Division of Bird Habitat Conservation

Birdscapes: News from International Habitat Conservation Partnerships

Species at Risk

A Blue Vest, a Smile, and a Small Brown Bird
by Denise Stockton, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

It is a partially cloudy day on the beach. The light from the sun streams through the clouds and reflects off the water like so many jewels. To the south, a man fishes, a couple hikes in the fore dunes, and a multitude of shorebirds coast over the water. It is a beautiful day.

A woman in a blue vest and a straw hat approaches the couple. As she comes closer, they read the words printed on her vest: “PLOVER DOCENT.” Smiling, she greets them and tells them of a tiny bird that needs their help—the western snowy plover. When the man and woman hear of the little bird’s plight and how they can help ensure its survival, they reroute their walk to the shoreline, away from the dunes where the plovers are nesting.

The western snowy plover, federally listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, is a small, pale brown bird struggling to survive in an ever decreasing habitat. At Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge on California’s central coast, the ploverscome to breed and nest every year from March to September. Their population has declined drastically, due primarily to human activities.

This small bird has perfect camouflage to protect it from predators, its drab colors blending into the surroundings. Ironically, this invisibility makes it more vulnerable to disturbance and injury from non-attentive beach goers. During the nesting season, fencing is erected around the nesting grounds to protect the birds from predators and unintentional disturbance from recreationists. Refuge Manager Chris Barr initiated a volunteer plover docent program in 2002 to directly reach the beach-going public on the Refuge and nearby lands. “Our first year was a pilot program—I was amazed at the positive response we got from the public,” exclaimed Barr. “Many people said they had no idea of the risks to the plovers.”

Refuge docents attend workshops to learn about the plover’s natural history and the outreach techniques that can be used to educate the public about the bird’s predicament. The docent’s task is to inform the people of the importance of staying clear of the birds’ nesting area in the dunes.

Karen Wood was a docent in the spring of 2002. She would don her blue vest and take the trail to the beach where she greeted refuge visitors and explained the reasons for the fencing certain areas and the limited closures. Wood said that after she explained why plovers needed to be protected and that there was still room for visitor activities, people were receptive. “It is a problem that needs more public awareness, and the presence of docents puts a face on it,” explained Wood. “Even one person out there, greeting the people, answering their questions, and addressing their concerns, is better than a thousand signs.”

For more information, contact Denise Stockton, Information and Education Specialist, Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Complex, P.O. Box 5839, Ventura, California 93005, (805) 644-5185, denise_stockton@r1.fws.gov.

Canada’s Species at Risk Recovery Act
by Ruth Wherry Canadian Wildlife Service

Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA) received Royal Assent in December 2002. This brought to a close a 9-year legislative process to enact federal legislation for the protection of Canada's species at risk and their critical habitats. Two-thirds of the SARA’s provisions came into force on June 5, 2003; the remaining provisions will come into effect on June 1, 2004. This legislation is the result of an extensive consultation process and is broadly supported by Canadians.

The act represents a federal commitment to prevent wildlife species from becoming extinct or extirpated and to provide for the recovery of species at risk. It builds on and complements the Fisheries Act, Migratory Birds Convention Act of 1944, National Parks Act, North American Waterfowl Management Plan (Plan), North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI), and many provincial and territorial laws and programs.

The act’s emphasis is on cooperation with stakeholders, with the flexibility to meet the needs of wildlife and plants. It established the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). Operating at arm’s length from governments, COSEWIC will continue to assess and classify wildlife species using the best availablve scientific, community, and Aboriginal traditional knowledge.

This cooperative approach is backed by a number of binding provisions once species are placed on the List of Wildlife Species as Risk, such as automatic prohibitions against killing or harming aquatic species, migratory bird species, and species on federal lands. There is also authority to apply the prohibitions to other listed species in provinces and territories through a safety n-net process. Authority is also provided in SARA to prohibit the destruction of critical habitat of listed extirpated, endangered or threatened species anywhere in Canada. The prohibition sections of the act will come into force on June 1, 2004.

Critical habiat of listed species is identified during the recovery process. Recovery strategies and action plans are now required within specified time lines for species listed as extirpated, endangered, or threatened. Management plans are required within specified time lines for species of special concern. Recovery strategies, action plans, and management plans will be prepared in cooperation with the provinces, territories, Aboriginal organizations, landowners, resource users, and other stakeholders.

Stewardship is an essential part of the cooperative approach reinforcing the accomplishments of programs such as the Plan and NABCI. It is the preferred response to critical-habitat protection under SARA and brings together landowners, conservationists, governments, and others to protect species and habitat.

Another feature of SARA is recognition of the role of Aboriginal peoples in the conservation of wildlife. There is a requirement to establish a National Aboriginal Council on Species at Risk to advise the Minister on the administration of the act and to provide advice and recommendations to the federal-provincial-territorial Canadian Endagnered Speceis Conservation Council.

Public information sessions on SARA are being held across the country. Environment Canada is working with numerous stakeholder and conservation organizations to encourage the participation of landowners, fishers, and other stakeholders, as well as other interested Canadians. Additionally, the SARA public registry will contain information and documents such as COSEWIC assessments, recovery strategies, action plans, management plans, regulations, and orders, as they become available.

Protecting species at risk is a shared responsibility of all governments in Canada. This act helps ensure that the federal responsibility is met, and it helps to fulfill some of Canada’s international obligations under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.

For more information, contact Lynda Maltby, Director, Species at Risk Branch, Canadian Wildlife Service, 4th Floor, 351 St. Joseph Boulevard, Hull, Quebec K1A 0H3, (819) 997-2957, lynda.maltby@ec.gc.ca, www.speciesatrisk.gc.ca and www.sararegistry.gc.ca.