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Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus circumcinctus)


3.1     Recovery Feasibility

Determinations of recovery feasibility are based on the following criteria (outlined in Environment Canada 2005): 1) Are individuals capable of reproduction currently available to improve the population growth rate or population abundance? 2) Is sufficient suitable habitat available to support the species or could it be made available through habitat management or restoration? 3) Can significant threats to the species or its habitat be avoided or mitigated through recovery actions? and 4) Do the necessary recovery techniques exist and are they demonstrated to be effective?

Recovery of the Piping Plover in Prairie Canada is both biologically and technically feasible. Piping Plovers can breed their first year after hatch and are capable of breeding in consecutive years (Haig 1992). The estimated adult survival rate (0.74; Larson et al. 2000) is similar to that of other plover species. Productivity from unmanaged pairs in the Northern Great Plains is 0.9 chicks fledged per pair and is thought to be insufficient to reach population stability, which requires an estimated productivity of 1.25 chicks fledged per pair (Larson et al. 2002). Productivity can, however, be increased by addressing the known threats of predation, human disturbance, and water management. Intensive management of people and predators on the U.S. Atlantic coast and the U.S. Great Lakes is credited with increasing plover numbers (A. Hecht, pers. comm.; J. Stucker, pers. comm.). Larson et al. (2002) suggested that the Northern Great Plains population can be stabilized or increased through increased management. In 2001, Piping Plovers were detected at only 91 of 424 (21.5%) recent breeding sites in Prairie Canada (Ferland and Haig 2002), where seemingly good quality habitat exists.

Predation on eggs and, to some extent, newly hatched chicks can be reduced with the use of predator exclosures (Murphy et al. 2003b). Human disturbance and conflicting land use practices can be lessened through increased public awareness and stewardship agreements. Threats of flooding and vegetation encroachment as a result of water management may be lessened with conservation agreements and inter-agency cooperation.  

The Piping Plover is extirpated from the Canadian Great Lakes as a breeding species. Recolonization has not occurred to date. Development on and destruction of historical plover habitat in the Canadian Great Lakes have also led to habitat inadequacies. Owing to its small population size (58 pairs; J. Stucker, pers. comm.) and restricted breeding distribution in the United States (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2003), the Great Lakes population may face genetic and geographical hurdles. The reestablishment of a Canadian Great Lakes population is dependent on the success of recovery efforts in the U.S. Great Lakes and protection of suitable breeding sites. It appears that plovers will soon breed in the Great Lakes area of Ontario, given the tremendous success in managing the expanding U.S. Great Lakes population and recent sightings of plovers in southern Ontario. Potential habitat for recolonization of historical breeding sites includes Long Point Provincial Park and Long Point National Wildlife Area, Presqu’ile Provincial Park, Wasaga Beach Provincial Park, and Wellers Bay National Wildlife Area. 

3.2     Recovery Goal

The long-term recovery goal for C. m. circumcinctus is to achieve a viable, [1] self-sustained, and broadly distributed population, within the current prairie population range, and the reestablishment of the Piping Plover in the historical southern Ontario range.

  Prairie Canada Population

The recovery goal for the Prairie Canada population is 1626 adult Piping Plovers and is based on historical provincial counts and/or estimates. The population goal will be considered achieved if met for each of three consecutive international censuses (i.e., over 11 years). The minimum provincial population (adults) targets are as follows: Alberta 300; Saskatchewan 1200; Manitoba 120; and Ontario (Lake of the Woods) 6. The Canadian C. m. circumcinctus population is currently listed as endangered because of its small population size and declining population. Any change in the status of C. m. circumcinctus in Canada should take into consideration the status of the U.S. population. The U.S. recovery goal is 2300 breeding pairs of plovers in the Northern Great Plains (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1994).

Canadian Great Lakes Population

The reestablishment of Piping Plovers on the Canadian side of the Great Lakes will depend on the success of the U.S. Great Lakes population. It is too early to set a recovery population goal for this population, as no breeding has occurred since 1977 (Lambert 1987). An active pair at Wasaga Beach Provincial Park in 2005 (Heyens 2005b), provides some hope that Piping Plovers may successfully nest in Ontario in the near future. The objective at this time is to ensure protection and monitoring of historical breeding habitat and any breeding pairs or individuals that may appear. The goal for the U.S. population is to maintain a population of 150 pairs for at least five consecutive years. This goal serves to prevent extirpation and is expected to be reached by 2020 (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2003). Achieving recovery will depend in part on active management by a variety of government and non-government agencies. The current recovery strategy’s proposed activities are based on management tools (Appendix A) used in field situations and therefore are reasonable and useful for recovery efforts.

