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Good news on Snowy Plover habitat Copy

By GGAS on May 19, 2021 01:41 pm

By Mike Lynes

This week the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service designated 24,527 acres along the Pacific Coast as critical habitat for endangered Western Snowy Plovers — an important step towards ensuring the species’ recovery and ultimate survival.

The FWS action ends several years of legal conflict over how much land would be designated as critical habitat for the plovers, and doubles the acreage initially proposed in 2005.

While the FWS didn’t include any habitat along the San Francisco coastline, its action will benefit the Snowy Plovers that over-winter at Ocean Beach and Crissy Field by protecting their breeding grounds along the Pacific Coast.

The Snowy Plover — a six-inch shorebird weighing up to two ounces — was first listed under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1993. Its major nesting sites had dropped from more than 50 to fewer than 30. Today, approximately 2,500 plovers remain breeding along the Pacific Coast.

This week’s action by the FWS is aimed at protecting sufficient habitat to improve the plovers’ reproductive success and ultimately remove them from the threatened and endangered species list.  The new rule designates 47 sites in California, nine in Oregon and four in Washington. It doesn’t affect land ownership or create any refuges, but alerts federal agencies to take the plovers into consideration when planning or funding activities involving its designated habitat areas.

The benefits of this ruling go beyond Western Snowy Plovers. Habitat set aside for plovers also benefits other shorebirds such as Godwits, Long-billed Curlews, and Western and Least Sandpipers.

The new critical habitat designation is actually a revision of prior efforts.  The Western Snowy Plover was first granted 19,474 acres of critical habitat in 1999. In 2005 the Bush administration illegally reduced the critical habitat to 12,145 acres, eliminating protection for thousands of acres scientists believed necessary for the snowy plover’s survival and abandoning key habitat areas crucial for recovery.

In 2008 the Center for Biological Diversity sued over the unlawful reduction of the plover’s habitat protections, leading to a settlement agreement with the Service and this week’s revised designation. Those of us who love Snowy Plovers and want to see their population survive owe a debt of thanks to the Center for pressing this issue.

There will certainly be critics of this habitat designation:  It has the capacity to affect other recreational users along some stretches of the Pacific coastline.  But we hope that these areas can, where appropriate, be managed for multiple uses in a way that accommodates reasonable use of the beaches while protecting the Snowy Plover.

It’s important to remember how much of the plovers’ habitat we have already taken away — along with the habitat of other beach-nesting birds like the California Least Tern. It is now incumbent upon us to be responsible stewards and ensure they have the habitat needed to breed and survive.


Golden Gate Audubon Society, led by volunteer Matt Zlatunich, has taken a lead role in monitoring and protecting the population of Western Snowy Plovers at Crissy Field. To learn more or get involved in protecting plovers in San Francisco, see the GGAS web site or email us at You can also join the Snowy Plover Yahoo Group at

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