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Roseate Tern (Sterna Dougallii)
The recovery goals and objectives, and the strategies for achieving them, are substantially revised from those published in the first Canadian Recovery Plan for the Roseate Tern (Lock et al. 1993). Since that previous plan was produced, aerial and ground surveys have provided better information on the distribution of Roseate Terns in Canada. Over the same period, restoration programs in the United States and Canada have yielded new models for recovery, while intensive research at several large United States colonies has yielded much new information on the biology of the species (Nisbet and Spendelow 1999). This new information was integrated into the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) updated Roseate Tern Recovery Plan (US Recovery Plan, USFWS 1998) and its comprehensive handbook on tern management (Kress and Hall 2004). These documents provide key information in support of the approaches in this strategy.
The Recovery Strategy for Roseate Terns in Canada takes advantage of this new information and complements the updated US Recovery Plan. It sets goals and objectives for Canada that will contribute to recovery of the Roseate Tern on both sides of the border and was prepared in response to the legislative requirements outlined in the Species at Risk Act (SARA) for the development of recovery strategies for Endangered species (Sections 37-46)
The overall goal is to prevent the Canadian population of Roseate Terns from declining. Specifically, the goal of the strategy is to have no fewer than 150 pairs of Roseate Terns nesting in at least three colonies in Canada by 2014. None of the three colonies should support fewer than 15 pairs of Roseate Terns (>10% of the Canadian population). This goal is based on a) the maximum number of Roseate Terns nesting in Canada in one year, since the original status report was prepared in 1986 (149 pairs; 1999), and b) the largest number of colonies to support more than 15 pairs of terns in one year (Canadian Wildlife Service, unpublished data). The first comprehensive surveys for the species in Canada occurred in 1970-1971 when it was estimated that 200 pairs nested in the country (Lock 1971). There is some speculation that this may have been an overestimate because extrapolations were made on Sable Island NS based on species ratios of terns trapped after the nesting season (Lock 1971). When the first status report was prepared in 1986 it was estimated that 100-121 pairs of Roseate Terns nested in the country (Kirkham and Nettleship 1986), and in 1999 when the status report was updated the population was estimated to be 87-137 pairs (Whittam 1999). From 1999-2003, the mean number of Roseate Terns nesting in Canada was 134 pair (Leonard et al. 2004). Thus, it is difficult to set an appropriate recovery goal since the Canadian population has remained relatively stable over the last 30 years, and there is no evidence that the population was much larger than it is currently. However, based on population growth observed in the United States portion of the population since 1988 (4.6-5.8% annual growth; see 2.3 Population sizes and trends), it is possible that the Canadian population could increase to over 200 pairs by 2015.
Less than 5% of the northeastern North American population of Roseate Terns nests in Canada, therefore recovery of the entire population relies heavily on the recovery of the portion of the population nesting in the US. The US Recovery Plan (USFWS 1998) recommends that the population be reclassified as Threatened once the northeastern population reaches 5000 pairs, and that de-listing would be warranted once the species reaches historic population levels observed in the 1930’s (8500 pairs). It recommends that the 5000 pairs needed to reclassify to Threatened should include at least six colonies with 200 or more nesting pairs in each. In 2002, the northeastern North American Roseate Tern population was about 3600 pairs.
By 2010, the short-term objectives of the Recovery Strategy for Roseate Terns in Canada are to:
- Maintain high numbers of breeding pairs at Country Island, NS (45° 06.096'N, 61° 32.544'W; >40 pairs) and The Brothers, NS (North Brother [43° 38.191'N, 65° 49.406'W]; South Brother [43° 37.798'N, 65° 49.530'W]; >80 pairs).
- Enhance productivity at managed colonies to high levels (i.e., 1.1 fledgling per pair; Nisbet and Spendelow 1999).
- Restore a broader distribution by establishing at least one more managed colony.
- Remove or reduce threats to Roseate Terns and their habitat.
- Maintain small peripheral colonies of Roseate Terns nesting on Sable Island, NS (43° 55.839'N, 59° 54.467'W) and the Magdalen Islands, QC (Paquet Island [47° 24.492'N, 61° 50.162'W]; Deuxième Îlet [47° 30.153'N, 61° 43.837'W]; and Chenal Island [47° 33.927'N, 61° 32.847'W]).
