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The Mountain-Prairie Region


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


June 12, 2001


Nell McPhillips (SD) 605-224-8693 ext 32
Lou Hanebury (MT) 406-247-7367
Lori Nordstrom (MT) 406-449-5225 ext 208
Karen Kreil (ND) 701-250-4401
Erika Wilson (NE) 308-382-6468 ext 25
Phil Delphey (MN) 612-725-3548 ext. 206
Diane Katzenberger 303-236-7917 ext 408

Service Proposes Designation of Critical Habitat for
Great Plains Population of Piping Plover

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed today to designate critical habitat for the northern Great Plains breeding population of piping plover (Charadrius melodus), an imperiled migratory shorebird. This proposal includes 196,576 acres of habitat and 1,338 river miles in Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska. The Service will hold informational meetings in the affected states this summer and take public comments before finalizing this proposal.

Proposed areas of critical habitat include prairie alkali wetlands and surrounding shoreline; river channels and associated sandbars and islands; and reservoirs and inland lakes and their sparsely vegetated shorelines, peninsulas, and islands. These areas provide primary courtship, nesting, foraging, sheltering, brood-rearing and dispersal habitat for piping plovers.

"The designation of critical habitat for the piping plover will help us work with other Federal and state agencies and private landowners to recover this imperiled species," said Ralph Morgenweck, the Service’s Director for the Mountain-Prairie Region. "The Service will make a final decision on the proposed designations only after considering the economic impacts and receiving input from the public."

Critical habitat, under the Endangered Species Act, refers to geographic areas that are essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and that may require special management considerations or protection. These areas do not necessarily have to be occupied by the species at the time of designation, if they are considered essential to the recovery of the species. A critical habitat designation does not create a preserve or a refuge, and only applies to situations where Federal funding or a Federal permit is involved. Designation of critical habitat does not affect private landowners undertaking a project on private land that does not involve federal funding or require a federal permit or authorization.

The northern Great Plains population of piping plovers is already protected as a threatened species wherever it may occur. Designation of critical habitat for this population of piping plovers does not add additional protection, though it does contribute to their conservation by helping Federal agencies determine when and where they must consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service before undertaking actions that may destroy or adversely modify plover habitat.

Not all areas found within the boundaries designated as critical habitat are essential for the conservation of the species. For example, human-made structures such as boat ramps, bank stabilization and breakwater structures, row-cropped or plowed agricultural areas, mines, and roads will not be considered critical habitat for the plover even if they fall within critical habitat designation boundaries.

The piping plover was listed as a threatened species in 1986. As a listed species, the piping plover is already protected wherever it occurs and Federal agencies are required to consult on any action they take which might affect the species, regardless of critical habitat designation. Therefore, the Service anticipates that little additional regulatory burden will be placed on Federal agencies as a result of any designation of critical habitat.

The Endangered Species Act requires that the Service evaluate the economic impacts of designating critical habitat before finalizing the boundaries. The Service may exclude areas from the critical habitat designation if the economic impacts would be too severe, as long as the exclusion will not lead to the extinction of the species. A draft economic analysis will be made available for public review and comment. Concurrently, the Service is making available a draft environmental assessment of this proposed designation.

"The Service has worked with landowners to conserve prairie habitat and prairie species, including the piping plover, for years. Through these cooperative partnerships, we have learned more about plovers and the ways we can help them. At the same time, we have enjoyed working with local landowners, many of whom take special pride in having this unique bird on their land," said Morgenweck.

The piping plover is named for its melodic mating call. It is a small, pale-colored North American shorebird. The bird’s light sand-colored plumage blends in with sandy beaches and shorelines. There are three breeding populations of piping plovers in the United States. The Great Lakes population is listed as endangered and the northern Great Plains and Atlantic Coast populations are listed as threatened. All piping plovers winter along the southeast and Gulf coasts and are listed as threatened in their wintering habitat.

 In recent decades, piping plover populations have drastically declined due to human disturbance, predation, and destruction of habitats in both the breeding and wintering areas. Plovers in the Great Plains make their nests on open, sparsely vegetated sand or gravel beaches adjacent to alkali wetlands, and on beaches, sand bars, and islands of major river systems. Construction and operation of reservoirs on the Missouri River and other river systems have resulted in a loss of sandbar habitat. Plovers using the remaining sandbars on the river are susceptible to direct disturbance by people and water fluctuations as the result of dam operations. Predation is also a major threat to the birds, as changes in the landscape have increased populations of predators such as raptors and mammals.

