Yesterday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed listing the mountain plover as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Citing agriculture, oil and gas, and other alleged threats, a listing would affect activities in Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico. Parts of northeastern Utah, Western Kansas, northeastern Arizona and northwestern Texas could also be affected.
The proposed listing is a slap in the face to ongoing conservation efforts and partnerships between Colorado agriculture and environmental groups and government agencies like the FWS and Department of the Interior. Increased collaboration between the parties has provided a wealth of information about the birds numbers, and has increased protections for the species through voluntary changes in grazing and tilling.
The FWS also intends to throw out proposed regulatory exemptions (in the form of a 4(d) Rule) for farming and ranching activities. Without common sense exemptions, farmers and ranchers across eastern Colorado would be shut down by the listing of the plover under the ESA.
Holsinger Law represented the Colorado Farm Bureau, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and Wyoming Stock Growers Association in litigation over the listed status of the mountain plover in prior years. In closed-door settlement negotiations, the Service settled a case with Forest Guardians (now Wild Earth Guardians) and Biodiversity Conservation Alliance which sought to force the FWS to protect the bird under the ESA.
Despite their name, mountain plovers do not breed in the mountains or the shore, instead, they prefer shortgrass prairies. The plovers are about 8 to 9.5 inches in height, have long legs and are sandy-brown in coloration. Mountain plovers inhabit prairie grasslands, arid plains and fields. Nesting plovers choose shortgrass prairies grazed by prairie dogs, bison and cattle, and overgrazed tallgrass and fallow fields. Tillage of fields is a major source of food for plover populations. Colorado is the primary breeding ground and summer range for the mountain plover, but breeding also takes place in Wyoming and New Mexico, parts of northeastern Utah, Western Kansas, northeastern Arizona and northwestern Texas.
The mountain plover is listed as a species of special concern (not a statutory designation under the ESA) in Colorado. Indicators of population trends show a possible decline of 38 to 70 percent over 31 years, however additional inventories conducted with the assistance of Colorado Farm Bureau and Colorado farmers and ranchers since 1995 suggest that mountain plovers are more widely distributed than previously known.
Comments on the proposed listing are due August 30, 2010 and a final listing decision is expected by May, 2011. Colorado Farm Bureau will be submitting comments to the FWS in opposition to the proposed rule.