Approaches to meet recovery objectives
The recovery approaches described in the following sections (summarized in Table 1) are premised largely on two points:
- Roseate Terns in Canada are threatened by low productivity at specific sites, often due to predation, and by the concentration of their distribution into fewer colonies that, at least in Canada, may frequently change location from year to year.
- Roseate Terns preferentially nest in larger colonies of Common and Arctic Terns, which are more abundant than Roseate Terns but exposed to similar threats. Thus, restoration of Roseate Tern colonies requires the establishment and maintenance of large (>100 pairs), healthy colonies of these other species.
Monitor population size, distribution, movement, and productivity
In the previous Recovery Plan (Lock et al. 1993), the distribution and productivity of Roseate Terns in Canada were poorly known. Only one complete aerial and ground survey had been done and no information on productivity had been published. Since then, three aerial surveys, more thorough ground surveys, and productivity data have provided information that is invaluable for designing and evaluating recovery actions outlined in this Strategy (Whittam 1999, Leonard et al. 2004).
Actions completed or underway
Colony sites of all species of tern on the Nova Scotian coast were aerially surveyed in 1995, 1999 and 2003 (Leonard et al. 2004). The surveys included ground visits to colonies with over 100 Common or Arctic Terns and to a few smaller colonies where Roseate Terns were expected to occur (Leonard et al. 2004). These surveys have yielded essential information on population size and distribution (see 2.3 Population sizes and trends), and should be continued.
Nest numbers, clutch size, and fledging success have been consistently monitored at only one colony, Country Island, since the mid-1990s (Whittam 1999). Despite the many years of work at Country Island, we still do not have an accurate estimate of productivity for Roseate Terns because of difficulties following chicks to fledging. Nest numbers have been monitored at The Brothers since 1990 and efforts are being made to get a qualitative estimate of productivity. Three areas with ongoing research programs on terns, but with fewer than five pairs of Roseate Terns each (Sable, Machias Seal, and Magdalen Islands), have been surveyed yearly for Roseate Terns since at least the mid-1990s (ACTWoG 2000), although reproductive success was rarely measured and breeding was not always confirmed. Naturalists have collected yearly information on nesting locations in some areas (e.g., D’Eon 2001).
|Recovery Approach||Priority||Objective No.||Specific Steps||Effect|
|Monitor population size, distribution, movement, and productivity||Necessary||All||· Count adults, measure productivity|
· Implement banding and recapturing/ re-sighting program
· Conduct population census
|Enables evaluation of success of recovery efforts|
|Enhance nesting habitat||Urgent||1,2,4,5||· Manage predators|
· Enhance nesting habitat
|Maintains and enhances productivity|
|Manage additional colonies||Urgent||3||· Establish additional predator-free colonies||Restores distribution|
|Identify critical habitat||Necessary||All||· Identify breeding, foraging , and transit and resting habitat|
· Designate critical habitat
|Guides enhancement, restoration, and protection of habitat|
|Protect habitat||Necessary||All||· Designate and secure sites|
· Protect sites from human disturbance
· Enforce protective regulations
|Maintains and enhances productivity|
|Identify limiting factors at managed colonies||Secondary||All||· Conduct research at managed sites||Guides recovery actions|
· Winter mortality
|Guides recovery actions|
|Improve decision-making and planning||Secondary||All||· Adopt precautionary approach to development|
· Identify decision and planning processes that may affect terns
· Engage Recovery Team in those processes
|Identifies recovery actions|
|Develop and maintain linkages||Necessary||All|
Encourage and promote:
· International cooperation regarding breeding sites
|Orients actions to whole population|
|Address sociopolitical issues||Necessary||All||Implement programs addressing:|
· Education and awareness
|Motivates and coordinates recovery actions|
Efforts to assemble, integrate, and disseminate such information (e.g., the Coastal Islands Project, in Mahone Bay, NS; Boyne 1999) show great promise and should be encouraged. Several other colonies have been visited in some years by naturalists or by Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources or Canadian Wildlife Service personnel. In all cases, reproductive success was judged mainly upon whether colonies were abandoned part way through the breeding season.
