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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

USFWS Doubles Designated Critical Habitat for Threatened Shorebird

• Zuma Beach and Malibu Lagoon Are Both on New List for Pacific Coast Western Snowy Plover

BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced that it will double the amount of critical habitat area for the threatened Pacific Coast western snowy plover, a small shorebird that received federal protection in 1993 after extensive habitat loss left the species on the brink of extinction, with a population of just 1500 birds.
The revised habitat designation came in response to a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, which contended that the Bush Administration illegally reduced the shorebird's critical habitat from 19,474 acres granted in 1999 to 12,145 in 2005.
“Approximately 24,527 acres of critical habitat for the Pacific Coast WSP in Washington, Oregon, and California, fall within the boundaries of the critical habitat designation,” a press release from the FWS states. 
“This revised final designation constitutes an increase of approximately 12,377 acres from the 2005 designation of critical habitat for the Pacific Coast WSP.”
Two areas of critical habitat are located in Malibu: one at Zuma Beach; and a smaller area at Malibu Lagoon.
At Zuma Beach, the critical habitat “extends about three miles north along the coast from the north side of Point Dume to the base of Trancas Canyon,” according to the FWS report.
“This unit encompasses approximately 72 acres of Los Angeles County lands, and 1 acre of State land. This unit was occupied [by Pacific Coast WSP] at the time of listing and is currently occupied. It is an important wintering area with up to 213 Pacific Coast WSPs recorded during a single season over the last seven years.”
According to the FWS, Zuma includes several biological features “essential to the conservation of the species,” including “areas of sandy beach above and below the high tide line with occasional surf-cast wrack supporting small invertebrates and generally barren to sparsely vegetated terrain.”
The report notes that “the physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the species may require special management considerations or protection to address the main threats from nonnative vegetation, human disturbance, development, horses, and pets. Control of nonnative vegetation and enforcement of existing human-use regulations are needed to ensure the suitability of the unit. With time, we anticipate that the lower portions of this unit will be inundated by sea-level rise associated with climate change.”
Zuma, which is operated by the County of Los Angeles Department of Beaches and Harbors, is one of the most highly visited parks in Los Angles County and is groomed daily with mechanical beach-cleaning equipment that has been documented to negatively impact Pacific Coast WSP in research conducted by the FWS. Some researchers have begun to call for “islands” of “ungroomed” beach to conserve coastal strand ecosystems.
At the Malibu Lagoon, 13 acres will be designated critical habitat. The area extends “about .5 mile north along the coast from approximately 300 feet north of the Malibu Pier to Malibu Point,” the report states. “Approximately nine acres are within Malibu Lagoon State Beach. The ownership of the remaining four acres are not known; however, the State likely has jurisdiction over these lands.”
Plover use a “run-pause-snatch” technique for hunting kelp flies and other insects and invertebrates, snatching them out of the air or off the surface of the sand. Surf wrack is essential for their survival as a source of food and shelter for their nests.
According to the report, “this unit was occupied at the time of listing and is currently occupied. It is an important wintering area with up to 67 Pacific Coast WSPs recorded during a single season over the last seven years.”
Volunteers from the Audubon Society for the past four years have set up what is described as “symbolic fencing” at Malibu Lagoon, to increase awareness of the small shorebirds.
The Malibu Lagoon area also comprises “areas of sandy beach above and below the high-tide line with occasional surf-cast wrack supporting small invertebrates and generally barren to sparsely vegetated terrain.” A small portion of the newly designated critical habitat falls within the construction zone of State Parks’ Malibu Lagoon Restoration and Enhancement Project. Construction project spokespersons stated last week that “The Army Corps of Engineers has initiated a new consultation with USFWS to determine whether these areas actually do provide the constituent elements of critical snowy plover habitat. Until then no work is occurring within [this] area.”
State Parks is expected to make the case that the area, which appears to have included a portion of the one of the channels prior to demolition, was not and is not part of the shorebirds’ preferred habitat.
The drainage pipe for the dewatering portion of the project, which is reportedly scheduled to begin later this week is located outside the western boundary of the critical habitat, according to a project’s spokesperson.
The plover, which gets its name from the medieval French word “pluvia,” or rain, a rare success story, recovering from 1500 birds in 1993 to more than 3600 today, but wildlife experts warn that its future is still uncertain.

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