Rosemont and the Cuckoo scam

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) is proposing to list the “western distinct population segment” of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo as a threatened species as a result of a “sue and settle” agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity over 757 species nationwide.

Yellow-billed-cuckooAccording to a story in the Arizona Daily Star, about 20 cuckoos inhabit Pima County’s Cienega Creek Natural Preserve downstream from the proposed Rosemont copper mine. Radical environmentalists are making an issue of this in their failing attempts to stop the mine.  The cuckoo also is being used as an excuse to stir up trouble along the San Pedro River near Sierra Vista (see story here).

Rosemont, anticipating the proposed listing, has already spelled out detailed mitigation plans for the cuckoo in its Environmental Impact Statement to the Forest Service.

In my opinion the proposed listing of the cuckoo is not justified by science; it is purely politics.

Arizona and other western states are at the fringe of the cuckoo’s range. The Yellow-billed Cuckoo is common in the southeastern U.S.  See the range map from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology below:

Yellow-billed-cuckoo-range-mapThe Yellow-billed Cuckoo is a neotropical migrant that lives in riparian woodlands.  It is, in fact, declining in the west, perhaps because of drought.  However, whether or not these fringe populations survive will have no impact on the overall species survival.  Species’ occurrence within fringe areas are always ephemeral and subject to change.

The proposed listing itself is not the result of a scientific study, but is the result of litigation abuse by environmentalists and a backroom deal with FWS.  A deal such as this shows why the Endangered Species Act should be repealed and replaced. with a program that respects property rights and provides a positive incentive for conservation.

I found it amusing that in the listing proposal announcement, FWS says the listing proposal “is based on the best scientific data available,”  but the same announcement implores the public to submit more information because, “We need all of the best available scientific information to help us make a final decision that most effectively protects the species.”  By the way, FWS has been studying the cuckoo since at least 2001.

See also:

Regulating behind closed doors, the cozy relationship between the Feds and environmental groups

Repeal the Endangered Species Act


  1. The truth is that yellow-billed cuckoos USED to breed all the way up to British Columbia before catastrophic range reductions in the west due to riparian habitat destruction. Hence the need for listing, ESPECIALLY in the western US.

    1. Even if what you say were true, cuckoo occurrence in the west was always spotty and the proposed listing will have no effect on the species as a whole.

      1. This is a distinct subspecies of the yellow billed cuckoo, so to say “species as a whole” is erroneous. Moreover, their populations in the West historically were not spotty but they are now, primarily due to groundwater withdrawal. What Chloe says is 100% accurate and documented. The work done by Higgins on the species is a good place to start and would inform your understanding of this rare bird.

      2. The question of whether or not the western birds are a distinct subspecies is controversial. It is my understanding that western populations declined in the first half of the 20th Century.

      3. Indeed they did decline, rapidly and in tandem with the advent of the combustible engine that allowed for pumping of groundwater at nonrenewable rates and also exacerbated by drought. The differences in the two populations was controversial in 1988 when the listing was initially proposed but now much better understood and accepted. It is plain to see that human activity has destroyed over 90% of this habitat in the West, so is it so bad that scientists – and believe me USFWS is by no means a radical group of environmentalists – are trying to protect the few vestiges that still exist? Or should we just put our heads in the sand and destroy it all for +/- 20 years’ worth of copper? The raincrow is too unique to take the easy way out.

      4. “It’s plain to see that human activity has destroyed over 90 % of this habitat in the West”. Fly over the West sometime there bucko and you will see what a STUPID comment that really is.

      5. That estimate is not my own but was acquired through surveys – also known as “flyovers” – to document the loss of riparian habitat across the Western US. Facts are valuable assets in any argument.

  2. The following comment was received by email from a reliable source:

    I was reading the comments on your article about the yellow-billed cuckoo, and, at the risk of being presumptuous, I wanted to provide a direction a bit different than that suggested by those commenters.
    First, Higgins is not the place to start because he is predated by many
    ornithologists familiar with the yellow-billed cuckoo in the west. These
    include, among others: Arthur Cleveland Bent (life histories of north american birds), Joseph Grinnell (birds of California), Florence Merriam Bailey (Birds of New Mexico), and Ralph Hoffmann (Birds of the Pacific States). Other publications and records far predating Higgins for Arizona’s historically present birdlife include those provided by Scott (of Scott’s Oriole reference, who collected some 700 specimens of birds along Arizona’s rivers and streams particularly during the 1880s), Harry Swarth, Frank Stevens, Frank Chapman, and famed Tucson bird collector Herbert Brown. These contributions, and more, considered together, will give you quite an accurate idea, I believe, as to what
    the historic status of the cuckoo in Arizona was and thus provide you a baseline of comparison for ground-truthing the claims of its demise made

    Second, the 90% and counting loss of riparian habitat across the west claim is just plain wrong. In Arizona, for example, in a somewhat recent publication in the mode of the “Changing Mile,” Webb, Leake and Turner in Ribbon of Green show that riparian woody vegetation has increased dramatically along the majority of Arizona’s rivers and streams since
    the 1930s or so. The 90% and counting riparian demise figure, on the other hand, comes from sheer speculation expressed in an internal California Fish & Game document of a couple of decades ago that was seized on at the time by Dr. Ohmart at ASU to level that claim. Nonetheless, and although thoroughly refuted in Arizona, I see that it is still being bantied about as if it were fact today.

    Finally, even if the aforementioned “90%” claim were true, virtually every waterway proposed here in relationship to the cuckoo is already the domicile or critical habitat of some other listed species — from willow flycatchers to native fishes. Thus, because the alleged threats to cuckoos have already been preemptively addressed by layerings of ESA
    protections for other species, no threat to the cuckoo actually exists and there is absolutely no need to list it and add yet another costly layer of bloated federal bureaucracy to the mix.

    1. “Chico The Reliable Source” makes a valid point that Higgins is not the only source on the YBC, but ecologists across the West agree that the 90% figure is currently accurate, if not conservative. The Changing Mile and Ribbon of Green are indeed quality books, with lots of pretty pictures, and I have had the pleasure of working with one of its authors. However, they are coffee table-style books and not meant to be taken as a scholarly ecological text.

  3. Jonathan how much $$$ do you have invested in Augusta? Most that write these pro mine articles for the Tucson Citizen stand to financially benefit from the mine. I’d say the environmentalists are winning this battle considering the EPA, BLM, and Corps aren’t sold on Rosemont’s plans. No 404 no mine!

    1. Everyone who lives in the region will benefit by the economic engine of the mine. I don’t have any stock in the company, nor am I paid by them. Andy’s comment is just an ad hominem resorted to by the fact free.

      And, if anyone likes my writing they can click the “DONATE” button above, left.

  4. BTW: a yellow-billed cuckoo was sighted at Vaseux Lake Bird Observatory in British Columbia on October 16 according to Cornell’s interactive map on All About Birds.

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