Prior to 2002, Country Island was the only Canadian site with a banding program, and even this program was reduced in some years to limit disturbance. In 2002 and 2003, a greater effort was placed on banding at Country Island and The Brothers. Banding and systematic re-sighting of birds with field-readable bands are essential (Nisbet and Spendelow 1999, Spendelow et al. 2002), especially for tracking movements of adults among colony sites and for determining whether changes in census numbers represent changes in the size or distribution of the population (Leonard et al. 2004).
Actions to be initiated
Count breeding terns and measure their productivity
At intensively managed colonies (currently Country Island and The Brothers), the number of breeding pairs and their productivity (ideally, the number of fledglings produced) will be measured throughout the breeding season. All species of tern should be included where possible, to increase sample sizes and sensitivity, although potential species differences should be considered in analysis and interpretation. Measurement of growth rates is recommended for assessing productivity (Nisbet et al. 1999), and efforts to band adults and young should be continued and expanded to track recruitment and movements among colonies. In years when adults from Country Island appear to have relocated to nearby islands, efforts to find their whereabouts and measure their reproductive success have been only partly successful. Searches are problematic because they compete with management activities at the original colony sites and because they require expensive transportation by boat or air. Additional funds should be targeted to support these efforts. Investigator disturbance is not a concern as long as investigators are experienced and have taken steps to gradually habituate the terns to their activities (Nisbet 2000). Protocols should be developed and reviewed annually for work at these colonies (e.g., Boyne 1998a).
At less intensively studied colonies (e.g., those now monitored with occasional visits by Canadian Wildlife Service personnel or local naturalists), adults of all species of breeding terns should be counted during late incubation using consistent methods. Ideally, these counts should be done every year, however regular monitoring may need to rely on the surveys described next, which, realistically, can be done only every five years.
Complete population censuses
In Atlantic Canada, because terns change colony sites frequently, the whole coastline (including Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Québec, and Newfoundland) should be aerially surveyed at least once every five years. Each aerial survey should be followed by ground searches for Roseate Terns at colonies where they have nested in the past, as well as at all colonies within the existing Roseate Tern range with more than 100 Common or Arctic Terns (Leonard et al. 2004). Even though Roseate Terns nest mainly in Nova Scotia, they are currently known to nest in Québec and New Brunswick (Whittam 1999). Researchers at all tern colonies in these provinces should be encouraged to check carefully for the presence of Roseate Terns, since promising sites for restoration may exist and the birds could easily be overlooked. Ideally, whether or not each colony succeeded in producing at least some young terns should also be determined, since colony failure may help both to explain shifts in distribution and to select sites for restoration. The sensitivity of methods used for detecting population change should be determined regularly, and methods revised accordingly (Kress and Hall 2004).
Enhance nesting habitat
Actions completed or underway
New knowledge about the specialized habitat requirements of Roseate Terns led to this strategy’s greater emphasis on habitat enhancement, both to maintain and enhance productivity at currently managed sites and to increase the likelihood of successful restoration. Habitat enhancement has occurred mainly through predator management and placement of nest shelters.
Local gull management has occurred at Country Island and The Brothers. Management at Country Island is described under 1.3.3 Manage additional colonies. Destruction of nests occasionally built by gulls at The Brothers appears to have prevented significant gull predation there (D’Eon 2003). Predation by crows at The Brothers in 1998 was stopped by lethal control and has not recurred (D’Eon 2003). Non-lethal discouragement of crows at Country Island in 1999 was unsuccessful, but so were attempts at lethal control (Paquet et al. 1999). Mink have also been a problem, causing adult mortality at Mash Island, NS in 1999 (A. W. Boyne pers. comm.) and adult and chick mortality at The Brothers in 2003 (D’Eon 2003). In both cases attempts were made to trap the predator; unsuccessfully in 1999 and successfully in 2003. Other predators include Peregrine Falcons (Falco peregrinus), large owls, cats, dogs, foxes, and other mammals (depredating adults and young), and ants, Black-crowned Night Herons (Nycticorax nycticorax), and corvids (depredating eggs and young) (a complete list of predators is available in Kress and Hall 2004). In the United States, nocturnal predators such as mink, owls, and night-herons probably have a greater impact than diurnal predation by gulls.
