On the 22nd of March 2011 the United States Fish and Wildlife Service presented it proposal on threatened and endangered wild life and plants in regard to the allotted critical habitat for the Pacific coastal population of the WSP (Western Snowy Plover). This falls under the 1963 endangered species act. The area that was specifically addressed in the rule of this proposal constituted making amendments in the perilous habitat for the WSP pacific coast which had been featured in the Federal Register publication dated on the 29th of September 2005. In the final ruling, a total of 4, 915 hectares which equals to 12,145 acres of land were designated for critical habitat in a wide-range of 32 units in Oregon, California and Washington (Federal Register, 2011).
This is a step that was taken following the identification of the Western Snowy Plover as an endangered species following its grave reduction in population as a result of interference with its habitat and breeding coastal sites. This was as a result of human activity as the primary cause in addition to other factors. The current proposal is now targeting revising the rule by increasing the existing designated critical habitat area to a total 11,436 hectares which equals to 28,261 acres of land hence the number of units totaling to 68 from the 32 existing ones. The breakdown of the total area by state will be; 2,497 hectares (6,265 acres) of 4 units in Washington, 2,112 hectares (5,219 acres) of 13 units in Oregon and 6,798 hectares (16,777 acres of 51 units of land in Oregon. This will serve to increase the nesting and the breeding habitat for this species of birds as a conservation move to try and restore the population of the bird's species to a considerable size.
As it officially is the Pacific Coastal Population of the WSP (Western snowy Plover) is under a great threat. This was as confirmed by the 1973 Endangered Species Act after a series of research. The Western snowy Plover is a species of birds that have been recognized to be of special concern in the Californian state. In 1981 the Washington Game Department under policy No. 402 listed Snowy Plovers as an endangered species. This was followed by the 1975 commission on Oregon Fish and Wild Life in Oregon which declared this species of birds as threatened a fact which later received reaffirmation by the Oregon Endangered Species act of 1989 (Federal Register, 2011). Up to the present this species of birds has remained a threatened and endangered species which has raise a lot of concerns in a variety of interested environmental parties. The threats and dangers that have aroused these environmentalist concerns results from human activity which has interfered with successful breeding o the plovers leading to declines in their population. This decline could lead to extinction if human activity and conservation measures are not adopted.
Previous Federal Actions
The listing of the Pacific Coast western snowy plover as an endangered species on the Federal Register was effected on the 5th of March 1992. This was followed by a status review for a period of five years in regard to the population of the WSP under the same act on section 4(c) (2) which was concluded on the 8th of June 2006. This was on the basis of an analysis that was conducted under a status review on a previous section 4(b) (3)(B) for a 12 months finding that sough a petition to delete the species of birds as an endangered species. Following a review of the 12 months findings by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service this department has confirmed its determination that this particular species of birds constitutes a population categorized to be valid and distinct segment.
The U.S Fish and Wild life Service is revising the 2005 perilous habitat designation resulting from legal actions that were initiated on the 2nd of October 2008 and by the Biological Diversity Centre (The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2011). The complaint that had been brought forward was a challenge to the designation of the 2005 on critical habitat. The settlement agreement that was settled upon resolved that a rule was to be formulated in consideration of the previous revisions to the designation on the habitat for the WSP species. This rule was to be submitted to the federal register making propositions on any significant revisions to critical habitat designation by the 1st of December 2011. The final submission of any of the proposals for revision is expected to be forwarded to the federal register y the 5th of June 2012.
Just to give a brief description of the species, the Western Plover is one of the two snowy plover subspecies of birds that American ornithologists Union have recognized to inhabit North America. The main identifying and descriptive features of the western plover are that the size of this shorebird is small, with the upper part coloration varying from brown to gray. Its bill and legs have black and gray shades with its forehead having dark patches which also characterize the part behind its eyes with the dark patches extending on either sides of its upper breast (Federal Register, 2011).
In regard to the designated segment of the Pacific Coast, the snowy plovers population habitat is defined by all the population of this species that occupies or nests in the area that is adjacent to the tidal waters that lie within the 80 kilometers (50 miles) of the Pacific Ocean. This also includes the bird's species that have set their nests along the peninsular, the mainland coast, estuaries, offshore islands, coastal rivers as well as the adjacent bays.
GENERAL HABITAT CHARACTERISTICS
The western snowy plover population that inhabits the Pacific coast primarily breeds on the coastal beaches extending from Washington, to southern California and Mexico. The species population's breeding occurs above the high tidal line characterizing the coastal beaches, dune backed beaches, sand pits, dunes that are sparsely vegetated river mouths as well as beaches at creek , salt pans in addition to surrounding estuaries. These have become areas that have been constantly interfered with by human activities therefore interfering with the breeding of the birds. The United States Wildlife Service (2001) also recognized salt pond reeves, bluff backed beaches, river bars and salt ponds that are dry as other breeding sites which are though not very common. Suitable habitat for the bird's nesting was noted to be evenly distributed along the range listed above though it could be separated by rock shoreline areas.
