by Greg Walcher, E&E Legal Senior Policy Fellow
As appearing in the Daily Sentinel
I couldn’t help thinking about my friend, the late Harry Talbott, this week when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) designated nearly 300,000 acres as critical habitat for the yellow-billed cuckoo. Harry was a conservation icon, not only because of his leadership in preserving Palisade’s orchards and open space throughout the region, nor just because of his work in founding the rural agricultural land trust movement, as crucial as those were. He was more than an activist involved in vital local issues. Harry was the real deal, a genuine environmentalist and an indispensable role model for caring about the world around us.
Harry was an environmental scientist, an expert on trees, plants, and wildlife habitat. He was an expert on yellow-billed cuckoos, too, not only because of the potential threat to farms posed by any endangered species listing, but because he actually cared about the birds. One of the last times I talked to him was about this issue. He called me to express concern, again, about pressure the USFWS was under, to designate habitat in the wrong places. We had talked about yellow-billed cuckoos for years, beginning with the original “threatened” listing in 2014.
That listing represented a compromise, between environmental groups demanding an endangered listing, and the agency’s biologists, who had determined the listing was not warranted. The USFWS has spent a fortune studying the cuckoo and identifying potential habitat, because of lawsuits demanding it. In 2015, the agency asked Mesa County to help enlist the support of landowners to map, designate, and protect private lands where the bird might live. Harry was concerned about it, because these birds do not live in Mesa County.