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For Immediate Release, March 21, 2011

Contact: Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495

Western Snowy Plover to Get Critical Habitat Protection Doubled

PORTLAND, Ore. In response to a Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to more than double protected critical habitat today for the Pacific Coast population of the threatened western snowy plover. The previous critical habitat area for plovers was reduced in 2005 due in part to political meddling; the Service now proposes increasing plovers’ federally protected habitat from 12,145 acres to 28,261 acres in Washington, Oregon and California.

“The new habitat proposal will restore protection to areas that have been identified, by the government’s scientists, as essential to the recovery of this rare bird,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “Species with federally protected habitat are more than twice as likely to be moving toward recovery than species without it, so this will make a big difference to plovers’ chances for survival. The revised habitat is a result of the Center’s campaign to reverse politically tainted Bush administration decisions for dozens of endangered species.”

Western snowy plovers breed primarily on coastal beaches in southern Washington, Oregon, California and Baja California. Snowy plovers were listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 1993, when the coastal population was down to 1,500 birds and plovers no longer bred at nearly two-thirds of their former nesting sites. The population increased to about 2,300 birds by 2005, but plovers are still threatened by habitat loss and degradation, widespread and frequent disturbance of nesting sites by humans, vehicles and off-leash dogs, crushing by off-road vehicles and pesticide use.

The new proposal includes 51 critical habitat units in California (covering 16,777 acres), 13 units in Oregon (covering 5,219 acres) and four units in Washington (covering 6,265 acres).

The increase in acreage is due to the reinstatement of habitat areas agency scientists identified as essential that were improperly withdrawn in 2005; inclusion of some areas not currently occupied by plovers but important for recovery of the species; and addition of habitats such as back-dune systems in an attempt to offset anticipated effects of sea-level rise caused by climate change. The proposal exempts about 1,700 acres of critical habitat on federal military lands in Southern California that have management plans deemed adequately protective of plovers.

The western snowy plover was first granted critical habitat protections in 1999.  At that time the Fish and Wildlife Service designated 19,474 acres of critical habitat. A building-industry lawsuit to remove the species from the endangered species list was unsuccessful, but litigation by developers forced a revision of critical habitat.

In 2005, the Bush administration illegally reduced the critical habitat to 12,145 acres, eliminating protection for thousands of acres scientists believed necessary for the snowy plover’s survival and abandoning key habitat areas crucial for recovery. The 2005 designation included no protections at all for the San Francisco Bay area, which has one of the largest populations of snowy plovers anywhere, and allowed off-road vehicles to threaten plover nesting and feeding areas in central California and Oregon.

In 2008 the Center sued over politically tainted Endangered Species Act decisions, including the unlawful reduction of the plover’s habitat protections, leading to a settlement agreement with the Service and today’s revised proposal. The final revised critical habitat designation will be issued by June 2012.

Western snowy plovers are on a tenuous road to recovery: By 2005 California had 1,680 breeding plovers, Oregon had four breeding sites, and Washington had three coastal nesting sites. However, in 2007 the Fish and Wildlife Service issued a dubious recovery plan for the plover, with a goal of restoring an overall population of only 3,000 breeding adults — not many more plovers than currently exist — to be maintained for 10 years. The recovery plan and low population target are very unlikely to recover the species.

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