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					                                                       27756                    Federal Register / Vol. 76, No. 92 / Thursday, May 12, 2011 / Proposed Rules

                                                       DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR                              ADDRESSES).  If you use a                             proposal to list the mountain plover (67
                                                                                                               telecommunications device for the deaf                FR 72396). We further agreed to submit
                                                       Fish and Wildlife Service                               (TDD), call the Federal Information                   a final listing determination for the
                                                                                                               Relay Service (FIRS) at 800–877–8339.                 mountain plover to the Federal Register
                                                       50 CFR Part 17                                          SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:                            no later than May 1, 2011.
                                                       [Docket No. FWS–R6–ES–2010–0038; MO                                                                              On June 29, 2010, we published a
                                                                                                               Background
                                                       92210–0–0008–B2]                                                                                              document in the Federal Register
                                                                                                               Previous Federal Actions                              notifying the public that we were
                                                       RIN 1018–AX26                                                                                                 reinstating that portion of our December
                                                                                                                  For a detailed description of Federal
                                                       Endangered and Threatened Wildlife                      actions concerning the mountain plover,               5, 2002, proposed rule to list the
                                                       and Plants; Withdrawal of the                           please refer to the February 16, 1999,                mountain plover as threatened under
                                                       Proposed Rule To List the Mountain                      proposed rule to list the species (64 FR              the Act (75 FR 37353). We did not
                                                       Plover as Threatened                                    7587); the December 5, 2002, proposed                 reinstate that portion of the December 5,
                                                                                                               rule to list the species with a special               2002, proposed rule regarding a
                                                       AGENCY:   Fish and Wildlife Service,                    rule under section 4(d) of the Act (16                proposed special rule under section 4(d)
                                                       Interior.                                               U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) (67 FR 72396); and               of the Act. The proposed special rule
                                                       ACTION: Proposed rule; withdrawal.                      the September 9, 2003, withdrawal of                  was designed to allow researchers to
                                                                                                               the proposed rule to list the species (68             complete field research and analyze
                                                       SUMMARY:    We, the U.S. Fish and                                                                             data for an ongoing study, and
                                                       Wildlife Service (Service), announce our                FR 53083).
                                                                                                                  The document we published on                       addressed agricultural activities only
                                                       decision to withdraw the proposed                                                                             through December 31, 2004. To ensure
                                                                                                               September 9, 2003 (68 FR 53083),
                                                       listing of the mountain plover                                                                                that our review of the species’ status
                                                                                                               withdrew the entire proposed rule we
                                                       (Charadrius montanus) as a threatened                                                                         was complete and based on the best
                                                                                                               published on December 5, 2002 (67 FR
                                                       species under the authority of the                                                                            available scientific and commercial
                                                                                                               72396), including our proposal to list
                                                       Endangered Species Act of 1973, as                                                                            information, we requested comments on
                                                                                                               the mountain plover as a threatened
                                                       amended (Act). After a thorough review                                                                        the proposal to list the mountain plover
                                                                                                               species and our proposed special 4(d)
                                                       of all available scientific and                                                                               as a threatened species, including all
                                                                                                               rule. The September 9, 2003, document
                                                       commercial information, we have                                                                               information related to the species’ status
                                                                                                               also addressed comments we received
                                                       determined that the species is not                                                                            and the proposed listing. We invited
                                                                                                               on both the 1999 and 2002 proposals to
                                                       endangered or threatened throughout all                                                                       public comments on the proposed
                                                                                                               list the mountain plover and
                                                       or a significant portion of its range. We                                                                     listing, new information relevant to our
                                                                                                               summarized threat factors affecting the
                                                       make this determination because threats                                                                       consideration of the status of the
                                                                                                               species. The withdrawal of the proposed
                                                       to the species as identified in the                                                                           mountain plover, and comments and
                                                                                                               rule was based on our conclusion that
                                                       proposed rule are not as significant as                                                                       information regarding threats to the
                                                                                                               the threats to the mountain plover
                                                       earlier believed and currently available                                                                      species and its habitat.
                                                                                                               identified in the proposed rule were not
                                                       data do not indicate that the threats to
                                                                                                               as significant as previously believed and             Species Information
                                                       the species and its habitat, as analyzed
                                                                                                               that currently available data did not
                                                       under the five listing factors described                                                                         Our February 16, 1999, and December
                                                                                                               indicate that threats to the species and
                                                       in section 4(a)(1) of the Act, are likely                                                                     5, 2002, proposed rules (64 FR 7587 and
                                                                                                               its habitat, as analyzed under the five
                                                       to endanger the species in the                                                                                67 FR 72396, respectively), and our
                                                                                                               listing factors described in section
                                                       foreseeable future throughout all or a                                                                        September 9, 2003, withdrawal of our
                                                                                                               4(a)(1) of the Act, were likely to
                                                       significant portion of its range.                                                                             2002 proposal to list the mountain
                                                                                                               endanger the species in the foreseeable
                                                       DATES: The December 5, 2002 (67 FR                      future throughout all or a significant                plover (68 FR 53083) described the
                                                       72396), proposal to list the mountain                   portion of its range.                                 species’ life history, ecology, and habitat
                                                       plover as a threatened species is                          On November 16, 2006, Forest                       use. For additional background on the
                                                       withdrawn as of May 12, 2011.                           Guardians (now WildEarth Guardians)                   natural history of the mountain plover,
                                                       ADDRESSES: This finding is available for                and the Biological Conservation                       see the account of the species in The
                                                       viewing on the Internet at http://                      Alliance filed a complaint in the District            Birds of North America (Knopf and
                                                       www.regulations.gov (see Docket No.                     Court for the Southern District of                    Wunder 2006).
                                                       FWS–R6–ES–2010–0038) and http://                        California challenging the September 9,                  While the majority of relevant
                                                       www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/                   2003, withdrawal of the proposal to list              information directly pertaining to the
                                                       birds/mountainplover and also by                        the mountain plover (68 FR 53083). We                 mountain plover that has become
                                                       appointment, during normal business                     entered into a settlement agreement                   available since our December 5, 2002,
                                                       hours, at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife                    with the plaintiffs, which was filed by               proposal to list (67 FR 72396) and
                                                       Service, Colorado Ecological Services                   the court on August 28, 2009. As part                 September 9, 2003, withdrawal of that
                                                       Office, 134 Union Boulevard, Suite 670,                 of the settlement agreement, we agreed                proposal (68 FR 53083) has resulted
                                                       Lakewood, CO 80225; telephone 303–                      to reconsider our decision to withdraw                from local or Statewide studies on the
                                                       236–4773; facsimile 303–236–4005.                       the proposed listing of the mountain                  mountain plover’s breeding range; two
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                                                       Please submit any new information,                      plover and to submit to the Federal                   recent documents provide extensive
                                                       materials, comments or questions                        Register by July 31, 2010, a document                 review of current knowledge regarding
                                                       concerning this finding to the Colorado                 reopening the December 5, 2002,                       the mountain plover:
                                                       Ecological Services Field Office at P.O.                proposal to list the mountain plover (67                 (1) Mountain Plover (Charadrius
                                                       Box 25486, DFC (MS 65412), Denver,                      FR 72396) that would also request                     montanus) in Birds of North America
                                                       Colorado 80225.                                         public comments. We agreed to vacate                  (Knopf and Wunder 2006); and
                                                       FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:                        our 2003 withdrawal of the proposed                      (2) Conservation Plan for the
                                                       Susan Linner, Field Supervisor, U.S.                    rule upon publication of the Federal                  Mountain Plover (Charadrius
                                                       Fish and Wildlife Service, Colorado                     Register notice reopening public                      montanus), Version 1.0 (Andres and
                                                       Ecological Services Field Office (see                   comment on the December 5, 2002,                      Stone 2009).


