Twenty years after being listed as a threatened species, the western snowy plover is making a comeback.
story by Stephen Baker
Don't Blink. Or you just might miss 'em.
Because the western snowy plover? It moves like lightening. Often out of necessity. These small shorebirds have to keep one step ahead of a number of factors that challenge their existence - from human disturbances to urban development to changing environmental conditions.
Twenty years ago, diminishing numbers of snowy plovers led them to be listed as a threatened species by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. In addition to concern for the species, this loss of plovers could also have a long-term impact on the local environment.
But thanks to the BLM and its partners, the snowy plover is making a comeback. Since the listing in 1993, the BLM has been working on a plan for the plover's survival with a network of concerned parties. Their goal? To restore the plover's habitat and remove some of the most significant threats to the species.
A Snowy Beach
There are eight snowy plover sites along the Oregon coast, two of which are managed by the BLM's Coos Bay District. Nesting season for the snowy plover occurs each year from March to September. And this season is the most vulnerable time for the species - so it's also the time when conservation measures are most critical.
The majority of conservation efforts fall into two categories - habitat improvement and public outreach. One major threat to the snowy plover has been the introduction and spread of non-native species to include European beachgrass that was originally planted to stabilize sand dunes but now encroaches into snowy plover habitat. This grass can reduce good nesting areas as well as provide cover for predators of the plovers.
Over the years, the BLM and its partners have removed hundreds of acres of European beachgrass and other harmful plant species to help return these areas to healthy plover habitat and reduce the advantage for predators. In particular, partners like the Northwest Youth Corps, which the BLM employs each summer to conduct plover habitat restoration, have been instrumental in these recovery efforts.
Additionally, the BLM and its partners have improved the nesting sites. Fences and enclosures were built to protect nests and allow the plovers to move freely while restricting their predators. Further, the BLM has worked with local oyster companies to spread oyster shells around beach nesting sites to provide greater cover and protection.
While habitat improvement measures have helped tremendously, public support is paramount to protect the plovers and ensure the species' long-term recovery. Every year during nesting season, land managers for Federal, state, and county beaches with plover populations work with the public to reduce potential harm from beachgoers. These efforts include fencing, posting signs, and limiting activities such as driving on the beach and walking dogs near sensitive areas. Implementing these restrictions have helped keep young plovers safe while increasing their chance for survival.
Now, thanks to these collaborative efforts, the western snowy plover in Oregon is seeing its highest numbers in quite a long time. And they should reach a major recovery within the next few years.
BLM partners have implemented a comprehensive monitoring program that tracks the success of recent conservation measures. Annual monitoring currently shows snowy plover populations experiencing a healthy recovery with numbers growing steadily each year. Back in 1993, when the plover was officially listed as threatened, only 45 birds were counted across the eight breeding sites in Oregon. This past year 206 birds were counted.
The recovery goal for Oregon is 250 birds, a level the BLM is confident will be reached with continued support from the public. Please help us safeguard the western snowy plover by observing posted signs and avoiding protected, closed-off areas when visiting the beach.
By working together, we can help these fast-moving birds sprint ahead to a long and healthy future.
P.S. Video Alert! See actual plovers in action!