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North Carolina Ecological Services

Amended Designation of Critical Habitat
for the Wintering Population of the Piping Plover

COMMENT PERIOD IS NOW CLOSED


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) proposes to amend critical habitat for the wintering population of the piping plover (Charadrius melodus) in North Carolina under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended.  In total, approximately 827 hectares (ha) (2,043 acres (ac)) fall within the boundaries of the proposed amended critical habitat designation, located in Dare and Hyde counties, North Carolina.

A complete description of the proposed designation can be found in the Federal Register.   A pdf version of the revised proposed rule (285 KB) is also available, as well as the original proposed rule (221 KB).   The revised draft economic analysis (907 KB) and revised draft environmental assessment (282 KB) are available in pdf format, as well.

BACKGROUND

The piping plover is a small, pale-colored shorebird that breeds in three separate areas of North America -- the Northern Great Plains, the Great Lakes, and the Atlantic Coast.  The piping plover winters in coastal areas of the United States from North Carolina to Texas, along the coast of eastern Mexico, and on Caribbean islands from Barbados to Cuba and the Bahamas.  Information from observations of color-banded piping plovers indicates that the winter ranges of the breeding populations overlap to a significant degree.  Therefore, the source breeding population of a given wintering individual cannot be determined in the field unless it has been banded or otherwise marked.

Piping plovers begin arriving on the wintering grounds in July, with some late-nesting birds arriving in September.  A few individuals can be found on the wintering grounds throughout the year, but sightings are rare in late May, June, and early July.  Migration is poorly understood, but a recent study suggests that plovers use inland and coastal stopover sites when migrating from interior breeding areas to wintering grounds.  Concentrations of spring and fall migrants also have been observed along the Atlantic Coast.  In late February, piping plovers begin leaving the wintering grounds to migrate back to breeding sites.  Northward migration peaks in late March, and by late May most birds have left the wintering grounds.  North Carolina is uniquely positioned in the species' range, being the only State where the piping plover's breeding and wintering ranges overlap and the birds are present year-round.

Critical habitat is defined under the Endangered Species Act as the specific areas within the geographical area occupied by a species which have physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the species and that may require special management considerations or protection, or specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by a species but for which those areas are essential for the conservation of the species.

Proposed Designated Critical Habitat Areas: 

  1. Unit NC-1: Oregon Inlet, 196 ha (485.0 ac) in Dare County, North Carolina

    This unit extends from the southern portion of Bodie Island through Oregon Inlet to the northern portion of Pea Island.  It begins at the edge of Ramp 4 near the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center on Bodie Island and extends south approximately 7.6 km (4.7 mi) to the intersection of NC Highway 12 and Salt Flats Wildlife Trail (near Mile Marker 30, NC Highway 12), approximately 4.8 km (2.9 mi) from the groin, on Pea Island.  The unit is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the east and Pamlico Sound on the west and includes lands from the mean lower low water (MLLW) on the Atlantic Ocean shoreline to the line of stable, densely vegetated dune habitat (which is not used by piping plovers and where primary constituent elements do not occur) and from the MLLW on the Pamlico Sound side to the line of stable, densely vegetated habitat, or (where a line of stable, densely vegetated dune habitat does not exist) lands from MLLW on the Atlantic Ocean shoreline to the MLLW on the Pamlico Sound side.  Any emergent sandbars south and west of Oregon Inlet, including Green Island and lands owned by the State of North Carolina such as Islands DR-005-05 and DR-005-06, are included.  This unit does not include the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center, NC Highway 12 and the Bonner Bridge or its associated structures, the terminal groin, the historic Pea Island Life-Saving Station, or any of their ancillary facilities (e.g., parking lots, out buildings).

  2. Unit NC-2: Cape Hatteras Point, 262 ha (646 ac) in Dare County, North Carolina

    This unit is within Cape Hatteras National Seashore and encompasses the point of Cape Hatteras (Cape Point).  The unit extends south approximately 4.5 km (2.8 mi) from the ocean groin near the old location of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse to the point of Cape Hatteras, and then extends west 7.6 km (4.7 mi) (straight-line distances) along Hatteras Cove shoreline (South Beach) to the edge of Ramp 49 near the Frisco Campground.  The unit includes lands from the MLLW on the Atlantic Ocean to the line of stable, densely vegetated dune habitat (which is not used by the piping plover and where primary constituent elements do not occur).  This unit does not include the ocean groin.  