3.3     Recovery objectives (2006–2010)

1.    Update Prairie Canada population status (numbers and distribution).

2.    Increase knowledge of population dynamics and predators.

3.    Achieve and maintain a fledging rate of at least 1.25 fledglings per pair per year for managed sites.

4.    Identify critical habitat and achieve critical habitat protection to the extent possible through the setting of cooperative conservation measures.

5.    Support relevant conservation practices, policies, and legislation.

6.    Achieve effective protection of wintering habitat through international efforts.

7.    Prepare for potential reestablishment of Canadian Great Lakes population.

3.4     Approaches Recommended to Meet Recovery Objectives 

Table 2. Recovery Planning Table for the Piping Plover (C. m. circumcinctus) [2].

Priority Threat addressed Broad strategy to address threats Recommended approaches to meet recovery objectives
Objective 1: Update Prairie Canada population status (numbers and distribution).
Necessary All Research and monitoring·      determine population trends, distribution, and status by carrying out local, regional, national, and international surveys
Objective 2: Increase knowledge of population dynamics and predators.
Necessary Predation Research and monitoring

·      monitor reproductive success at managed sites

·      investigate predator ecology as it relates to Piping Plover reproductive losses

·      determine survival, recruitment, and dispersal patterns

Objective 3: Achieve and maintain a fledging rate of at least 1.25 fledglings per pair per year for managed sites. [3]
Necessary Habitat loss; predation; livestock grazing; human disturbance Habitat management

·      continue to use adaptive management by adjusting management activities to maximize recovery efforts

·      identify and implement best management practices for water, habitat, and predator management

·      reduce cattle disturbance through fencing initiatives, delayed grazing agreements, and alternative watering sources

·      assess value of captive rearing and release for sustaining productivity in exceptional circumstances

Objective 4: Identify critical habitat and achieve critical habitat protection to the extent possible through the setting of cooperative conservation measures.
Necessary Habitat loss Habitat evaluation

·      determine habitat requirements, and quantify and evaluate available habitat through local and regional censuses and the 2006 international census

·      identify site-specific protection needed at critical habitat sites

Objective 5: Support relevant conservation practices, policies, and legislation.
Necessary Habitat loss Habitat protection

·      establish liaison with agencies and organizations with land and water responsibilities

·      develop local management plans

·      develop and implement habitat conservation activities

·        protect the natural processes that maintain essential breeding habitat through cooperative stewardship and grazing system management

·         use signage, education, and protected areas to protect birds and habitats

·      continue or enhance enforcement of protective regulations

·         water management agreements

·         minimize detrimental industrial and recreational development

·      ensure that comprehensive project reviews are completed through a structured environmental assessment process and that the requirements for Piping Plovers are given due consideration

·      promote revision and/or establishment of land and water laws and regulations to provide protection for habitat

·      implement guardian and stewardship programs or activities at sites where human disturbance is high

Objective 6: Achieve effective protection of wintering habitat through international efforts.
Necessary Mortality on wintering grounds International cooperation

·   continue participation in the International Piping Plover Coordination Group

·   encourage and assist in identification of winter habitat; support and expand protection initiatives

·   participate in cooperative banding programs to monitor movements of birds across the United States/Canada border

Objective 7: Prepare for potential reestablishment of Canadian Great Lakes population.
Beneficial Habitat loss Potential reestablishment

·      evaluate habitat for the potential for reestablishment

·      develop a contingency plan to coordinate activities to protect breeding birds, territorial individuals, and their habitat

·      prevent disturbance and protect plovers on occupied sites

·      encourage protection of apparently suitable breeding habitat, including historical sites

·      continue liaison with the United States Great Lakes Piping Plover Recovery Team

3.4.1 Narrative to support Recovery Planning Table 

The monitoring and research described in the first two objectives will guide future management decisions through evaluations of past management approaches and increased species knowledge. Monitoring is also an essential means of quantifying progress towards achieving recovery. Research should be conducted at managed sites to identify limiting factors and to refine management techniques. An expanded banding program of breeding Great Plains birds would provide a better understanding of movement and census interpretation. An understanding of habitat requirements and conditions that maximize reproductive success will assist in the identification and protection of important critical habitat.

