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Western Snowy Plover to Retain Threatened Status
U.S Fish and Wildlife Service Proposes innovative strategy under ESA to encourage local conservation efforts
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today a finding that the
Pacific Coast population of the western snowy plover remains at risk from
habitat loss, human disturbances and other perils and should retain its
status as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
After reviewing the best scientific evidence, the Service finds that
delisting the species from the federal list of threatened and endangered
species is not warranted. The Service concluded that the Pacific Coast
western snowy plover population is markedly separate from other populations
and that it meets the requirements for protection as a distinct population
segment (DPS) under the ESA.
However, in completing an in-depth review of the status of the western
snowy plover, the Service found significant progress has been made toward
bringing the species back to health, and the Service is proposing a new
rule that would support and enhance local conservation efforts.
The Service seeks public comment on the proposed rule for 60 days.
Comments, information and suggestions may be sent to the Field Supervisor
(Attn: WSP-4d), Arcata Fish and Wildlife Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service, 1655 Heindon Road, Arcata, California 95521 or by fax at
The western population of the tiny shorebird that breeds in coastal areas
in California, Oregon and Washington has been listed as threatened since
1993. The current population estimate for the U.S. portion of the Pacific
Coast population is approximately 2,300, based on a 2005 survey. The
largest number of breeding birds occurs south of San Francisco Bay to
southern Baja. It is classified as a “distinct population segment” under
the ESA, separate from populations that nest in inland areas from Nevada
and Utah to Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.
Today’s action was triggered by two petitions filed in 2002 and 2003,
respectively, by the Surf-Ocean Beach Commission of Lompoc, CA, and the
City of Morro Bay, CA, seeking to delist the Pacific coast population of
the western snowy plover. The petitions contended that the Pacific Coast
population of the western snowy plover does not qualify either as a
distinct population or as a threatened species.
The Service found that the Pacific Coast population of the western snowy
plover is markedly separate from other populations of plover due to
behavioral differences. With only very isolated exceptions, the birds of
the Pacific Coast breed and stay on the coast their entire lives. The
discreteness of this population meets the legal requirements to qualify as
a distinct population segment (DPS) under the ESA. Threats to the bird
remain essentially the same since the time of listing under the ESA in
At the same time, the Service concluded that significant progress has been
made toward recovery in a relatively short period, but that additional
recovery actions are needed to assure the species’ long-term survival. In
order to encourage continued recovery efforts, the Service is proposing a
rule that will have conservation benefits for the bird when finalized.
The rule – known as a “special rule” under section 4(d) of the Endangered
Species Act – would allow some incidental loss, or “take,” of western snowy
plovers within counties that have met their Breeding Bird Management Goals
as specified in the 2001 Draft Recovery Plan for the western snowy plover.
The special rule is intended to increase local public support for western
snowy plover recovery; provide an incentive to counties to develop
management plans to meet recovery goals; and enable the Service to focus
limited staff and financial resources in those counties where the recovery
need is greatest. The public comment period of the proposed rule will be
open for 60 days.
The western snowy plover is distinguished from other plovers by its small
size, pale brown upper parts, dark patches on either side of the upper
breast, and dark gray to blackish legs. Snowy plovers weigh between 1.2 and
2 ounces. They are generally 5 to 7 inches long. The Pacific coast
population of the western snowy plover breeds primarily on coastal beaches
from southern Washington to southern Baja California, Mexico. The decline
of the species has been attributed to loss of nesting habitat, human
disturbance, encroachment of European beach grass on nesting grounds, and
predation. The species was listed as threatened in 1993, and the Service
designated critical habitat in 2005.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency
responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and
plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American
people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge
System, which encompasses 545 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small
wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national
fish hatcheries, 63 Fish and Wildlife Management offices and 81 ecological
services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws,
administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations,
restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife
habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their
conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program,
which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on
fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:15 AM Pacific
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