ALAMOSA — Folks who have worked on the Habitat Conservation Plan for years received good news this week.
No negative comments were made during the public comment period ending this week for the plan, which provides protection for Southwestern Willow Flycatchers and Yellow Billed Cuckoo while still allowing residents to continue routine maintenance such as ditch and stream cleaning.
Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) Manager Sandra Montoya told Alamosa County officials this week that because no negative comments were received on the HCP, the process to finalize it should proceed smoothly and quickly.
“Our goal is to get this finalized by October 10,” she told county commissioners and staff during a work session on Wednesday.
She said the next step would then be to get enabling ordinances approved by the counties. Once the HCP is finalized and everyone signs off on the legal agreements to implement it, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can issue an incidental take permit, Montoya explained.
That would allow farmers to continue to clear out ditches, which might provide habitat for the protected birds, without having to get individual permission. The counties’ HCP would provide blanket permission for most routine activities, except for land developers who would still have to apply for their own permits.
The HCP sets up provisions for flycatcher and cuckoo habitat to augment any habitat lost through the routine maintenance activities covered in the HCP.
“We are covering the residents of Alamosa County,” said Alamosa County Commission Chairman George Wilkinson.
Montoya said the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, her employer, is funding her time, so the primary obligation from the counties involved in the HCP would be some land use staff time, plus a minimal financial obligation over the HCP contract, which is 30 years.
Alamosa County Land Use Manager Juan Altamirano said one of the main goals of the HCP was to prevent the federal government from designating the San Luis Valley a critical habitat for the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher and Yellow Billed Cuckoo, which would place strict regulations on individual property owners and municipalities.
The issue of critical habitat keeps arising, Montoya added. Whether the Valley is designated or not hinges on the HCP, she said. Efforts began on the HCP seven or eight years ago.
Montoya explained that the Valley is not one of the primary habitats for the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher because of its elevation, but the birds do migrate here in late May or June and leave again about the first week of August.
Montoya will go back to the Alamosa County commissioners, as well as county commissioners in other Valley counties, to formally request approval of implementing agreements this fall.