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The Mountain-Prairie Region

NEWS RELEASE

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228

 

October 3, 2003

 Dawn Taylor Owens (CDNR) 303-866-5887
Sharon Rose (FWS) 303-236-7917, x415
Pat Schassburger (USGS) 303-202-4765

 

NORTON ANNOUNCES AGREEMENT BY U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE, STATE OF COLORADO TO CONSERVE MOUNTAIN PLOVERS

(DENVER) -- Interior Secretary Gale Norton today announced a new agreement with the State of Colorado to promote the conservation of mountain plovers on agricultural lands while providing assurances to farmers and ranchers that they will not be prosecuted for inadvertently violating a federal law protecting the birds.

Mountain plovers are high prairie birds that nest in open areas such as farm and ranch fields. Under a Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (CDNR), participating farmers and ranchers agree to notify the state at least 72 hours before tilling their fields, allowing biologists to survey and flag plover nests.

Farmers and ranchers also agree to till around the nests while gaining assurances they will not be prosecuted by the Department of Justice under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which strictly protects all migratory birds, if they accidently harm a bird.

"This agreement is a classic example of the kind of win-win partnership that is essential to successful conservation of our wildlife and its habitat," Norton said. "Freed from concerns that mountain plovers might delay or prevent them from tilling their fields, farmers and ranchers have become full partners in conserving this species while still producing food for America’s tables."

The highest concentration of mountain plover nests occurs in eastern Colorado. The agreement not only will protect nesting plovers but also will allow biologists to collect and analyze valuable information about nesting plovers and their success in producing chicks.

CDNR Executive Director Greg Walcher and Acting FWS Regional Director John Blankenship signed the agreement today in Denver.

In addition to today’s agreement, the Department of Defense is joining with Colorado State University, the University of Colorado, and others to fund a range-wide mountain plover natural history study that is in the final stages of completion by the University of Denver.

Other new conservation measures for the mountain plover include the recently established federal, state and private High Plains Partnership; several Habitat Conservation Plans on the wintering grounds in California; the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory’s Prairie Partners program; The Nature Conservancy’s "Prairie Wings" program and private land conservation easement efforts in South Park, Colorado.

In addition, the Service has initiated discussions with the Agriculture Department’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to explore ways to benefit mountain plovers on private lands. These include grazing plans that encourage high grazing intensity in plover nesting areas.

Historically, the mountain plover occurred on grasslands used by large numbers of bison, elk, and pronghorn, as well as burrowing animals such as prairie dogs, kangaroo rats, and badgers.

Currently, mountain plovers show a preference for prairie dog towns and sites that are heavily grazed by domestic livestock. They also can be found on sod farms, alkali flats, cultivated fields, and other types of agricultural lands that mimic their preferred habitat. A mixture of short vegetation and bare ground, and a flat topography are habitat defining characteristics of mountain plovers at both breeding and wintering locations.

The mountain plover averages 8 inches in body length and is similar in size and appearance to the killdeer. It is light brown above with a lighter colored breast, but lacks the contrasting dark breast belt common to most other plovers, including the killdeer. It eats insects such as beetles, grasshoppers, crickets and ants. Its scientific name is Charadrius montanus. Information on the mountain plover can be found by searching http://mountain-prairie.fws.gov/mtnplover and www.usgs.gov.

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