Nest shelters have been placed at several colony sites where Roseate Terns have been known to nest (e.g., Grassy, Country and Westhaver Islands, NS; Paquet Island, Deuxième Îlet and Chenal Island, Québec), but have been used by the birds and consistently maintained only at The Brothers (Whittam 1999, D’Eon 2001). Enhancement of nesting habitat is successful only in conjunction with discouragement of gulls and uncontrolled public visitation near colonies.
Actions to be initiated
Gulls. Experience in Canada and the United States shows that some form of gull control is an important step in the recovery of Roseate Terns (Leonard et al. 2004). Discouragement of gulls will probably be successful only at managed colonies (currently Country Island and The Brothers), because it requires human presence throughout the breeding season. On islands selected for restoration where gulls occur, colony sites and surrounding areas must be patrolled daily throughout the breeding season, beginning before the terns arrive. Gulls should be discouraged from taking up residence on colonies with noise makers and should they still attempt to nest, their nests should be destroyed. Lethal control should be considered for individual gulls that persist in depredating terns, despite non-lethal efforts.
Non-lethal gull control requires a concentrated and sustained effort. Fewer gulls return in subsequent years, reducing the effort required, but gull discouragement might need to continue for several years before large numbers of terns return to sites (Kress 1997, Leonard et al. 2004). Ideally, gull discouragement programs should include surveys to determine whether displaced gulls continue to prey on terns at the focal site and/or prey on terns at other colonies, thereby shifting the problem rather than rectifying it.
Long-term actions that may decrease gull populations near tern colonies should be encouraged, e.g., closure of landfills, control of refuse at fish plants and on fishing boats, and discouraging people from feeding gulls.
Other predators. Larger mammalian predators (e.g., feral pets, foxes) can be kept out of small colonies by electric fencing (F. Shaffer pers. comm.). Otherwise, predators should be live-trapped and removed, where possible, or, alternatively killed (specific predator removal methods are available in Kress and Hall 2004). Personnel at each managed colony should hold active permits for predator removal to ensure immediate action should there be a need. A single predator can quickly destroy a colony (Nisbet and Spendelow 1999).
Enhance nesting habitat
Roseate Terns prefer more sheltered locations for nest sites than do other species of terns, and this shelter appears to protect their eggs and chicks more effectively from predation (Whittam 1999). Vegetation preferred by Roseate Terns at specific sites should be maintained and extended if possible without unduly reducing habitat for Common or Arctic Terns. Roseate Terns often nest in artificial nest shelters where these have been provided, and those that do have higher nesting success (Whittam 1999). The utility of nest shelter designs that have proven useful at other sites should be assessed and implemented where appropriate (e.g., Spendelow 1996).
Manage additional colonies
Actions completed or underway
The previous Recovery Plan focused largely on restoration of Roseate Terns to one site, Sable Island, NS (Lock et al. 1993). Restoration was not attempted on Sable Island and since then, only one or two pairs of Roseate Terns have nested there each year, and the costs of conducting field work at the site have increased, making it less attractive for restoration. More importantly, successful non-lethal gull control programs in the United States and Canada (Leonard et al. 2004) have offered alternatives to the large-scale cull of gulls that the Sable Island restoration project would have required.
A non-lethal program of gull discouragement, started on Country Island in 1998, restored Roseate Tern numbers and reproductive success there after gull predation decimated the colony in 1996 and 1997 (Leonard et al. 2004). However, only one pair of Roseate Terns bred there in 2001, possibly because a predator or storm disrupted settlement (Boyne et al. 2001a), but such setbacks are typical of restoration programs (e.g., Kress 1997). In 2003, 43 pairs of Roseate Terns nested on Country Island, approaching the historic high of 53 pairs in 2000 (Chisholm et al. 2002). Several other attempts to restore tern colonies, by providing nest shelters or by using nylon wires or automated noise makers to deter gulls, failed (e.g., Boyne 1998b, Gregoire 2000, D. Currie pers. comm.).
The failure of these latter attempts and the success of the Country Island program emphasize that constant human presence throughout the breeding season, year after year, is needed to effectively deter gulls and successfully restore colony sites (Kress and Hall 2004).
