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Western snowy plover
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 21, 2011

Feds want to double nesting areas for shorebird
By Jeff Barnard, The Associated Press

GRANTS PASS, Ore. -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to double the number of West Coast beaches protected for a threatened shorebird in anticipation that sea levels will be rising due to global warming.

Prompted by a lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, the proposal announced Monday would expand critical habitat designations for the western snowy plover in California, Oregon and Washington to a total of 68 areas covering about 28,000 acres.

Based on U.S. Geological Survey studies, the service expects sea levels to rise about 3 feet over the next 100 years, which will completely flood some nesting areas and make others smaller as the ocean gets closer to roads, sea walls and other development, said Fish and Wildlife biologist Jim Watkins from Arcata, Calif.

Biologists estimate the snowy plover numbers no more than 2,270 individuals. Its numbers have declined as the bare sandy dunes where it lays its eggs were developed and covered with European beach grass. The birds are about the size of a tennis ball and cannot see foxes and other predators approaching in the tall grass. They were first listed as threatened in 1993.

Under the Bush administration, Fish and Wildlife had limited the size of critical habitat to occupied areas. The new proposal includes areas suitable for nesting that the birds can occupy as their numbers increase.

"We certainly support the increase of designated critical habitat for the plover," Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity said from Portland. "It absolutely needs this in order to be able to survive."

The proposal calls for 51 critical habitat areas in California, 13 in Oregon and four in Washington. Federal lands account for 9,040 acres, state lands 12,740 acres, and private lands 6,145 acres.

Designation of critical habitat is required by the Endangered Species Act. Within its boundaries, the Fish and Wildlife Service has the power to review projects that are funded by the federal government, or require a federal permit, whether it is on federal, state or private land.

The public can comment on the proposal until May 23. A final version, taking into account economic impacts, will be adopted later this year.

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Photo © Paul S. Hamilton