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A Strong Partnership Protects Interior Least Terns and Piping Plovers
Sand and Gravel Mining Companies in Nebraska Help Pave the Road to Recovery
By Angelina Wright
Photo Credit: Mary Bomberger Brown
The fate of endangered and threatened species lies in the hands of those willing to go the extra mile to protect and recover their vulnerable populations. Since 1985, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) and Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) have worked to restore the endangered Interior least tern (Sternula antillarum athalassos) and threatened piping plover (Charadrius melodus) to Nebraska's landscape. The Tern and Plover Conservation Partnership joined the effort in 1999. In addition, since the recovery's inception, sand and gravel mining companies in Nebraska teamed up with these organizations and have enthusiastically taken an integral role as tern and plover conservationists. Their past and future involvement may be the answer to securing a future for these two imperiled birds.
Both the interior least tern and piping plover travel thousands of miles each year, from their wintering grounds along the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea to their breeding grounds in Nebraska and other midwestern states. From late April until mid-August, Nebraska hosts these birds as they return to the same nesting areas year after year.
Upon arrival in spring, both species seek out sparsely vegetated, sandy shorelines and mid-river sandbars, where they establish territories, build nests, and feed and care for their young. In Nebraska, some of the appealing and most reliable habitat of this sort is found along the beaches of sand and gravel pits.
For decades, sand and gravel mining companies have mined large quantities of high quality aggregates at sites along Nebraska’s rivers. This industry is important to the state's economy, generating millions of dollars in revenue every year and providing useful products and materials for building roads, home construction, concrete production, landscaping, and glass manufacturing.
Some of the best aggregate sources in Nebraska are found along the Platte, Elkhorn, and Loup Rivers. Mining activity creates expanses of barren sand, which are extremely attractive to interior least terns and piping plovers. Unfortunately, active sand and gravel mines are busy places, with a lot of large machinery and commotion. Nests can be accidentally run-over by equipment, loud noises can cause birds to abandon nests, and windblown sand can bury nests. As a result sand and gravel companies have made it their corporate goal to minimize the likelihood that birds encounter these man-made hazards.
Photo Credit: Mary Bomberger Brown
In 2012, representatives from several leading sand and gravel companies in Nebraska, the Service, and NGPC prepared a Memoranda of Understanding establishing themselves as partners in the effort to protect and recover interior least tern and piping plover populations.
“The Tern and Plover Conservation Partnership has been outstanding to work with, and due to their constant training and involvement, Western Sand’s feelings toward the plovers and terns have changed over the years from being a 'nuisance' to 'amazing creatures of nature,’” says Dave Brakenhoff of the Western Sand and Gravel Company.
In 2012, approximately 310 least terns and 66 piping plovers occupied cooperating mines in Nebraska. To ensure the safety of these birds, extra effort has been put forth by all parties to improve nesting habitat, implement on-the-ground management, routinely monitor bird populations, and practice cooperation, open communication and coordination of efforts.
“Being responsible stewards of the land and the wildlife that inhabit it is an important corporate priority, ” says Carol White of the Lyman-Richey Corporation. “Our involvement with the Tern and Plover Conservation Partnership is the latest step for us to ensure habitat for the Least Tern and Piping Plovers is preserved and enhanced for future generations.”
For these conservation efforts to be successful it has taken dedication and the awareness of everyone involved to work towards a measurable recovery goal. With the joining of a shared conservation interest, an appreciation of an important industry, strategic planning, and intensive monitoring, this partnership has pooled their varied resources and backgrounds to create a bright future for these birds.
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