Gone Cuckoo — potential habitat for yellow-billed bird delays boat ramp project

WYBC,SibleyConstruction of the City of Colusa’s new boat ramp won’t begin this summer, as city officials had hoped.

The general area around the proposed boat launch facility has been identified as potential habitat for a certain species classified as threatened by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) — namely, the Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo — which has delayed the permitting process for the project.

Despite the hangup, Colusa City Planner Bryan Stice said that the city is on track to have all of its permits in place by the end of the year, with construction slated for next spring.

“It’s possible that some minor construction could begin start in late fall, but that will not be known for sure until all the permits are done — it just kind of depends on when we get them,” Stice said.

Yellow-billed bird delays boat ramp project

So what exactly is this bird, and what does potential habitat mean?

According to the USFWS, the western yellow-billed cuckoo is a slender, long-tailed migrant bird that breeds in western North America and winters in South America, south of the Amazon Basin.

The Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo is distinct from birds by the same name in the east — mainly because it arrives on the breeding grounds a month later and specializes in riparian habitat. It’s a larger bird that lays larger eggs than its eastern counterpart. There are estimated to be less than 1,000 breeding pairs. 100 pairs or less are scattered throughout California and the Inner-Mountain West.

Colusa County falls within the current range defined by the USFWS — meaning that the Sacramento River at Colusa could potentially be habitat for the birds.

“The USFWS considers most of the western US to be potential habitat,” Stice said. “There are certain areas that are more likely to provide potential habitat. We have some concurrence with the USFWS that the project won’t disturb (potential habitat), but we have to be sensitive to it.”

While there is potential habitat for the Yellow-billed Cuckoo in the general area around the project, that’s not necessarily the case at the specific location for the proposed boat ramp.

“We still have to survey the area and look for them, and do that in a way that they want (it to be done) — they want us to survey it according to their unique protocol,” Stice said.

The city is being asked to prepare an Environmental Assessment — a federal-level environmental document that must be obtained to support necessary permits from the Army Corps of Engineers, USFWS, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, Stice said.

Stice said that while the city was initially concerned that the yellow-billed cuckoo would “throw a wrench in the project,” those concerns have been allayed.

“The review by the Wildlife Service has determined that there will be no impacts because of mitigation measures we have taken,” Stice said. “There was one mitigation provision that they wanted us to tweak, pertaining to the cuckoo bird, and we are currently reworking some of that language.”

Assuming the birds are actually in the area, the city will still be able to build the ramp — but will not be able to start construction on the project between June 15 and Aug. 15, when the birds are nesting.

“As long as we start construction before they nest, the birds will be able to re-nest, assuming they are actually out there,” Stice said. “We don’t have any evidence that they’re actually there, but we have to prepare as if they were.”

While the project has suffered a minor a setback, Stice is confident that all of the requisite permits will be in place by the year’s end.

“We’re making great progress. The number of obstacles we’ve been faced with is shrinking rapidly at this point,” Stice said.

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Brian Pearson is the Managing Editor & Reporter for the Williams Pioneer Review. Brian joined the Williams Pioneer Review in June 2016 and is committed to bringing hyperlocal news to its readers. A few of his projects include reporting on local government and the newly feature sports page. To contact Brian about this article, or for future articles, please email him at brian@colusacountynews.net