Today’s proposal is in response to lawsuits brought by Defenders of Wildlife. As a result of that litigation, the Service was ordered to publish proposed critical habitat designations for the northern Great Plains breeding population of piping plover by May 31, 2001 and to issue a final rule by March 15, 2002. In response to the same court order, the Service published on May 7, 2001 a final rule designating critical habitat for the Great Lakes breeding population of piping plover.

In addition, the Service is required by court order to designate final critical habitat for piping plovers on their wintering grounds in the southern U.S., where the birds are classified as threatened. Piping plovers from the northern Great Plains population and other populations winter in North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. The Service was unable to meet the court-ordered deadline of April 30, and has asked the court for a 60-day extension in order to complete its final designation of wintering critical habitat by June 29.

The Service will accept written comments from the public for 60 days following publication in the Federal Register. Written comments on the Great Plains proposal should be submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, South Dakota Field Office, 420 South Garfield Avenue, Suite 400, Pierre, SD 57501-5408. Comments may also be sent electronically to:

Public meetings regarding this critical habitat proposal will be held this summer in Glasgow, MT, Bismarck, ND; Pierre, SD; Yankton, SD; and Grand Island, NE (schedule of meetings is attached).

For migratory birds like the piping plover, habitat is often dynamic and birds may move from one area to another over time. This is particularly true for the northern Great Plains population of the piping plover that needs to adapt to the ever-changing hydrological cycles and climatic extremes of this region. Therefore, in order to achieve recovery for this declining species the proposed critical habitat designation needs to include a wide and diverse area of habitat. This critical habitat proposal includes portions of the following counties:

Proposed inland lake habitat:

Minnesota - Lake of the Woods County

Proposed alkali lake habitat:

Montana - Sheridan County
North Dakota - Benson, Burke, Burleigh, Divide, Eddy, Emmons, Kidder, Logan, McHenry, McIntosh, McLean, Mountrail, Pierce, Renville, Sheridan, Stutsman, Ward, and Williams counties

Proposed riverine and reservoir habitat:

Montana - Garfield, McCone, Phillips, Richland, Roosevelt, and Valley counties
North Dakota - Burleigh, Dunn, Emmons, McKenzie, McLean, Mercer, Morton, Mountrail, Oliver, Sioux, and Williams counties
South Dakota - Bon Homme, Buffalo, Brule, Campbell, Charles Mix, Clay, Corson, Dewey, Gregory, Haakon, Hughes, Lyman, Potter, Stanley, Sully, Union, Walworth, Yankton, and Ziebach counties
Nebraska - Boyd, Brown, Buffalo, Butler, Cass, Cedar, Colfax, Dawson, Dixon, Dodge, Douglas, Gosper, Hall, Hamilton, Holt, Howard, Kearney, Keya Paha, Knox, Merrick, Nance, Phelps, Platte, Polk, Rock, Sarpy, and Saunders counties

A complete description of this proposed critical habitat designation is published in today’s Federal Register. The proposal, draft environmental assessment, maps, public meeting schedules, and other information are available on the service’s web site at: The draft economic analysis will be posted to the web site as soon as it is available.

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 94-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses more than 535 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 70 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 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 governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

For more information about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
visit our home page at

For more information about this proposed rule visit our web site


Critical Habitat Proposal for the Great Plains Breeding Population of Piping Plover

Schedule of Public Meetings

Glasgow, Montana: July 10, 2001 (6-9 pm): Cottonwood Inn Convention Center, U.S. Highway 2E.
Bismarck, North Dakota: July 12, 2001 (6-9 pm): Doublewood Inn, I-94 and Exit 159.
Pierre, South Dakota: July 16, 2001 (6-9 pm): Pierre Chamber of Commerce, Community Room, 800 W. Dakota Avenue.
Yankton, South Dakota: July 17, 2001 (5:30 - 8:30 pm): Summit Activities Center, 1801 Summit Street.
Grand Island, Nebraska: July 18, 2001 (6-9 pm): Central Community College, Main Building, Room 210, 3134 W. Highway 34.

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