  3. Unit NC-4: Hatteras Inlet, 166 ha (410 ac) in Dare and Hyde Counties, North Carolina

    This unit extends from the western end of Hatteras Island to the eastern end of Ocracoke Island.  The unit extends approximately 7.6 km (4.7 mi) southwest from the first beach access point at the edge of Ramp 55 at the end of NC Highway 12 near the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum on the western end of Hatteras Island to the edge of the beach access at the ocean-side parking lot (approximately 0.1 mi south of Ramp 59) on NC Highway 12, approximately 1.25 km (0.78 mi) southwest (straight-line distance) of the ferry terminal on the northeastern end of Ocracoke Island.  The unit includes lands from the MLLW on the Atlantic Ocean shoreline to the line of stable, densely vegetated dune habitat (which is not used by the piping plover and where primary constituent elements do not occur) and from the MLLW on the Pamlico Sound side to the line of stable, densely vegetated habitat, or (where a line of stable, densely vegetated dune habitat does not exist) lands from MLLW on the Atlantic Ocean shoreline to the MLLW on the Pamlico Sound side.  All emergent sandbars within Hatteras Inlet between Hatteras Island and Ocracoke Island, including lands owned by the State of North Carolina such as Island DR-009-03/04, are included.  The unit is adjacent to but does not include the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, the ferry terminal, the groin on Ocracoke Island, NC Highway 12, or their ancillary facilities (e.g., parking lots, out buildings).

  4. Unit NC-5: Ocracoke Island, 203 ha (502 ac) in Hyde County, North Carolina

    This unit is within Cape Hatteras National Seashore and includes the western portion of Ocracoke Island beginning at the beach access point at the edge of Ramp 72 (South Point Road), extending west approximately 3.4 km (2.1 mi) to Ocracoke Inlet, and then back east on the Pamlico Sound side to a point where stable, densely vegetated dune habitat meets the water.  This unit includes lands from the MLLW on the Atlantic Ocean shoreline to the line of stable, densely vegetated dune habitat (which is not used by the piping plover and where primary constituent elements do not occur) and from the MLLW on the Pamlico Sound side to the line of stable, densely vegetated habitat, or (where a line of stable, densely vegetated dune habitat does not exist) lands from MLLW on the Atlantic Ocean shoreline to the MLLW on the Pamlico Sound side.  All emergent sandbars within Ocracoke Inlet are also included.  This unit does not include any portion of the maintained South Point Road, NC Highway 12, or any of their ancillary facilities.

Primary constituent elements are physical and biological features of the designated critical habitat essential to the conservation of the species.  Essential components (primary constituent elements) of wintering piping plover habitat include sand and/or mud flats with no or very sparse emergent vegetation.  In some cases, these flats may be covered or partially covered by a mat of blue-green algae. Adjacent unvegetated or sparsely vegetated sand, mud, or algal flats above high tide are also essential, especially for roosting piping plovers.  Such sites may have debris, detritus (decaying organic matter), or micro-topographic relief (less than 50 cm above substrate surface) offering refuge from high winds and cold weather.  Essential components of the beach/dune ecosystem include surf-cast algae for feeding of prey, sparsely vegetated backbeach (beach area above mean high tide seaward of the dune line, or in cases where no dunes exist, seaward of a delineating feature such as a vegetation line, structure, or road) for roosting and refuge during storms, spits (a small point of land, especially sand, running into water) for feeding and roosting, salterns (bare sand flats in the center of mangrove ecosystems that are found above mean high water and are only irregularly flushed with sea water) and washover areas for feeding and roosting.  Washover areas are broad, unvegetated zones with little or no topographic relief that are formed and maintained by the action of hurricanes, storm surge, or other extreme wave action.  Several of these components (sparse vegetation, little or no topographic relief) are mimicked in artificial habitat types used less commonly by piping plovers, but that are considered critical habitat (e.g., dredge spoil sites).

For More Information on the Piping Plover... 



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Page Updated: 15 May 2008