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ESA Protection Denied for Mountain Plover Despite Mammoth Threats, Low Numbers – Bush Administration Decision Sets Stage for …

September 8, 2003
WildEarth Guardians
In This Release
Wildlife   Mountain plover
Denver, CO – September 8. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) today announced that it will withdraw a proposed rule that would have protected the mountain plover under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), despite continued dramatic declines of this critically imperiled grassland bird. Threats to the plover include massive oil and gas development in plover breeding habitat in Wyoming and Montana, the loss of key habitat such as prairie dog towns throughout the Great Plains, and the conversion of plover winter range in California to cropland and urban sprawl. Declines of plovers by some 63% from 1966-1991, with subsequent losses of an additional 2.7—3.7% every year, have resulted from these and other threats.

“The mountain plover is rapidly declining and desperately in need of federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. The Service’s withdrawal of the plover’s listing rule is an intentional choice by the Bush Administration to usher in extinction for this bird,” said Dr. Nicole Rosmarino, Endangered Species Coordinator for WildEarth Guardians.

The plover was originally proposed for ESA protection in February 1999. Under the ESA, proposed listing rules must be finalized or withdrawn within one year, unless substantial new information contradicts the proposed listing. Conservation groups brought litigation against the Service in February 2002, three years after the proposed rule and two years after a final listing action was required by law. Recent scientific research considered by the Service overwhelmingly indicated the need for prompt federal protection for the mountain plover. In October 2002, in a legal settlement with the coalition of conservation groups, the Service committed to issuing a final listing determination by September 3, 2003.

The conservation groups provided a 36-page report to the Service in March 2003 documenting recent scientific research on the plover, which underscores the urgent need for prompt federal protection of the species. Among the report’s findings:

Colorado has lost its historical breeding stronghold in the northeastern region of the state. The population there has dwindled from 21,000 plovers in the 1970s to fewer than 100 individuals in 2002. In the South Park region of Colorado, a newly discovered population of 1,500-2,000 plovers is severely threatened by municipal development.”

In Montana, the Service estimates that fewer than 1,500 plovers exist in the state, down almost 50% from the estimate in the 1999 listing proposal.”

In Wyoming, extensive losses of prairie dog populations, which provide key plover breeding habitat, were recorded in 2001 due to an outbreak of sylvatic plague. In addition, massive oil and gas development in south-central Wyoming, including the Desolation Flats and Seminoe Road areas, will severely harm important plover habitat.”

In the plover’s California wintering range, populations have dwindled from flocks of over 1,000 reported in the Central Valley in the early 1990s to flocks of less than 200 observed in the same area in the late 1990s. Plovers have dramatically diminished in the Central Valley and have nearly disappeared from California coastal plains. The Imperial Valley, which represents the other main plover wintering area, was named by the American Farmland Trust as one of the top 20 major land areas threatened by urban sprawl.”

The Bush Administration is desperately trying to dismantle our nation’s most important conservation laws,” observed Erin Robertson, Staff Biologist for Center for Native Ecosystems. “The extinction of the mountain plover will be just another casualty of the Administration’s misguided crusade against the environment.”

The many threats to the plover include intense oil and gas activity, urban sprawl, loss of prairie dog habitat, conversion of native grassland to cropland, pesticide use, poorly planned wind farms, and mismanagement of lands enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Program. Other bad news is the recent scientific finding that the average lifespan for the mountain plover is a mere 1.92 years. As plovers do not reach sexual maturity until they are one year old, individual plovers have less than one year to recruit young. Sharp plover population declines across their wintering and breeding ranges are the result of these combined threats.

“The US Fish and Wildlife Service has once again chosen to err on the side of extinction. Contrary to what the Service claims, threats to the plover are increasing dramatically, especially from the unprecedented assault on nesting habitat from oil and gas drilling and Bush administration’s rollback of environmental protection measures. We are in grave danger of losing the plover forever” added Jeff Kessler, Conservation Director for Biodiversity Conservation Alliance in Laramie, WY.

While alarmed at the Service’s decision not to protect the plover, this dramatic about-face is not unexpected. The Center for Biological Diversity has tracked the Bush Administration’s refusal to enforce the ESA and has documented that George W. Bush has listed fewer species under the ESA than any other administration since the law’s passage in 1973. Only 24 species have been listed under Bush, and all of those listings have been ordered by the courts. In contrast, in their first two years in office, the Clinton Administration listed 211 species and Bush Senior listed 80 species. Though the present administration cites underfunding as its excuse for failing to protect imperiled species, for years it has been asking Congress to chronically starve the program of funding.

The alliance of conservation groups advocating prompt plover protection includes the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance (Laramie, WY), the Center for Biological Diversity (Denver, CO), Center for Native Ecosystems (Boulder, CO), and WildEarth Guardians (Santa Fe, NM).

For photos and more information visit WildEarth Guardians mountain plover webpage.