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Feds propose smaller plover habitat 

The public has until Feb. 15, 2005, to comment on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) latest proposal concerning the threatened Western snowy plover habitat along the coast. The new proposals come after a federal judge ruled that the service didn’t fully take economic impact into account when drafting how many acres would be designated to protect the tiny shorebird. In 1999, the FWS designated 19,474 acres in California, Oregon, and Washington; the newest proposal pares down the designation to 17,299 acres.

The draft outlines critical habitat to extend through 626 acres on north Vandenberg Air Force Base property from Casmalia Creek to Purisima Point; 304 acres along south Vandenberg property, including Ocean Beach and the Santa Ynez River; and 1,269 acres between Pismo Beach and Nipomo. More than 1,000 acres in Santa Barbara County are already dedicated to protecting the bird.

In a separate suit, two Central Coast groups filed a petition to delist the Pacific Coast population of the Western snowy plover. The groups contend that the plover’s coastal population is not a separate population segment and is therefore not threatened.

According to the FWS, biologists estimate that no more than 2,600 snowy plovers breed along the U.S. Pacific Coast, and an equal number breeds along the west coast of Baja California. The largest number of breeding birds occurs south of San Francisco Bay to southern Baja.

The species’ decline has been attributed to loss of nesting habitat, human disturbance, encroachment of European beach grass on nesting grounds, and predation.

The court-established deadline for the FWS to submit the final designation is Sep. 20, 2005.

Locals can send comments to the Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office, 2800 Cottage Way, W-2605, Sacramento, California 95825; or e-mail to WSP_pCH@fws.gov.

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