The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ("Service") announced that the mountain plover, a small native bird inhabiting open, flat lands with sparse vegetation, does not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). 

Mountain plovers breed in the western Great Plains and Rocky Mountain States from extreme southern Canada to northern Mexico.  Within the United States, most breeding occurs in Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado; fewer breeding birds occur in Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and Utah.  Mountain plovers winter mostly in California, southern Arizona, Texas, and Mexico.  California’s Sacramento, San Joaquin, and Imperial valleys support the greatest known number of wintering mountain plovers. 

The Service based its decision on several key factors, including the following:

  • Its current estimate of the mountain plover breeding population is over 20,000 birds, more than double the estimate cited in the Service’s 2002 proposed rule to list the species as threatened under the ESA; 
  • The species’ geographically widespread breeding and wintering ranges and its ability to use a variety of habitats contributes to its security;
  • Mountain plovers have adapted to many human activities, such as using crop fields for breeding and wintering; and 
  • Human land use changes, alone or in combination with climate change, are not likely to result in significant population-level impacts to the mountain plover in the foreseeable future.

The Service also discussed the potential impacts of loss or degradation of mountain plover habitat, which has generally been identified as the greatest potential threat to the species.  The mountain plover’s diverse habitats are subject to anthropogenic changes, including cattle grazing and mineral and energy development as well as the loss of agricultural lands to solar energy development in the San Joaquin and Imperial valleys.  However, the Service found these threats are generally localized and are not likely to result in significant population-level impacts to the species.

The Service’s determination satisfies its obligation under a 2009 settlement agreement entered into with Forest Guardians (now WildEarth Guardians) and the Biological Conservation Alliance for their claim challenging the Service’s 2003 withdrawal of a 2002 proposal to list mountain plover under the ESA.  The settlement agreement required the Service to reinstate the 2002 proposal, receive public comment on the proposal, and prepare a final rule by May 1, 2011.  This withdrawal constitutes the Service’s final action. 

Click here to read the full Withdrawal of the Proposed Rule to List the Mountain Plover as Threatened.