Critical Habitat Desig
Questions and Answers
Regarding the Critical Habitat Designation for the
Northern Great Plains Population of Piping Plover
--What it Means to Nebraskans–
Why did the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service designate critical habitat for the piping plover?
As the result of a lawsuit filed by the Defenders of Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) was required by court order to propose critical habitat for the northern Great Plains breeding population of piping plover. The Service made the final decision to designate critical habitat based on the best available scientific and economic information as well as public input.
What is critical habitat?
Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), critical habitat refers to specific geographic areas that are essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and that may require special management considerations or protection. A critical habitat designation does not affect land ownership or set up a preserve or refuge and only applies to situations where federal funding, authorization, or land is involved.
What are the regulatory consequences of a critical habitat designation?
Regulatory consequences of a designation of critical habitat are that Federal agencies must consult with the Service before undertaking actions with a federal nexus (for example – projects or activities that require a Federal authorization, permit, license, or funding) that might destroy or adversely modify critical habitat. Because the piping plover is already listed as an endangered species, consultations are already taking place. Therefore little or no additional regulatory burden is anticipated. There will be no regulatory impact on private landowners taking actions on their lands which do not involve a federal nexus.
What areas in Nebraska have been designated as critical habitat for the piping plover?
Approximately 440 miles of the Platte, Loup, Niobrara rivers have been designated as critical habitat. The designated critical habitat is comprised of sparsely vegetated riverine sandbars, sand and gravel beaches on riverine islands used for nesting, temporary pools on riverine sandbars and islands, and moist sand areas used for foraging. (Riverine habitat is habitat within the river channel - it does not include land area outside of the river channel.)
How will this critical habitat designation affect water users in Central Nebraska?
As a listed species, the piping plover is already protected under the ESA wherever it occurs. Water development projects that require Federal authorization, permits, licensing, or funding that result in flow depletions to the Platte River already require consultation; therefore, this critical habitat designation is not expected to have much effect on water users beyond those measures already required to protect the species.
Will this critical habitat designation prohibit hunting, fishing, off-road vehicles and other recreational uses of the Platte, Loup, Niobrara, and Missouri rivers?
No. The designation of critical habitat will not restrict or prohibit landowners and other people from accessing the river areas for recreational and other activities. However, since the species was listed in 1986, the piping plover has been protected from "take" (defined as to kill, harm, harass, trap, or wound) under the Endangered Species Act. Since that time, the Service and other land managing agencies have posted or restricted known nesting areas to protect the plovers during the critical breeding season and to prevent people from stepping on or crushing eggs and or chicks. When recreational activities occur on nesting areas where birds occur there is a potential for take. In these cases, the Service will work with the Federal agency to protect nesting sites while having as minimal an effect as possible on humans’ enjoyment of the areas.
Did the Platte River Cooperative Agreement trigger the designation of piping plover critical habitat?
No. The proposed designation of piping plover critical habitat was required to satisfy the court order which resulted from the lawsuit filed by the Defenders of Wildlife. The Service designated only those lands that we determined were essential to the plover’s conservation based on the best scientific information currently available.
The Platte River Cooperative Agreement is a partnership between the states of Nebraska, Wyoming, and Colorado and the Department of the Interior to develop a basin-wide recovery program for the threatened and endangered species associated with the Platte River.
If the Platte River Cooperative Agreement results in a basin-wide program, would this Program cover consultations for Platte River water depletions - including those associated with critical habitat designations?
Yes. Even though the Cooperative Agreement and the piping plover critical habitat designation are independent actions, if a Platte River program is developed, it is intended to provide regulatory certainty to offset the effects of Platte River depletions from Chapman, Nebraska upstream. Without a basin-wide program, Platte River water development projects will be subject to individual consultation under the ESA, regardless of the piping plover critical habitat designation.
Has critical habitat already been designated in Central Nebraska?
Yes. A 56-mile-long by 3-mile-wide stretch of the Platte River between Lexington and Denman was federally designated as critical habitat for the whooping crane in 1978. (Note: The whooping crane critical habitat designation includes riverine as well as land habitat. The critical habitat designation for piping plover includes only riverine habitat.)
Did the whooping crane critical habitat designation lead to the FERC relicensing of Kingsley Dam or the Platte River Cooperative Agreement?
No. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) licenses for Kingsley Dam and the North Platte/Keystone Dam projects were due for renewal in 1987. As a federal agency, FERC is required to consider project impacts to listed species and their habitats. In order to comply with the ESA and still reissue the licenses, FERC required provisions to minimize impacts to the environment. A provision of both licenses is that the licensees participate in the development of a basin-wide recovery implementation program to benefit the four federally listed species using the Platte River region (piping plover, least tern, whooping crane, and pallid sturgeon).
How has the 1978 whooping crane critical habitat designation on the Platte River affected water users in Central Nebraska?
The Service has been considering the effects of projects on whooping cranes and their habitat since the species was listed in 1967. Critical habitat for the whooping crane has been a consideration in consultations since its designation in 1978. Therefore, all projects with a Federal nexus have been reviewed for impacts to the whooping crane and its critical habitat since that time. If a project could potentially harm the species, the Service has helped develop remedies to avoid or minimize harm to the species and its habitat.
Did the public have an opportunity to comment on the proposed critical habitat designation for piping plover?
Yes. The Service published a proposed critical habitat designation for the piping plover in the Federal Register by May 2001 to comply with the court order. The comment period was reopened several times for a total of 150 days. Public meetings were also be held to obtain comments.
Where can I get more information on the piping plover and critical habitat?
For more information, visit our web site at http://mountain-prairie.fws.gov/species/birds/pipingplover. You may also telephone the Grand Island, Nebraska Service Field Office at 308-382-6468 ext. 25
Updated as of August 26, 2002