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. A critical habitat designation does not create a preserve or 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 Great Lakes breeding population of piping plovers has declined to just 30 breeding pairs, all of which nest in northern Michigan," said Bill Hartwig, Regional Director for the Services Great Lakes/Big Rivers Region. "Todays action will help ensure the population has enough habitat to recover and ultimately be removed from the list of threatened and endangered species."
The Services designation affects mainland and shoreline in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York. In 2000, all Great Lakes piping plovers nested in northern Michigan. Based on information received from the public, the Service removed three sites from the final designation because they do not contain and are unlikely to develop elements needed by the piping plover.
The Service also scaled back the inland boundary for critical habitat areas from 1 kilometer to 500 meters (1,640 feet) inland from the normal high water line. The revised boundary reflects information gathered during the comment period that indicates most dune systems do not extend beyond the revised boundary. Finally, the Service excluded lands already incorporated in an approved Habitat Conservation Plan for the piping plover in Michigan.
"The public played a large role in the designation of critical habitat for the piping plover," Hartwig said. "Based on information we received during the comment period, we were able to refine the designation to include those areas that are truly needed by the plover for its recovery."
There may be a need on some Federally managed beaches to temporarily restrict use in some areas during the spring and early summer to allow for piping plovers to nest. However, most beaches within critical habitat do not come under Federal authority and, therefore, are not affected by the designation.
While the Service designated 201 miles of shoreline as critical habitat, not all areas found within the boundaries designated as critical habitat are essential for the conservation of the species. For example, roads, lawns, paved areas and other human-made structures will not be considered critical habitat for the species even though they may fall within critical habitat designation boundaries.
As a listed species under the Endangered Species Act, 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. The critical habitat designation will help the species by ensuring Federal agencies and the public alike are aware of the plovers habitat needs and that consultation with the Service by Federal agencies is conducted when required. Actions that occur within designated critical habitat do not require consultation if they do not affect critical habitat.
"A critical habitat designation essentially means Federal activities that may affect that habitat are reviewed by the Service," Hartwig explained. "It is a tool to help Federal agencies work together to conserve imperiled species and their habitats."
This designation is in response to a court order directing the Service to designate critical habitat for the Great Lakes breeding population of the piping plover by April 30, 2001. The Service must also designate critical habitat for the Great Plains population of the piping plover by March 2002.
In addition, the Service is required by a 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 Great Lakes 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 piping plover is named for its melodious call. It is a pale-colored shorebird, whose light, sand-colored plumage blends in with sandy beaches and shorelines. Piping plover populations have declined significantly in the past several decades, especially breeding plovers in the Great Lakes region. Breeding habitat has been replaced by shoreline development and recreational uses, causing numbers to plummet. Similar threats face the species on its wintering grounds, where loss of habitat threatens the ability of these birds to survive to the next breeding season.
There are three populations of piping plovers in the United States; the most endangered is the Great Lakes breeding population, encompassing only 30 breeding pairs. The Northern Great Plains and Atlantic Coast populations are classified as threatened and include 1,398 and 1,372 pairs respectively. All piping plovers winter along the southeast and Gulf coasts and are classified as threatened in their wintering habitat.
The complete description of the final critical habitat designation for the Great Lakes breeding population of the piping plover will be published in the Federal Register. These descriptions and additional information on the piping plover and other endangered species are also available on the Services website at http://midwest.fws.gov/endangered/pipingplover
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 further information about programs and activities of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Great Lakes-Big Rivers Region, please visit our website at http://midwest.fws.gov