to offset medium habitat,” he said.

He explained that in addition to areas like the wildlife refuge, area landowners have also agreed to place conservation easements on their properties to protect these species. These are all voluntary agreements.

“We are always looking for more landowners,” Ivers said.

Agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Bureau of Land Management are also partners in the HCP.

The recovery plan calls for 50 territories in the area covered by the HCP in the Valley. (A territory basically equates to two birds.) At last count the Valley’s HCP had 75 territories.

When asked where might be a good location to spot the flycatcher, Ivers suggested the Alamosa refuge.

Caption: Yellow Billed Cuckoo