Actions to be initiated
Establish at least one additional predator-free colony
In 2003, the tern colonies on Country Island, NS and The Brothers, NS, both of which have predator management programs, supported 129 of the 130 pairs of Roseate Terns nesting in Canada (Leonard et al. 2004). The congregation of Roseate Terns into two sites makes the population extremely vulnerable to disease, major weather events, oil spills, and other stochastic events. To buffer the population from these threats it is necessary to provide at least one more secure site for nesting Roseate Terns in Canada. Efforts to restore Roseate Terns to formerly occupied colonies have often been slow to produce results, but, in a few cases, appear to have been successful (Nisbet and Spendelow 1999). Given the effort involved, sites for restoration must be selected carefully, not only in relation to their suitability and practicality, but also so that they do not draw terns from secure colonies to areas where breeding is riskier. For example, based on these criteria, the Mahone Bay/ St. Margarets Bay area of Nova Scotia, which is hundreds of kilometres away from the nearest secure colony and where Roseate Terns have persistently tried to breed (Whittam 1999), may be a promising area for a restoration program. Once possible sites are identified, they should be ranked based on their suitability for terns and on their practicality as possible sites for restoration. Draft habitat criteria from the US Recovery Team (see Appendix A) provide interim measures of suitability and a basis for drafting criteria suitable for Canadian sites. Further revisions should be made cooperatively with the US Recovery Team. Techniques for restoration are outlined in Kress (1997), Leonard et al. (2004), and Kress and Hall (2004).
An alternative to establishing new tern colonies may be to attract more Roseate Terns to large colonies of Common and/or Arctic Terns that are already free of gulls and have small or historic numbers of nesting Roseate Terns. This might be attempted using Roseate Tern decoys and playback of Roseate Tern calls. Appropriate colonies may include Machias Seal Island and the colony at East Light on Sable Island. On one hand, large numbers of other tern species at these sites have already failed to attract Roseate Terns, so it seems unlikely that artificial attractants will do any better, particularly since Roseate Terns do not usually join offshore colonies (J.A. Spendelow, pers. comm.). On the other hand, if these alternative methods did succeed, they would constitute a cost-effective route to restoration.
Restoration efforts, including financial and logistic support, must be maintained for several years before Roseate Terns settle to breed, and active on-site protection of the colony must be sustained thereafter (Kress 1997; Leonard et al. 2004).
Identify critical habitat
In the previous Recovery Plan, suitable breeding habitat was presumed to be unlimited (Lock et al. 1993). However, research has shown that Roseate Terns actually have specific habitat requirements that are not met by most apparently suitable coastal habitat in the United States (Nisbet and Spendelow 1999). Roseate Terns may be more limited by the location of foraging habitat than by the suitability of nesting habitat. In Canada, recent survey data suggest that Roseate Terns have used only a small, varying subset of coastal islands where terns nest (Leonard et al. 2004).
Roseate Terns generally forage in shallow areas close to shore, near shoals and tidal rips (Gochfeld et al. 1998), although little is known about their foraging ecology in Canada. After fledging in early August, juvenile Roseate Terns from the northeastern population disperse with their parents to staging areas. There is also little known about staging habitat for Canadian birds, although in 2002 two Roseate Terns that had been banded as chicks on The Brothers, NS were sighted within a month of fledging at Great Gull Island, New York (H. Hays, pers. comm.). Roseate Terns migrate south in late August and early September. They arrive in South America by October, where they have been recovered and recaptured along the north coast from western Colombia to eastern Brazil, between 11°S and 18°S (Hays et al. 1997).
Critical habitat is only identified partially in this document and covers the actual location of Roseate Tern nesting sites (colonies).
The schedule of studies (Section 1.3.6) could lead to a more comprehensive identification of critical habitat for Roseate Terns in terms of:
- Potential nesting habitat;
- Foraging habitat; and
- Transit and resting habitat beyond colonies
Identification of critical nesting habitat
The federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) (Government of Canada 2002) defines critical habitat as “….the habitat that is necessary for the survival or recovery of a listed wildlife species and that is identified as the species’ critical habitat in the recovery strategy or in an action plan for the species.” Information on the implications of the identification of critical habitat can be found in Appendix C.
Survival of the current population requires, at a minimum, maintenance of the existing managed colonies at The Brothers, NS (North Brother [43°38.191'N, 65°49.406'W]; South Brother [43°37.798'N, 65°49.530'W]; >80 pairs) and Country Island, NS (45°06.096'N, 61°32.544'W; >40 pairs).