POPULATION HABITAT STATUS
According to historical records the distribution of the nesting area for the snowy plover was once very widely distributed along the Oregon, Washington and Oregonian. Human activity has however turned things around disorganizing this wide distribution. According to the USDI Fishing and Wildlife service snowy lovers in Washington formerly had five nesting areas along the coastal location. Currently only three active sites are known to support snowy plover activity which has been translated to 40% decline in regard to the breeding sites in Washington (Federal Register, 2011). Similarly the USDI Fish and Wildlife service note that in Oregonian histories there initially were 29 coastal nesting location for the snowy plover. Currently only 10 of them exists which translates to a 65% decline of the active areas for breeding. The same case also applies to California which has in the recent past registered significant declines in locations for the snowy plovers breeding and most especially in the southern part of California.
The primary cause of the threat to the population of the western snowy plover has been identified to be poor successes in reproduction in the recent past. This is as a result of human disturbance, inclement weather, and perdition in addition to the long term encroachment of beach grass leading to loss of breeding cites and nesting habitat. Urbanization has also been a major contributor to the loss and decline of active nesting locations as well as causing overall declines in wintering and breeding population of the bird's species along the pacific coast. This is according to the USDI fish and Wildlife Service reports.
Human activities like walking, running pets, jogging pets, horse riding and the use of motor vehicles have been identified as a key factor in the immense decline in the population and breeding cites of the western snowy plover. The nesting of this species of birds which cuts through March to September usually coincides with period within which human being utilize the west coast beaches. This is usually during the Memorial Day extending through to Labor Day. Intensive occupation of the beaches by human population as they extend their recreational facilities has been cited as one of the reasons that result to the abandonment of nesting sites, reduction of nesting success in addition to reduction in nesting density (The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2011).
Reasons for Conservation
Since the time that the Western Plover of the Pacific Coast was listed as an endangered species, constant habitat degradation and loss has been considerably great in consideration to the entire habitat range. Further anticipation of continued loss in the future has been identified as a result of rising sea levels as a result of climatic changes. This species of birds therefore require habitat locations that are organized in a spatial manner that will allow maintenance of connectivity allowing dispersal between and within units. The above described amounts as well as distribution of this critical habitat that has been proposed for designation will create allowances for the population of the western snowy plover's maintenance of their existent distributions.
They will also be able to increase in regard to their distribution to areas that they had occupied previously. This is in regard to the need for offsetting habitat fragmentation and loss. The new rule will also enhance the movement between the different units depending on habitat as well as resource availability. This is in response to the dynamic nature of the habitat characterizing the coastal beaches. The rule will also allow for genetic interchange. The implementation of this rule will also make it possible for increments in the size of the plover's population (The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2011). This is towards levels where looming threats to demographic, genetic as well as environmental uncertainties had previously diminished. Finally the proposed move will also enable the maintenance of the western snowy plover's ability in withstanding local or rather unit level fluctuations in environments or catastrophes.
Research has indicated that the smallest changes in the survival rate of adult snowy plovers can bring about a significantly large effect on the stability of the population of these species of birds. Therefore the maintenance of high quality overwintering habitat comes in handy as an important move to the conservation of this bird's species. In the western part of North America both the mainland and .the coastal nesting location of the western snowy plover make their wintering along the coastal strip which is characterized by beaches. During wintering some snowy plovers prefer to either migrate up or down the coastal strip to get to their wintering cites while some remain nested in the beaches. Interference by humans especially during this period has been known to cause permanent abandonment of nesting habitat as the snowy plovers would like to secure their eggs and consequently young ones.
Beaches that are used as nesting habitats are also sometimes used for wintering though birds can also winter in several other beaches where nesting is rare. Man made estuaries, salt ponds and mud flats have also been known to attract the birds which nest or visit non-beach habitat. In fact this was one of the considerations that the proposal focuses on in extending the critical habitat. This is under the idea that locations that have in history supported nesting but currently supporting wintering only have with appropriate management the potential to draw in new nesters (Federal Register, 2011). This has been proven to be a successful move as it has borne fruits at the Hollywood Beach and Coal Oil Point in the southern parts of California. Such kind of management successes come as considerably important conservation moves since numerous historical losses of nesting sites was a major area of consideration that led to the original and initial listing of the plover as an endangered species.
