VALLEY — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Rio Grande Water Conservation District announced on Wednesday that the Final San Luis Valley Regional Habitat Conservation Plan and Environmental Assessment are completed and available for viewing.
The plan allows for routine activities to continue while also conserving two bird species native to the San Luis Valley.
The Final HCP is the result of a collaborative effort between the district; the counties of Alamosa, Conejos, Costilla, Mineral, Rio Grande, and Saguache; the municipalities of Alamosa, Monte Vista, Del Norte, and South Fork; the Colorado Department of Natural Resources; and the service to develop a regional strategy for conserving riparian habitat and sustaining working lands in the San Luis Valley.
The HCP provides regulatory certainty for the permittees and ranchers of the San Luis Valley for routine agricultural, small infrastructure, and riparian conservation and restoration activities (covered activities), while conserving habitat for two riparian species: the federally endangered southwestern willow flycatcher and the Western U.S. distinct population segment of the yellow-billed cuckoo, a candidate for federal listing.
The permittees and landowners will receive authorization for any harm to these species that may occur as a result of the covered activities. The district will ensure that the anticipated impacts of this take will be offset through habitat protection, enhancement, and restoration.
According to Tom Schultz, Trust Land Management Division Administrator of the District, the HCP is a win-win for the counties entering into it as well as the endangered flycatchers and candidate cuckoos that call the San Luis Valley home.
“This HCP is the culmination of years of hard work and cooperative efforts with our partners and the service to develop a plan that provides tangible conservation for flycatchers and cuckoos.
It will allow landowners and local governments to continue routine agriculture and infrastructure activities vital to the economic well-being of the entire Valley. These efforts by the district, the six counties of the San Luis Valley, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, local municipalities, and many others have already contributed to more than 1,700 acres of private conservation of riparian habitat in support of this HCP. Implementation of this HCP will continue that heritage of conservation and cooperation that benefits both wildlife and the citizens of the Valley,” said Schultz.
Similarly, Noreen Walsh, acting Regional Director for the Mountain-Prairie Region of the Service, said the development of the HCP is an example of how cooperative conservation and working lands are complementary.
“We’re happy to see our conservation partners in the San Luis Valley develop this plan that will allow people to sustain their rich tradition of working the fertile landscape of the Valley, while simultaneously contributing to the conservation of fish and wildlife in their own backyards,” said Walsh.
RGWCD Manager Steve Vandiver on Wednesday released the following statement:
“The Rio Grande Water Conservation District is proud to announce the publication and distribution of the Final San Luis Valley Regional Habitat Conservation Plan and Environmental Assessment. The HCP is the plan under which the district will help sustain routine agricultural and small-community infrastructure activities over time, while conserving habitat for two target wildlife species: the federally endangered southwestern willow flycatcher (flycatcher) and a candidate for federal listing, the yellow-billed cuckoo (cuckoo). Both of these species are dependent on the Valley’s riparian environment.
“The district is hopeful that the approval of the HCP will contribute to removing the threat of designating all non-federal lands in the Valley as Critical Habitat under the Endangered Species Act.
“The HCP is the culmination of years of hard work and cooperative efforts with our partners and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a plan that provides tangible conservation for flycatchers and cuckoos while allowing landowners and local governments to continue routine agriculture and infrastructure activities vital to the economic well-being of the entire Valley. These efforts by the district, the six counties of the San Luis Valley, Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife, local municipalities, and many others have already contributed to more than 1,700 acres of private conservation of riparian habitat in support of this HCP.
“Publication and implementation of this HCP will continue that heritage of conservation and cooperation that benefits both wildlife and the citizens of the Valley.”
View the Final HCP/EA: http://www.slvhcp.com. Contact Sandra Montoya at 589-6301.
The HCP was prepared to meet regulatory compliance with Section 10 of the Endangered Species Act as part of the applications for Incidental Take Permits that were submitted to the service for review and approval. Under Section 10, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior and U.S. Secretary of Commerce may, where appropriate, authorize the taking of federally listed wildlife or fish through a permit, if such taking occurs incidentally during otherwise lawful activities.
Issuance of the permits by the service is considered a federal action that may affect the quality of the human environment, thus requiring preparation of an EA under the National Environmental Policy Act. The EA considered a no-action alternative and two action alternatives, one of which was the proposed HCP. The service issued a Finding of No Significant Impact on November 15 for the HCP.
The Final HCP/EA and other related documents will be available on-line at http://www.slvhcp.com or http://www.fws.gov/coloradoES/SLV-HCP.html. Anyone needing a printed or electronic copy of the Final HCP/EA should contact the Service at 970-243-2778.