Recovery will require several widely dispersed island colonies with sheltered nest habitat (vegetation, rocks, or artificial nest shelters) that are free of gulls, mammalian predators and human disturbance, and have access to good foraging areas. Roseate Terns formerly nested at many colony sites now occupied by gulls, which could be reclaimed for recovery. Space may also be available for additional nests at existing colony sites, although this possibility has not been thoroughly studied.
It is recommended that critical habitat be identified as:
1. Sites that currently support more than 15 pairs of Roseate Terns (>10% of the Canadian population);
- The Brothers, NS (North Brother [43° 38.191'N, 65° 49.406'W]; South Brother [43° 37.798'N, 65° 49.530'W]) – the entire terrestrial habitat of both islands, as well as aquatic habitat out 200 m seaward from the mean high tide line of each island.
- Country Island, NS (45° 06.096'N, 61° 32.544'W) - the entire terrestrial habitat of the island, as well as aquatic habitat out 200 m seaward from the mean high tide line.
2. Tern colonies in areas that have supported small but persistent numbers of nesting Roseate Terns for over 30 years;
- Sable Island, NS(43° 55.839'N, 59° 54.467'W) – the polygons encompassing entire individual nesting tern colonies on the island and a 200 m buffer around each polygon.
- Magdalen Islands, QC (Paquet Island [47° 24.492'N, 61° 50.162'W]; Deuxième Îlet [47° 30.153'N, 61° 43.837'W]; and Chenal Island [47° 33.927'N, 61° 32.847'W]) – the entire terrestrial habitat of the islands, as well as aquatic habitat out 200 m seaward from the mean high tide line of each island.
The 200 m is based on recommended buffer zones around tern colonies. In a review of the effects of human disturbance on nesting colonial waterbirds, Carney and Sydeman (1999) recommended that to reduce human disturbance a buffer of 100-400 m be established around Common Tern colonies. Based on flush responses of Common Terns, specific studies have recommended buffers of 100 m (Burger 1998), 180 m (Rodgers and Smith 1995) and 200 m (Erwin 1989) be established around colonies to reduce the impacts of human disturbance. There have been no published studies specifically on Roseate Terns, however Roseate Terns virtually always nest within colonies of Common Terns. Recognizing the importance of Roseate Terns and the variability of responses to disturbance depending on the colony and the circumstance, it was felt that a 200 m buffer around colonies would provide adequate protection to Roseate Tern nesting habitat.
The Recovery Team will consider recommending a particular site no longer be identified as critical habitat if it is not occupied by breeding Roseate Terns for three consecutive years. The Recovery Team will consider recommending that any additional site where Roseate Terns have been nesting be specifically identified as critical habitat under criterion 1 or 2 if it is occupied for three consecutive years. If a new site supports a large percentage of the national population (>10%) an amendment of the critical habitat identification order should be considered to identify the new colony specifically as critical habitat. Any Roseate Tern nest, located either within or outside of critical habitat, is protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and as a residence under SARA (a description of the Roseate Tern’s nest residence can be found at http://www.sararegistry.gc.ca/plans/showDocument_e.cfm?id=597). SARA also protects all Roseate Terns from being killed, harmed, or harassed.
The proposed critical habitat would be sufficient to support the recovery goal of no fewer than 150 pairs of Roseate Terns nesting in at least three colonies in Canada. The proposed critical habitat supported 139 pairs of Roseate Terns in 2002 and 129 pairs in 2003 (Leonard et al. 2004). Efforts to establish a third predator-free colony of Roseate Terns (see 1.3.3 Manage additional colonies), if successful, would provide sufficient critical habitat to meet the recovery goal.
Examples of activities likely to result in destruction of critical habitat
Examples of activities likely to result in destruction of critical habitat are modifications of the physical attributes of critical habitat such as topography, geology, soil conditions, vegetation, chemical composition of air/water, surface or groundwater hydrology, micro-climate, or sound environment.
Human activities or outcomes of such activities that would disturb the birds in critical habitat to the extent that they are not able to successfully perform their biological activities (i.e. mating, egg laying, brood rearing, coming in and out of the colony, or even simply resting) are prohibited under section 32 and 33 of SARA.
Section 1.3.7 presents how critical habitat will be protected and managed.
- Date Modified: