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Subject:  Critical habitat proposed for Pacific Coast population of western snowy plover
Jim Nickles, 916/414-6572
Al Donner, 916/414-6566

For specific areas, please contact:
Lois Grunwald (Central California Coast), 805/644-1766
Jan Hendron (Southern California Coast), 760/431-9440
Amedee Brickey (Northern California Coast), 707/822-7201
Phil Carroll (Oregon/Washington), 503/231-6179
Doug Zimmer (Washington), 360/753-4370

For more information, see a listing and maps of the proposed critical
habitat units, questions and answers, a link to the Federal Register, and
other information is available on our Web site at http://sacramento.fws.gov

                       Critical habitat proposed for
              Pacific Coast population of western snowy plover
                    Public comment accepted for 60 days

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed 35 critical-habitat units
along the coast of California, Oregon, and Washington for the Pacific coast
population of the western snowy plover, a Federally protected species,
opening a 60-day comment period on the proposal. The proposed critical
habitat units total 17,299 acres, less than an earlier critical habitat
plan the Service adopted in 1999.

Of the proposed units, 26 are in California, six are in Oregon, and three
are in Washington. Of the total acreage, 4,456 acres, or 26 percent, are on
Federal lands; 8,893 acres, or 51 percent, are owned by states or local
agencies; and 3,950 acres, or 23 percent, are private. The new proposal
calls for more critical habitat units but generally smaller ones, based on
increased knowledge of the species' needs and better mapping.

The Service will receive public comment on this proposed designation for 60
days, until 5 p.m. on February 15, 2005.  Under a court order, the Service
must make a final decision on critical habitat by September 20, 2005.

Under the Endangered Species Act, critical habitat identifies geographic
areas that contain features essential for the conservation of a threatened
or endangered species and may require special management considerations.
The designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership or
establish a refuge, wilderness, reserve, preserve or other conservation
area. It does not allow government or public access to private lands.

The Service initially designated critical habitat for the Pacific Coast
population of the western snowy plover in 1999.  In 2003, a Federal court
directed the Service to review the critical habitat under new criteria and
re-issue its proposal by Dec. 1, 2004.  This action responds to the mandate
from the court.  The new proposal calls for 35 units, compared to 28 units
in the 1999 plan, but covers only 17,299 acres, compared to 19,474 acres in
the 1999 plan.

This critical habitat proposal was completed in response to a lawsuit filed
by the Coos County Board of County Commissioners.

Critical habitat has no regulatory impact on private landowners taking
actions on their land, unless they are doing something that involves
Federal funding or permits. The 1993 listing of the plover as "threatened"
under the provisions of the Endangered Species Act provides broad
protection for the species without regard to habitat. Under the ESA, no one
may harm or injure this species in any way.

Since the species was listed as threatened, many local groups have
voluntarily worked to protect plovers and their breeding areas, and to help
educate the beach-using public about the bird's needs. In many areas, beach
users have cooperated with local interests to improve the breeding
situation for plovers.

"This is not a final decision, so we would hope that people carefully
review this proposed critical-habitat designation and provide comments and
suggestions," said Steve Thompson, manager of the Service's
California-Nevada Operations Office. "We need the public's help to ensure
that our final decision is as accurate and scientifically sound as
possible, so we can continue to recover this sensitive species."

The western snowy plover is a small shorebird with pale brown to gray upper
parts, gray to black legs and bill, and dark patches on the forehead,
behind the eyes, and on either side of the upper breast.

The Pacific coast population of the western snowy plover is defined as
those individuals nesting adjacent to tidal waters of the Pacific Ocean,
and includes all nesting birds on the mainland coast, peninsulas, offshore
islands, adjacent bays, estuaries and coastal rivers. The Pacific Coast WSP
breeds primarily on coastal beaches from southern Washington to southern
Baja California, Mexico.

Biologists estimate that no more than 2,600 snowy plovers breed along the
Pacific Coast of the United States with an equal number breeding on the
west coast of Baja California. The largest number of breeding birds occurs
south of San Francisco Bay to southern Baja. The species' decline has been
attributed to loss of nesting habitat, human disturbance, encroachment of
European beach grass on nesting grounds, and predation.

In 30 years of implementing the Endangered Species Act, the Service has
found that the designation of critical habitat provides little additional
protection to most listed species, while preventing the Service from using
scarce conservation resources for activities with greater conservation

In almost all cases, recovery of listed species will come through voluntary
cooperative partnerships, not regulatory measures such as critical habitat.
Habitat is also protected through cooperative measures under the Endangered
Species Act including Habitat Conservation Plans, Safe Harbor Agreements,
Candidate Conservation Agreements and state programs. In addition,
voluntary partnership programs such as the Service's Private Stewardship
Grants and Partners for Fish and Wildlife program also restore habitat.
Habitat for endangered species is provided on many national wildlife
refuges, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state wildlife
management areas.

      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 544 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small
wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national
fish hatcheries, 63 fishery resource 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 Aid program that distributes hundreds
of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to
State fish and wildlife agencies.






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