Snowy Plover Recovery Debated

Article excerpt

Byline: Winston Ross The Register-Guard

FLORENCE - Thanks in part to the systematic poisoning of up to 200 crows, ravens and red foxes, it was a good year for the Western snowy plover on the Oregon Coast.

In fact, it was the best year since wildlife biologists started keeping track of the threatened species. While that's cause for relief, neither side of a long-simmering controversy about how far to go to protect the fragile birds is celebrating.

Biologists note that one improved year does not indicate a full recovery. And Coos County Commissioner John Griffith - who loudly criticizes the 18 miles of beach area closed off to protect the plover - says if the lack of predators are to thank for the recovery, then predators - not humans - should be blamed for the species' downfall.

"You can put a fence up around the nest, but as soon as they hatch, they dry their feathers and then run, crows eat them," Griffith said.

Wildlife biologist Dave Lauten said predator control probably played a big role in this year's comeback. The success rate for fledglings had been averaging 30 percent in recent years, and this year it shot to 46 percent, a good indication that they're surviving after they leave the nest.

Biologists reduced the predator population by injecting a pesticide into chicken eggs, which are then placed near plover nesting areas. The poison kills what eats it but then breaks down as the animal dies, so it doesn't poison anything else. The tactic has proven effective, Lauten said.

But there are other factors that may have contributed to the plovers' good numbers this year, including weather, public education and habitat improvement projects. The small, pale shorebirds prefer coastal sand spits, dunes, beaches at creek and river mouths and salt pans at lagoons and estuaries.

Regulators closed off 18 1/2 miles of territory during the plover breeding season, which runs from April to early August, arguing that the encroachment of European beach grass, the development of dune areas and humans disturbing nesting sites have contributed to the species' demise. …