As we reported in November, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (Service) has been planning to hold a public hearing on the proposal to designate 546,335 acres of critical habitat for the western population of yellow-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus) across nine western states. The Service recently announced that the public hearing will take place on December 18, 2014, in Sacramento, California. The deadline to submit comments is January 15, 2015, and comments may be provided in writing or verbally at the public hearing.

The proposed critical habitat for the western population of yellow-billed cuckoo (cuckoo) is based on the species’ close association with riparian habitat along low-gradient rivers and streams and open riverine valleys that provide floodplain conditions. All of the 80 proposed critical habitat units across California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming, and Texas are rivers, creeks, lakes, dams, washes, and other watercourses and impoundments.

The Service identifies as primary threats to cuckoo habitat changes in hydrology associated with dams, surface and groundwater diversions, and fluctuating reservoir levels, as well as floodplain encroachment associated with agricultural and other development activities, bank stabilization, levee construction and maintenance, road and bridge maintenance activities, and gravel mining. According to the Service, such activities, when undertaken by a federal agency, or requiring a federal permit or federal funding, may be regulated under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act to reduce potential the destruction or adverse modification of designated critical habitat, including management of water resources and flood control across hundreds of miles of rivers, streams, and other water bodies across the western United States.

The Service recommends special management activities to restore natural hydrological regimes and to reduce water diversions and ground water pumping that degrade cuckoo’s riparian habitat. The listing of and designation of critical habitat for the cuckoo places it in the company of species whose protection is fraught with policy choices requiring a balance between the future water demands across the western U.S. and survival and recovery of such species.

The Service is seeking comments from governmental agencies, Native American tribes, the scientific community, industry, and any other interested parties concerning the proposed critical habitat. The Service is particularly interested in comments concerning special management and protections of the cuckoo’s habitat that may be needed – or are already being provided – as related to the Service’s final determination to include or exclude particular areas from designation.