Conserving the Nature of America

News Release

Critical Habitat Designated for Pacific Coast Population of the Western Snowy Plover

September 26, 2005


Division of Public Affairs
External Affairs
Telephone: 703-358-2220

Final Rule Deletes Three Areas and Parts of Five Others

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has completed a final rule designating 32 units of critical habitat along the coast of California, Oregon, and Washington for the Pacific coast population of the western snowy plover, a Federally threatened species. The critical habitat units total 12,145 acres, nearly 40 per cent less acreage than an earlier critical habitat plan the Service adopted in 1999. Questions and Answers

Of the designated units, 24 are in California (7,472 acres), five are in Oregon (2,147 acres), and three are in Washington (2,526 acres). Of the total acreage, 2,479 acres (20 percent) are on Federal lands; 6,474 acres (53 percent) are owned by states or local agencies; and 3,191 acres (26 percent) are private.

Compared to the 1999 plan, todays action designates more critical habitat units but generally smaller ones, based on increased knowledge of the species needs and better mapping. This new rule designates 32 units covering 12,145 acres, compared to 28 units covering 19,474 acres in the 1999 plan.

The rule is scheduled to be published Thursday in the Federal Register, and will take effect 30 days after publication.

Some 2,859 acres of proposed critical habitat in six units were deleted based on the projected cost of designating critical habitat. An economic analysis prepared by Industrial Economics Inc. projected that critical habitat could cost between $273 million and $645 million, with the biggest costs due to beach recreation losses. More than three-quarters of the loss was found to occur in five proposed California critical habitat units, located on Coronados Silver Strand, Morro Bay, Pismo Beach, and two on Monterey Bay.

In addition, 615 acres were deleted because of management plans and commitments -- such as Habitat Conservation Plans -- and 1,621 acres were deleted because they are covered by military land management plans or national security needs.

The Service also is conducting a status review of the Pacific Coast population of the western snowy plover, to comply with two petitions to de-list the species and also to comply with the requirement that species status be reviewed in five-year intervals. The Service expects to complete that review next spring.

The Service initially designated critical habitat for the Pacific Coast population of the western snowy plover in 1999. This final rule was prepared pursuant to a court order resulting from a lawsuit filed against the Service by the Coos County Board of County Commissioners in 2003. This final rule complies with the court order directing the Service to more fully evaluate the economic impacts of designating critical habitat.

Critical habitat is a term in the Endangered Species Act (ESA). It identifies geographic areas that contain features essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and may require special management considerations or protection. 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.

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 ESA provides broad protection for the species without regard to habitat. Under the ESA, no one may harm or injure this species in any way.

In 30 years of implementing the ESA, 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 benefits. 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 ESA including Habitat Conservation Plans, Safe Harbor Agreements, Candidate Conservation Agreements and state programs. In addition, voluntary partnership programs such as the Services Private Stewardship Grants and Partners for Fish and Wildlife program also restore habitat. Habitat for endangered species is provided on many of the Services National Wildlife Refuges and state wildlife management areas.

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 birds needs. In many areas, beach users have cooperated with local interests to improve the breeding situation for plovers.

Only 28 major nesting areas remain for the estimated 2,600 snowy plovers that breed along the Pacific coast from early March through late September. The sand spits, dune-backed beaches and other coastal habitats where the small shorebirds breed are being lost to development and encroachment of exotic beach grass. Human activity on the beaches during the breeding season and predation also have contributed to the decline of plover numbers and helped put this species at risk.

A link to a copy of the final rule on the Federal Register, maps of the critical habitat units, and other information is available on the Internet at, or by contacting the Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office by telephone at 916-414-6600.

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 545 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 Fish and Wildlife Management 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 and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

Information contained in older news items may be outdated. These materials are made available as historical archival information only. Individual contacts have been replaced with general External Affairs office information. No other updates have been made to the information and we do not guarantee current accuracy or completeness.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit

For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit Connect with our Facebook page, follow our tweets, watch our YouTube Channel and download photos from our Flickr page.