Availability of suitable habitat to the Piping Plover year-round is essential to recovery. Habitat protection in Canada will help ensure maintenance of both quantity and quality of breeding habitat. The protection of peripheral populations may encourage the maintenance of the current distribution. Piping Plovers spend eight or more months on the wintering grounds each year. Efforts to enhance protection of wintering habitat are therefore key to successful Canadian recovery efforts. Cooperation among Canada, the United States, and Mexico will increase the Piping Plover’s chance of survival and recovery. The International Piping Plover Coordination Group will continue to facilitate the exchange of information and the coordination of recovery efforts.

The reestablishment of a Canadian Great Lakes plover population depends on the success of the neighbouring U.S. population. Preparation for reestablishment is timely, as the U.S. Great Lakes population experienced a population increase of 51% between 1996 (47 adults) and 2001 (71 adults) (Ferland and Haig 2002).  

3.5     Critical Habitat 

Critical habitat is defined in the Species at Risk Act 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” (Subsection 2(1)).

Critical habitat is not being identified in this recovery strategy. Although several attributes and criteria have been described (section 1.7.2) to assist in identifying critical habitat, there is a lack of knowledge of the specific locations that meet these criteria. Identification of critical habitat sites will be done within subsequent action plans (section 2.7) and will be updated a minimum of every five years (coinciding with the international censuses) based on the results of habitat and population assessments from the international censuses and other data sources.

3.5.1 Criteria and Delineation of Critical Habitat

Critical habitat will be defined on the basis of the basin, riverbed, and/or site within a basin wherein the key habitat attributes (here and in section 1.7.2) may occur. In some cases, the whole wetland/lake may be identified as critical habitat; in others, only a portion may be considered critical habitat. The upper extent of critical habitat will be defined by the ordinary high-water mark, which is defined as “The usual or average level to which a body of water rises at its highest point and remains for sufficient time so as to change the characteristics of the land. In flowing waters (rivers, streams) this refers to the ‘active channel/bank-full level’ which is often the 1:2 year flood flow return level. In inland lakes, wetlands or marine environments it refers to those parts of the water body bed and banks that are frequently flooded by water so as to leave a mark on the land and where the natural vegetation changes from predominately aquatic vegetation to terrestrial vegetation (excepting water tolerant species). For reservoirs this refers to normal high operating levels (Full Supply Level)” (Fisheries and Oceans Canada 2006).

Critical habitat will be identified within action plans, typically on a province-by-province basis, in cooperation with the provincial jurisdictions. Provinces are encouraged to identify and delineate site-specific critical habitat as well as its ownership and protection status. Ownership will be identified as private, provincial crown, or federal crown, and the level of protection will be determined. Site-specific delineation of critical habitat may not be required if protection is done at the quarter-section level. The minimum requirements for identifying critical habitat will include all three of the following criteria:

1)      Average number of plovers over all surveys of ≥4 adults in Alberta and Saskatchewan, ≥2 adults in Manitoba and Ontario, or 5% of the province’s recovery goal in any one year during the window.

2)      A minimum of three surveys per site during the breeding season, each carried out on a separate year.

3)      A floating window of at least 15 years (starting in 1991) to determine site (wetland, lake, riverbed) status. The 15-year window is based on three international censuses, occurring every five years.

Manitoba and Ontario are given a lower target of ≥2 adults because Manitoba’s population is small and Ontario has a remnant population that serves as an important geographical link between the Great Plains and Great Lakes populations. The Alberta and Saskatchewan populations are larger and have more habitats available to them. Although all Piping Plover habitat is important to the populations, these criteria allow for identifying sites that have had substantive use over a considerable time frame. Criteria will be re-evaluated in 5 years. 

3.5.2 Schedule of Studies to Identify Critical Habitat

1)     Ongoing inventory of birds and habitat areas used (2006–2010).

2)     Habitat assessment and Prairie Canada population census at known sites (2006).

3)     Review, refine, and update critical habitat (2006–2010).

Critical habitat will be identified in provincial action plans. The above studies will aid in completing the identification process, as required. Units for current and future consideration in action plans as critical habitat for C. m. circumcinctus include 58 basins and one riverbed section.

3.5.3 Existing and Recommended Approaches to Habitat Protection 

Federal Land

Federal protection could be provided through a variety of legislation, including the following five acts:

1)    The Species at Risk Act, 2002 provides for the protection of the individual, the residence, and critical habitat identified in a recovery strategy or action plan.

