19 June 2009

Public Comment Sought on Plan to Reduce Predation on Terns and Plovers

A potential plan to protect populations of two threatened or endangered species by controlling predators is being considered by the Army Corps of Engineers.

"The plan describes actions that would be taken to reduce predation on two bird species, the federally endangered interior population of Least terns (Sterna antillarum (athalassos)) and the federally threatened Northern Great Plains population of Piping Plovers (Charadrius melodus (circumcinctus))," according to draft documents now available for public review and comment.

"Of the nests monitored by the Corps on the Missouri River between 1999-2008, predators have been directly identified in the loss of 5.1% (292/5,716) of Piping Plover nests and 6.7% (336/5,052) of Least Tern nests," according to Corps studies.

Four objectives are given for plan to manage predation, according to the draft environmental assessment:

  • "Increase the productivity of least terns and piping plovers by reducing the loss of eggs and chicks to predation and reducing the number of adults that are lost or driven away due to disturbance by predator species
  • "Identify tools available to reduce predation on least tern and piping plover eggs, chicks, and adults
  • "Provide guidelines for the implementation of management actions
  • "Provide a process for the evaluation of the effectiveness of predator management in achieving objectives and to make modifications to the plan as needed"

Region where the predator management plan would be implemented. Image from the Corps of Engineers draft environmental assessment.

Various being considered by the plan include exclusion cages, exclusion fences, hazing, and removal of four species: coyotes, raccoons, mink and great horned owls.

"Predation management actions could occur any time during the nesting season, which runs from May 1-August 15, but because predation pressure is greatest in July and August, most actions would occur during those months," according to the draft plan.

"Proposed management actions in the plan include the use of exclusion cages and exclusion fencing to protect nests and hazing of predators with audio or visual frightening devices to deter predators away from nesting sites. Lethal and non-lethal removal of target individual predators that have the greatest impact on least tern and piping plover nests and chicks, particularly raccoons (Procyon lotor), coyotes (Canis latrans), mink (Mustela vison), and great horned owls (Bubo virginianus), would also occur. Mammals would be lethally removed while great horned owls would be non-lethally removed by relocation to a new area except in North Dakota, where avian predators are required to be euthanized rather than relocated."

About a dozen agencies and organizations would be cooperators in the predation management plan.

Public comments are being accepted until July 1st. The Draft Environmental Assessment for Predation Management Plan for Least Tern and Piping Plover Habitat along the Missouri River and Draft Predation Management Plan for Least Tern and Piping Plover Habitat along the Missouri River can be downloaded from a Corps website.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - under the Endangered Species Act - listed the interior population of the Least Tern as endangered on June 27, 1985 and the northern Great Plains population of the Piping Plover as threatened on December 11, 1985.

The Corps’ Least Tern and Piping Plover management strategy, currently:

  • Increases the amount of available nesting habitat for least terns and piping plovers by constructing new sandbars or removing vegetation from existing sandbars Predation Management Plan for Least Tern and Piping Plover Habitat along the Missouri River
  • Protects nests from rising river or reservoir levels by moving nests to a higher location or raising the nest at the existing location
  • Relocates chicks on sandbars that may be inundated due to rising river levels to higher sandbars or constructs platforms to provide shelter for the chicks
  • Protects nesting sites from human disturbance by placing restriction signs on sandbars and beaches warning the public of endangered species

The Corps maintains a Least Tern and Piping Plover Data Management System with regular updates during the breeding season.

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