(From The Birding Community E-Bulletin)

On 13 April of this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced the successful recovery of the Black-capped Vireo, thus removing the species from Endangered Species List protection for this once-beleaguered species. Thirty years ago, the population was down to only about 350 individuals. Today, however, there are more than 14,000 birds estimated across the bird’s breeding range in Oklahoma, Texas, and Mexico. No longer will this species be listed among those species considered Endangered and Threatened.

The vireo was Federally-listed in 1987, primarily due to the impacts of habitat loss and nest parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds. During this time-period, Texas especially had a large number of goats on the landscape, browsing on shrubs and reducing the cover that Black-capped Vireos needed for nesting. Fortunately a serious effort to eliminate cowbirds, combined with habitat restoration efforts, had beneficial consequences. Part of the vireo’s recovery could also be attributed to decreasing goat densities in Texas, especially since the repeal of the National Wool Act in 1993, terminating wool price-supports by the end of 1995 and helping increase vireo numbers across much of the species’ breeding range.

Across Texas and Oklahoma, the USFWS worked with the U.S. Army, Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, U.S. Department of Agriculture, The Nature Conservancy, the Environmental Defense Fund, and other partners to help the Black-capped Vireo recover. Conservation activities included the use of prescribed fire, arranging for conservation easements, and the control of Brown-headed Cowbirds.

Using their scientifically rigorous Species Status Assessment protocol, the USFWS concluded that the primary threats to the Black-capped Vireo have been reduced or adequately managed, and vireo populations are now expected to be viable in the future.

But this does not mean that a “hands-off” approach will be justified. To ensure that Black-capped Vireo populations remain healthy, the USFWS has developed a post-delisting monitoring plan in the states of Texas and Oklahoma, along with Fort Hood (Texas), Fort Sill (Oklahoma), and The Nature Conservancy of Texas. This plan outlines the methods to be used to monitor the status of the vireo and its habitat, in cooperation with partners for a 12-year period, and it also provides an approach for identifying and responding to any future population declines or habitat loss.

“The delisting of the Black-capped Vireo clearly illustrates the value of the Service’s partnership-driven approach to conservation,” said Amy Lueders, the USFWS’s Southwest Regional Director. “By working with our partners including Fort Hood, Fort Sill, the states of Texas and Oklahoma, private landowners and others we were able to conserve a North American songbird that once perched on the brink of extinction for future generations to enjoy.”

J.D. Strong, director of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, added, “Now our challenge is to redouble efforts to make sure those partnerships continue – along with valuable habitat restoration work and research – so that vireos and Oklahoma’s other fish and wildlife populations remain healthy.”

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