Primary Constituent Elements for the Pacific Coast Western Snowy Plover
Under the Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants Act in accordance to its implementing regulations the proposal seeks to identify biological and physical features for the conservation of Western Snowy Plover of the pacific coast. This is in areas that were occupied during its listing time and mainly focusing on the elements of the primary constituent features. These primary elements are the biological and physical features which when laid out in spatial arrangements and appropriate quantities will be essential for species conservation (The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2011).
The new rule proposes to make designations for critical habitat in geographical regions that were previously occupied by the species during its time of listing as an endangered species. This are the areas that contain primary constituent deemed essential for species conservation and which might call for special protection and management. These designated sites fall within the Pacific Coast range and were prior to listing initial habitats for these birds. The habitat was subsequently lost through rises in sea levels, encroachment and human development. In consideration to the above the proposed rule considered its prudent inclusively add these sites in its designations to enhance the expansions in the population of the Western Snowy Plovers in adjustment to naturally occurring dynamic threats and conditions (The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2011).
The rule proposes adoption of perilous habitat designation areas that contain some if not all of the primary elements of physical and biological features considered essential for the species conservation. This proposed conservation depends upon some multiplicity of factors which are inclusive of not only their conservation but also the management of areas for maintenance of a normal habitat functions in which existent populations reproduce and survive. The critical habitat areas contained in this rule entail the arrangement and quantity of primary elements that in addition to conservation will enhance recovery of the species populations. The proposed areas for designation will allow for the species population redistribution in the entire previously occupied areas that they formerly inhabited. This will also support criteria for recovery as outlined in each of the units for recovery and generally wide range recovery.
Based on thoroughly researched available facts the key constituent essential elements for conservation of the Western Snowy Plovers of the pacific coast include the following: Dune systems, sandy beaches, mud and salt flats, gravel bars that are seasonally exposed, manmade salt ponds as well as their adjoining reeves, in addition to dredge spoil sites. These are areas that lie below heavy vegetation or sparsely vegetated in addition to being above high dairy tidal (The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2011). These areas also shoreline location for habitat feeding, sparsely vegetated, lying between low and high tide and water flow respectively and are subjected to inundations though not constantly covered by water. These areas are also rich in organic debris deposited by water or surf lying in open substrate locations. In addition to all of the above the areas are characterized by minimal human presence and disturbance, as well as disturbance by vehicles, pets and predators attracted by humans.
This critical habitat contained in the revised proposed rule are rich in primary constituting elements in their appropriate special arrangement and quantity essential to oversee the conservation of this endangered species of birds. They also support a multiplicity of life supporting processes for the species. Portions of the proposed perilous habitat units might be in their current state degraded, but have the potential for restoration under special management. They therefore provide a habitat that is suitable for offsetting the loss against anticipated rises in sea level resulting from climatic dynamics. The rule also proposes additional areas that can be considered as critical habitat with the intention of making room for the recovery in the population of the Western Snowy Plovers of the Pacific Coast. This ids by fostering occupation of former habitat locations ranges n addition to adjustment allowances towards dynamic conditions (like shifts in sand dunes), human encroachment and high rises in sea levels.
Justifications for the need to create more space for the conservation of the plovers
The proposal was decided upon after thorough analysis of the biological needs of the snowy plover population in addition of the shared relationship between those needs and the population's habitat. This is as per the indications of available scientific data which helped to determine the requirements of the Pacific Coast Western Snowy Plover in regard to the following biological and physical features;
1. Habitats representing historical geographical and Ecological species distribution
The snowy plover of the Pacific Coast usually inhabits open and flat areas which have saline or salty substrates. This is in addition to areas where driftwood and vegetation are sparse. This includes sandy beaches, salt flats dredge spoil cites, mud flats and dune systems. Salt ponds and gravel bars have also been identified as other important alternative habitats for the snowy plovers (Office of the Federal Register, 2009). These areas which have been under a lot of encroachment and human activity provide space for population and individual growth for these birds. The sites also provide space for the bird's normal behavior in addition to offering micro-topographic relief, place of refuge from cold weather and strong winds in addition to nesting sites.
2. Creation of Undisturbed Areas
The disturbance of brooding or nesting plovers by human activities and domestic animals has also been a major concern that has hindered the successful nesting success of this breed of birds. The western plovers have been often forced to abandon their nests whenever humans and other predatory animals like dogs closely approach their nests. Dogs have been known to deliberately chase and trample nests and kill plovers. Vehicles also directly crush eggs, chicks and also adult plovers (Office of the Federal Register, 2009). All the above factors have also been known to separate chics from adults in addition to interfering with foraging as well as mating activities. Flushing brooding plovers repeatedly also leave the eggs exposed to unconducive weather conditions depleting the energy reserves that the eggs need to hatch. All these have reduced nesting and reproductive success hence leading to reduction of the plover population according to surveys by the Californian Vandenberg Air Force Base. This is compared to the situation in regard to nesting losses at northern beaches where recreational activities are a bit lower.