2)    The Canada Wildlife Act, 1994 protects and conserves wildlife and wildlife habitat in Canada through permitting the establishment of National Wildlife Areas and Protected Marine Areas.

3)    The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 1992 ensures that any potential impacts on a listed wildlife species are considered during a project evaluation.

4)    The Canada National Parks Act, 2000 ensures continued ecological integrity of national parks, and Parks Canada Agency ensures protection of species at risk within National Parks.

5)    The Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 deals with controlling pollution and toxic substances and waste management.

Non-federal Land

Non-federal lands are those that fall under provincial or private ownership. Protection of provincial lands can occur under a variety of provincial legislation. Lands under private ownership may require a stewardship approach.

Non-legislative forms of habitat protection may include guardian programs or designation under the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network program, the Ramsar Convention, and UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme. Several nesting areas are recognized as endangered species sites under the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network program (Beaverhill Lake, Chaplin/Old Wives/Reed lakes, Last Mountain Lake, and Quill Lakes), three prairie nesting areas are designated as Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention (Beaverhill Lake, Last Mountain Lake, and Quill Lakes), and one is designated as a Biosphere Reserve (Redberry Lake). In Manitoba, the Clandeboye Bay and Walter Cook special conservation areas, established at Lake Manitoba and Lake Winnipeg, respectively, recognize important plover habitats, as does Alberta’s Muriel Lake Waterbird Sanctuary. Sable Islands, a provincial nature reserve in Ontario, offers some level of protection to an area that has previously supported breeding Piping Plovers.

Existing provincial laws and/or stewardship agreements that effectively prevent destruction as described in this document will provide a first level of protection. The Species at Risk Act can also grant protection through federal prohibitions, if necessary, and also gives federal ministers the emergency authority to prevent critical habitat from being destroyed if it is in imminent danger. Specific details relevant to each jurisdiction will be outlined in the individual action plans.

3.6     Effects on Other Species

Management options used to benefit Piping Plovers will likely benefit a host of other species that utilize permanent to semipermanent alkali or freshwater lakes and wetlands. Breeding species that will likely benefit include co-habiting shorebirds, such as the American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana), Killdeer, Marbled Godwit (Limosa fedoa), Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius), Willet (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus), and Wilson’s Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor). Numerous other migrant shorebird species also utilize this habitat and will likely benefit from management. 

Discouraging predators (American Crows, coyotes , gulls, and raptors) near Piping Plover nesting sites may lower predator reproductive success locally; however, it is highly unlikely to have any adverse effect on their populations overall.

3.7     Action Plan schedule

There are several action plans that will support and aid the implementation of the recovery strategy for C. m. circumcinctus.

The Alberta Piping Plover Recovery Plan (Alberta Piping Plover Recovery Team 2002) is an action-oriented strategy that is currently being updated to cover the period 2005–2010. The recovery goal for the Alberta plan “is to achieve a well-distributed, long-term average population of 300 individual Piping Plovers within their historical range in Alberta”(Alberta Piping Plover Recovery Team 2005. This plan is expected to get provincial approval in 2006 and will be considered for adoption under the Species at Risk Act.

Manitoba is in the process of preparing a Piping Plover action plan. This plan, anticipated to be completed by 2007, will aid the implementation of a much-needed strategy for the small population of plovers in that province. The focus will be on evaluating the status of the breeding population and its habitat; providing protection from predation and human disturbance; and maintaining, improving, and securing the quality and quantity of habitat needed for recovery. This plan will be considered for adoption under the Species at Risk Act and will include proposed critical habitat.

An action plan will be developed for the Piping Plover’s range in Saskatchewan by December 2007 and will include proposed critical habitat. 

Although Piping Plovers are extirpated as a breeding species from the Canadian Great Lakes region, the U.S. Great Lakes population has increased by five-fold from 1990 to 2005. Implementation of the U.S. Great Lakes Recovery Plan (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2003) will increase the likelihood of plovers breeding once again on Canada’s Great Lakes beaches. Canadian agencies have begun to plan for this eventuality, and an Ontario action plan has been initiated and is anticipated to be completed by 2007.The Great Lakes Action Plan is pending an identification of Critical Habitat.

[1]A viablepopulation has a less than 5% probability of becomingextinct within the next 100 years (U.S. Fish andWildlife Service 1996).  

[2]Objectives 1 – 6 refer to the Prairie population.

[3]Results of recent modelling (Larson et al. 2002) suggest that a rate of 1.25 fledglings per pair for the entire Great Plains population is required to stabilize the median population size.