Photo: Mountain Plover
"A native of the short-grass prairie, the Mountain Plover is a dull-colored shorebird of open, dry areas." Learn more about this and other birds at The Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds website. Photo courtesy of Tom Grey.
In The News
Landowners Help Keep Mountain Plover Off Endangered Species List
Research conducted by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Nebraska Prairie Partners, with the cooperation of private landowners, played an important role in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s recent decision that the mountain plover, a native bird of short-grass prairie and shrub-steppe landscapes, does not need protection under the Endangered Species Act. On May 11, after 12 years of review and debate, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced that "the species is not threatened or endangered" and "currently available data do not indicate that the threats to the species and its habitat are likely to endanger the species in the foreseeable future."
The Colorado Parks and Wildlife research showed the plover population is twice as large as previously thought and that the plover is an adaptable bird that can breed on agricultural fields and may benefit from cattle grazing. At about the same time, the Nebraska Prairie Partners, a cooperative partnership between Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory and Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, was conducting a six-year study to identify the extent and population size of mountain plover in the southwestern panhandle of Nebraska and also worked with landowners to gain access to private lands. Like the Colorado research, the Nebraska Prairie Partners study results indicated that plovers are more numerous in Nebraska than previously believed and that their status "should be revised from a rare, regular breeder to a fairly common, regular breeder with a localized distribution within the state."
According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife Director Tom Remington, the active cooperation of Colorado's agricultural landowners was essential in providing this important information that convinced federal biologists that the mountain plover did not require listing. "It was a considerable leap of faith for so many private landowners to let state biologists on their land look for a species that appeared headed for a federal listing," said Remington, who was the Division's avian research leader during much of the project. "But we asked for their help and they gave it to us."
When the study began, Russell Davis, whose family runs cattle on 12,000 acres near Karval, wasn't excited to have a plover researcher on his land. But Davis said his friends and neighbors discovered that helping the Division obtain data on plover numbers and habitat needs and ensuring a scientifically sound listing decision was beneficial to them as well. "Over the last seven years, we've come to realize there's a lot of good things going on for wildlife here. We don't put up a sign for the plovers. They keep coming back on their own for a reason."
In addition to individual landowner cooperation, agriculture groups like the Colorado Farm Bureau and the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association helped the effort by adopting supportive policies and encouraging landowners to participate. The Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory was also actively promoting and supporting plover conservation on private lands in Colorado. Working directly with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the non-profit organization hosted landowner meetings to educate producers about how to avoid plover nests, developed outreach materials such as a film showing what plovers and their nests look like from the cab of a tractor, and set up a call-in number for farmers to schedule a field survey to flag plover nests before tilling and planting. Once flagged, producers simply drive around plover nests, which the birds reoccupy after the tractor has passed.
In Nebraska, landowners help Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory mark nests and conduct a mountain plover chick survival study by providing access to the land, as well as information about sightings of adult birds, broods and nest locations. "All the acres in the Nebraska Mountain Plover study are privately owned," says Larry Snyder, Nebraska Prairie Partners Assistant. "Without their permission, we would be unable to conduct our programs. Cooperation between researchers and private landowners is the key to success."
"These efforts emphasize the role that private, agricultural lands play in long-term conservation of wildlife species," says Ken Morgan, Colorado Parks and Wildlife private lands specialist. "Landowners and agricultural organizations who stepped up at the beginning of this process deserve full recognition. The relationship we developed continues today."