Recent efforts to separate nesting area from recreational areas through fencing, usage of docents and control of public outreach have demonstrated a big correlation to the improvement of nesting success hence population restoration.
3. Creation of more space for breeding, reproductive and rearing sites for offspring
The plovers of the Pacific West Coast set their nests along open depressions as well as in relatively flat areas. This is near tidal waters though they have to remain nest a bit far from the tides to avoid dairy inundations. A typically habitat consists beach sand though plovers might at some times lay eggs in harder grounds of existing depressions like in dredge trailing, cobblestones and salt pans. Dune systems whenever available especially ones with easy access to shore form a particularly favorable nesting habitat. The described habitat which has been overtaken by recreational beaches are supposed to provide shelter from predation and free from human disturbance as noted above. Unfledged chicks need this space for foraging with their parents and for behavior development. They therefore need more designated habitat for their foraging and development.
4. Water, food, light air, minerals and other physiological and Nutritional requirements
The western plovers of the pacific coast usually forage on open ground through locating their prey visually and then seizing it with their beaks. Probing in sand to expose burrowing invertebrates and insects by flushing and snapping them is also common. The extension of this habitat will which has subsequently not available due to human disturbance will hence make all these psychological and nutritional easy to access hence increasing the lifespan of the western snowy plovers which has been under threats. According the provision of more open grounds for foraging will enhance prey location as well as capture. The snowy plovers forage above as well as below high tide though not while these areas are occupied by water (Office of the Federal Register, 2009).
Foraging sites hence become limited by water in consideration to the shoreward. On the other hand this is also limited by heavy vegetation infestation in consideration to the landward side. These foraging cites that are exposed to inundation though not under water are a great habitat for essential food source, small invertebrates, like crabs, flies worms, spiders beetles, sand hoppers, and clams. These species of birds utilize flesh water sources for drinking but this is when it is available. Historically, especially in southern parts of California where this might not be available, the plovers are believed to derive their water from eating foods. The extension of the designated habitat will hence take care of the above describes allowances for nutrition and psychological needs.
Following formulation of a new rule by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service providing the western snowy plovers with a wider territory at higher elevation the proposal has been met with mixed reactions. Fr environmentalist such as the United States Survey the proposal has been met with warm reactions. For instance Jim Watkins representing the Fish and Wildlife biologists who support this recovery coordination program for the snowy plover argues that; this is a great idea towards the protection of the bird's species from the ever rising sea levels. Watkins notes that the see level will have risen to about three to four feet by the end of this century. Therefore, if anyone has any concern over the survival of this species whose population has been diminishing alarmingly then they ought to support this rule. He says that now is the best time to estimate what the snowy plovers need for its recovery and this rule provides it all.
In another comment by Scott Flaherty speaking for the Fish Wildlife Service as its spokesman, dealing in global worming, comments that with the in regard to scientific research about climate dynamic more science will continue to be incorporated into the decision behind this rule. He is quick to note that the use of climatic change to determine the factors behind the snowy plovers conservation is though not without controversy. There has been a lot of opposition especially from private land owners especially those along the targeted beaches. Threatened prohibition in regard to development of the popular beaches has raised lots of sparks of controversies.
Other interested groups that are in support for the proposed rule have had a lot of positive comments. For instance the Centre for Biological Diversity which had previously in 2008 sued the Fish and Wildlife Service for the minimally designating small areas for the plovers say that it is time the conservation of the birds were taken seriously. The Center for Biological Diversity was in fact a significant force to the formulation of this rule.
Jim Watkins who is also a coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service for the recovery in snowy plovers population also add that the new rule overlaps existing rule that were protecting the species. However, the rule serves as a good tool for the education of land managers in regard to the importance of leaving beaches and dunes and beaches prohibited from developmental projects. Land owners and parts of the general public have demonstrated their complaints saying that the designations in the proposed rule are so expansive and hindering human leisure and recreational activities which are not only a source of revenue but important for pursuing a balance health.
Noah Greenwald of the Centre for biological Diversity argues that the proposed designations are very crucial for the conservation of this species of birds. Basing on scientific research facts he demonstrates that animal populations that are maintained in critical habitat are more than likely to recovers compared to those that do not. He comments that this is a positive rule and idea that will guide planners in avoiding these designated areas that provide a habitat for the western snowy plover.
Environmentalist s represented by Al Sanders working with the Ormond Beach over the issue of the plovers for over two decades comments that the designation will have a great impact in species protection. He writes that having an extra tool to protect the plovers if even if the tool's strength is under debate is a great step. He cites that whenever there is a .protection layer which does not even necessary need to formulate regulations or prosecutions, planners are always equipped with the right tool which they can rely on during decision making.