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Mountain Plover moves closer to Endangered Species Act protection

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes to list bird as Threatened

Laramie-Today a small and imperiled prairie bird called the mountain plover was again proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for protection under the Endangered Species Act. In 1982 Fish and Wildlife found the bird in need of Endangered Species Act protection but on September 9, 2003 the Service inexplicably withdrew protections for the bird. WildEarth Guardians (formerly Forest Guardians) and Biodiversity Conservation Alliance challenged the withdrawal of protection citing illegal political interference as the reason for the withdrawal. A flurry of Department of Interior investigations eventually proved political interference resulting in weakened and denied protections for imperiled plants and animals had been occurring. In a settlement with WildEarth Guardians and Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Fish & Wildlife agreed to review their withdrawal of mountain plover protection in light of potential political interference and newly acquired mountain plover science.

In addition, the Service agreed to finalize its decision to offer or deny the plover Endangered Species Act protection no later than May 1, 2011.

Jeremy Nichols, director of the climate and energy program for WildEarth Guardians, (formerly with Biodiversity Conservation Alliance) noted, “We remain hopeful that Fish and Wildlife will base its 2011 decision on science rather than politics. The science is clear, the mountain plover needs protection.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others released a report in March this year showing that grassland birds, including the mountain plover, are experiencing the most rapid declines among the nation’s birds. Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar has stated, “Birds today are a bellwether of the health of land, water and ecosystems,” and added, “We must work together now to ensure we never hear the deafening silence in our forests, fields and backyards that Rachel Carson warned us about.”

Known threats to the mountain plover include urban sprawl and heavy oil and gas development causing loss of habitat. About 92% of areas occupied by prairie dogs have been lost in the last 100 years. Most mountain plovers breed in prairie dog range, particularly black-tailed prairie dog colonies. Over 96% of historical black-tailed prairie dog habitat has been lost. As prairie dog colonies and habitat are lost, mountain plovers nest on croplands. Threats of cropland involve nests being plowed under and loss of food sources (insects) after clearing fields when chicks are fledging. Recent scientific studies are showing that farming is a greater threat to plovers than previously thought.

Duane Short, wild species program director for Biodiversity Conservation Alliance said, “It has been a long time coming but the Service’s proposal to reinstate protections for the mountain plover is a step in the right direction. After all, in Utah the mountain plover was declared extinct, largely due to intense oil and gas development, shortly after Fish and Wildlife removed its Endangered Species Act protections in 2003.”

Short added, “Here in Wyoming, protection cannot come soon enough for this imperiled bird.”


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