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U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Announces Final Designation Of Critical Habitat For Wintering Piping Plovers


July 5, 2001

Hugh Vickery , 202-208-1456
Kyla Hastie , 706-613-9493, ext. 36
Tom MacKenzie , (office 404 679-7291)
Vicki Fox or Elizabeth Slown , 505-248-6911

For pictures and more information; Piping Plover

Responding to a court order, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today designated 165,211 acres along 1,798 miles of coastline in eight southern states as critical habitat for the wintering population of piping plover, a shorebird listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Under the Act, critical habitat refers to specific geographic areas that are essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and may require special management considerations. A designation does not set up a preserve or refuge and only applies to situations where Federal funding or a Federal permit is involved. It has no regulatory impact on private landowners taking actions on their land that do not involve Federal funding or permits.

“As a listed species, the plover already is protected under the Act wherever it occurs,” said Sam D. Hamilton, the Service’s director for the Southeast Region. “Since wintering birds are less vulnerable to disturbance than nesting birds, we do not expect this designation to have much affect on beach use along the southeastern Atlantic or Gulf coasts beyond those measures already required to protect the species.”

The designation includes shoreline habitat in North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

The Service proposed in June 2000 to designate 2.1 million acres along 1,672 miles of coastline as critical habitat for wintering plovers. The final rule significantly reduces the acreage amount by removing a proposed 1,640-foot buffer extending into the water. As a result of removing the buffer, the actual mileage of coastline increased slightly since inlets and headlands of the coastline are delineated more precisely. The designation now includes no areas covered by water, but land down to the low tide mark will be considered critical habitat. Today’s decision took into consideration more than 6,000 comments received during a comment period that included 13 public meetings and nine public hearings held throughout the eight states.

“The comments we received from the public were a key component ensuring a final decision that reflects the best scientific and economic data available,” Hamilton said.

The piping plover (Charadrius melodus) is a stocky, sand-colored bird that roosts and forages on the beaches, dunes, sandy and muddy flats of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts in these states. The adult has yellow-orange legs, a black band across the forehead from eye to eye, and a black ring around the base of the neck.

Like other plovers, it runs in short starts and stops. When still, the piping plover blends into the pale background of open, sandy habitat on beaches where it feeds and nests. The bird’s name is derived from its call notes, plaintive bell-like whistles that are often heard before the birds are seen.

In recent decades, piping plover populations have drastically declined, especially in the Great Lakes region as development and recreational uses of nesting areas have reduced available habitat.

“In the nesting areas, assuring conservation in areas with development and recreational use of vital shoreline nesting habitat has been a primary focus of our recovery efforts for the plover,” said Hamilton. “In the wintering areas, we are working to ensure there is good forage and roosting habitat so enough birds survive to migrate back to their nesting sites.”

Three populations of piping plovers exist in the United States. The most endangered is the Great Lakes population, which is classified as endangered and encompasses only 32 breeding pairs. The Northern Great Plains and Atlantic Coast populations are classified as threatened and include 1,398 and 1,372 breeding pairs respectively.

Birds from all three populations build their nests in the north but spend the winter along the south Atlantic and Gulf coasts, sometimes arriving as early as mid-July. Since the three populations are indistinguishable from one another while on their overlapping wintering grounds, all plovers are classified as threatened in their wintering areas. The Service listed the species under Endangered Species Act in 1985, but did not designate critical habitat at the time.

In 1996, Defenders of Wildlife filed a lawsuit against the Department of the Interior and the Service, for failing to designate critical habitat for the endangered Great Lakes population of the piping plover. A similar suit was filed in 1997 to designate critical habitat for the Northern Great Plains population of the piping plover. The Service proposed critical habitat for all wintering populations on July 6, 2000, and was ordered by the court to publish a final designation by April 30, 2001. That date was extended to June 29 after a 60-day extension requested by the Service.

A complete description of the final decision for the wintering populations of piping plovers will be published in the Federal Register on July 10, 2001. Information including the final designation, and the final economic analysis will also available at the Service’s website Maps are available now at the site.

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 that 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.

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