In 1982 the US Fish and Wildlife Service first found the bird in need of Endangered Species Act protection but delayed acting. Years of scientific study and political foot dragging followed and finally in 1999 the government proposed to give the plover ESA protection. The task of finalizing the protection fell to the Bush/Cheney administration which refused to protect the bird.
WildEarth Guardians (formerly Forest Guardians) and Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, represented by Earthjustice, brought a lawsuit challenging the refusal of the administration to extend ESA protections. The Fish and Wildlife Service settled the lawsuit by agreeing to take a fresh look at the case for protecting mountain plovers. The proposal to protect plovers under the ESA today is a result of this fresh look won in the court settlement. The Fish and Wildlife Service will make a final decision to offer or deny the plover Endangered Species Act protection no later than May 1, 2011.
Earthjustice attorney Robin Cooley said, “It’s clear that mountain plovers are a unique American bird species in need of protection. It’s time to bring mountain plovers under the protection of the Endangered Species Act or they will likely go extinct.”
Jeremy Nichols of 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.”
Fish and Wildlife Service biologists estimate that between 1966 and 1999 the mountain plover suffered a 63 percent decline. A report released last March shows 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…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 loss of habitat to urban sprawl and heavy oil and gas development. The mountain plover often nests on black-tailed prairie dog towns but about 92 percent of areas occupied by prairie dogs have been lost in the last 100 years. As prairie dog colonies and habitat have been lost, mountain plovers have started to nest on croplands. Plowing farm fields is destroying nests and food sources like insects.
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.”