Western snowy plover gets local baylands protection | June 29, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto Weekly

News - June 29, 2012

Western snowy plover gets local baylands protection

Eighty-nine acres of salt pond are along Bayfront Expressway

by Sue Dremann

A threatened pocket-sized shorebird will have 89 acres of its critical habitat protected in the baylands near Palo Alto, the Center for Biological Diversity has announced.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on June 18 officially designated 24,527 acres in three states for the Pacific Coast population of western snowy plovers.

The designation settles a lawsuit filed in 2008 by the Center for Biological Diversity, which is a national nonprofit conservation organization. Critical habitat that scientists say is necessary for the birds' survival was illegally eliminated by the Bush administration in 2005, the center claimed.

The shy plovers, which weigh less than two ounces and live just three years, lost about half their habitat after the Bush administration slashed it to 12,145 acres, according to the center.

The coastal population was declared a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 1993 after it had dropped to 1,500 birds. The plovers no longer breed at nearly two-thirds of their former nesting sites. Endangered Species Act protection first granted 19,474 acres of critical habitat in 1999, which allowed the population to increase to more than 3,600 adults by 2010, according to the center.

The tiny birds can be seen along the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific coast dining on worms, insects and crustaceans in wet sand and in kelp that has washed ashore. The birds breed primarily on beaches in California, southern Washington, Oregon and Baja California, and are seen running rapidly in little groups together at the water's edge.

Plovers face many threats, including widespread and frequent disturbance of nesting sites by humans, vehicles and off-leash dogs; crushing by off-road vehicles; global climate change; pesticide use and habitat loss, the center noted.

The Fish and Wildlife designation reinstates the habitat that was withdrawn in 2005 and that government scientists identified as essential. The local, 89-acre area consists of the southwestern portion of a salt pond located east of East Palo Alto. The site abuts Willow Road and is near Bayfront Expressway.

The area is owned by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and is near the western approach to the Dumbarton Bridge, said Rudy Jurgensen, public affairs manager for Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. The district owns the adjacent 376-acre Ravenswood Open Space Preserve.

The site has undergone renovations through the 2010 South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project. Habitat enhancement includes ponds, islands and saltpan for several species of shorebirds, including the plovers.

In 2009 the salt pond area supported 23 western snowy plover nests, 17 of which hatched young, according to a June 19 Department of the Interior/Fish and Wildlife document published in the Federal Register.

Other local protected areas will include three portions of Eden Landing south of Highway 92 and the San Mateo Bridge in the East Bay. Coastal areas will include a stretch of coastline in Half Moon Bay between Young and Kelly avenues and coastal areas in Santa Cruz County, according to the Fish and Wildlife document.

"Protecting critical habitat will help this lovely shorebird continue on the path to recovery," said Tierra Curry, a conservation biologist at the center. "Species with federally protected habitat are more than twice as likely to be moving toward recovery than species without it, so this puts a big safety net between plovers and extinction."

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at sdremann@paweekly.com.


Posted by Cur Mudgeon, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jun 25, 2012 at 3:25 pm

This is why we cannot have dogs off leash in many shoreline areas.
Dog lovers, please restrict your off leash runs to designated off leash areas where it is permitted to do so, and only in those areas.
Many people don't realize that even dogs on leash disturb wildlife because of their very presence. Staying only on trails helps, too.

Kudos to the current administration for reinstating and expanding the protected areas.

Posted by agree, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 25, 2012 at 4:15 pm

Agree about loose dogs destroying wildlife refuges. If you love nature, then obey the rules to protect wildlife. If you don't love nature, then don't visit wildlife refuges to begin with. Thank you.

Posted by Luv Creatures, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 25, 2012 at 11:56 pm

Yeah! and Thank You about the birds and baylands and plovers!!

Posted by Eileen McLaughlin, a resident of another community
on Jun 26, 2012 at 11:05 am

It is a little difficult to be certain from the story's site description but I believe acreage referenced is owned by the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge adjoins the SF PUC easement for the Hetch Hetchy pipeline. If so, I'd describe the site as being the last former salt pond on the right on eastward approach to the Dumbarton Expressway.

This site and all other retired salt ponds on the Menlo Park shoreline are all part of the Refuge and of the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project. That project's plan, finalized in early 2010, has always included provision of habitat for snowy plovers. It's first phase of restoration restored the University Avenue end of this pond as snowy plover habitat. Throughout the 15,000+ acres of this restoration project, snowy plover habitat is a consideration wherever suited. When snowy plovers lost their preferred coastal beach habitats, they adopted the broad expanses of Bay salt ponds.

Locally in winter, these birds are often seen in mixed shorebird groups rather than in flocks of their own species. On our coastal beaches the little birds that are commonly running swiftly in little flocks are sanderlings.

Posted by darloss, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 29, 2012 at 6:24 pm

that bird looks like a seagull mated with a squirrel