On this day in 1993, the Western Snowy Plover received federal protection under the ESA

March 5th, 2014 · by Garrison Frost


On this day in 1993, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service listed the Pacific Coast population of the Western Snowy Plover as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act. As anyone who works in conservation knows, listing a species is not easy. Just as the ongoing conservation of this terrific shorebird is a group effort across many public and private organizations, the effort to get the Western Snowy Plover the protection it needed back in the day required a lot of work from a lot of people. (photo by Blake Matheson)

In the late 1970s, a group of biologists from the Point Reyes Bird Observatory (now named Point Blue Conservation Science) conducted a statewide survey of the Western Snowy Plover for the California Department of Fish and Game (now called the Department of Fish and Wildlife). The PRBO team, led by biologist Gary Page, revealed that Snowy Plovers had disappeared from significant parts of its coastal California breeding. Subsequent surveys indicated a further decline in numbers of adults. Alarm bells were beginning to ring. In the mid-1980s, Page was in discussions with staff at Oregon Fish and Wildlife, and began to discuss the need for listing under the Federal Endangered Species Act.

In 1988, Audubon got involved, and submitted a petition to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service – relying primarily on the research and population data from PRBO – that the Western Snowy Plover population on the California, Washington, and Oregon coast be protected under the Endangered Species Act. The petition was signed and submitted by J.P. Myers, senior vice president for science and sanctuaries at the National Audubon Society, operating in close partnership with PRBO and the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Department. Audubon chapters also weighed in heavily on the petition — more than 20 in all expressed vocal support for the listing.

In 1990, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service acknowledged that the Western Snowy Plover merited protection, but declined to list it due to lack of resources. Myers expressed his outrage at the decision in a harshly worded opinion piece in that year’s edition of American Birds:

“Here we have a federal government capable of saving Lawrence Welk’s birthplace, but unable to put together a recovery plan for the Western Snowy Plover,” he said. “It doesn’t take an economist to know what is going to happen. The coastal population of Snowy Plovers that has bred in these habitats between southern California and the Pacific Northwest will no longer be. It will go extinct.”

Fortunately, the Fish & Wildlife Service eventually came around and picked up the petition again. On March 5, 1993, the Service announced that the Pacific Coast population of the Western Snowy Plover as a federally threatened species – exactly 21 years ago today.

As we have learned many times, conservation is never permanent. In 2002, a petition was filed to delist the plover, but fortunately that petition was denied. The Endangered Species Act, and the Recovery Plan that was finalized in 2007, guide the recovery of the species today. Without these documents, and the work of many biologists that went into drafting the recovery plan, the Snowy Plover would surely have continued its rapid decline as first documented by PRBO (again, now called Point Blue Conservation Science) in the 1970s. With a concerted effort across the range, the trajectory has been reversed – plovers have reoccupied some areas that they were disappearing from and have stabilized in many places. However, the Western Snowy Plover has yet to reach its Recovery Goal so the work must go on.

– Andrea Jones contributed substantial writing to this piece.

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Categories: Audubon California · Audubon Chapters · Bird conservation · Endangered Species Act · National Audubon Society · Western Snowy Plover

One Comment so far ↓

  • Carlos Villar

    Es un orgullo trabajar en la conservación del Chorlo nevado con el equipo GANO, mayormente cuando compartimos esta especie con EU y Canadá. Felicidades