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                                                                                Federal Register / Vol. 76, No. 92 / Thursday, May 12, 2011 / Proposed Rules                                          27757

                                                         Numerous other recent documents are                   grounds in northeastern Colorado in late              normally tends each nest and brood.
                                                       summarized in our June 29, 2010,                        March (Graul 1975, p. 6). Arrival is                  The minimum habitat requirement for
                                                       notification reinstating our December 5,                earlier farther south and later in                    mountain plover broods in Montana was
                                                       2002, proposed rule to list the mountain                Montana and at higher elevations in                   70 acres (ac) (28 hectares (ha)) (Knopf
                                                       plover as threatened under the Act (75                  South Park, Colorado (Knopf and                       and Rupert 1996, p. 33), and brood
                                                       FR 37353). These include over twenty                    Wunder 2006). Mountain plover are                     home ranges averaged 143 ac (57 ha) on
                                                       peer-reviewed journal articles, and                     territorial during the breeding season,               rangeland in Colorado (Knopf and
                                                       many other reports and summaries                        with males defending territories shortly              Rupert 1996, p. 31). Brood home ranges
                                                       relevant to the status of the mountain                  after arrival (Knopf and Wunder 2006).                appeared similar for three Colorado
                                                       plover that have become available since                 Mountain plover are generally                         landscapes (Dreitz and Knopf 2007, p.
                                                       2002.                                                   monogamous; they form pairs and begin                 129). Parents stay with chicks until they
                                                         The following sections highlight and                  courtship on arrival at their breeding                fledge, which occurs at about 33 to 34
                                                       update information on the mountain                      grounds. Nests consist of a simple                    days (Graul 1975, p. 25). Mountain
                                                       plover with emphasis on information                     ground scrape. Egg laying in                          plover breed their first spring and every
                                                       developed since 2002.                                   northeastern Colorado begins in late                  year thereafter (Knopf and Wunder
                                                       Taxonomy and Species Description                        April and extends through mid-June                    2006).
                                                                                                               (Graul 1975, p. 7). Graul (1973, p. 84)
                                                         The mountain plover (Charadius                        described mountain plover nesting as a                Habitat and Range
                                                       montanus) is a small bird in the order                  ‘‘rapid multi-clutch system.’’ The female
                                                       Charadriiformes, family Charadriidae.                                                                            Although often thought of as a
                                                                                                               normally produces two clutches,
                                                       No subspecies are recognized. It is a                                                                         grassland species, the mountain plover
                                                                                                               typically three eggs each, at different
                                                       migratory, terrestrial shorebird                                                                              may best be described as a species of
                                                                                                               nest sites; the male incubates the first
                                                       averaging 8 inches (21 centimeters) in                                                                        disturbed prairie or semi-desert habitat
                                                                                                               nest site while the female incubates the
                                                       body length. Mountain plover are light                                                                        (Knopf and Miller 1994, p. 505). They
                                                                                                               second. If the first nest or brood is lost
                                                       brown above and white below, but lack                                                                         are found on open, flat lands including
                                                                                                               early in the breeding season, the adult
                                                       the contrasting dark breast band                                                                              xeric (extremely dry) shrublands,
                                                                                                               may renest, so each pair can potentially
                                                       characteristic of several other plovers                                                                       shortgrass prairie, barren agricultural
                                                                                                               make four attempts per year to raise a
                                                       such as the more common killdeer (C.                                                                          fields, and other sparsely vegetated
                                                                                                               brood. This breeding system may
                                                       vociferus). Sexes are similar in                                                                              areas. On grasslands, they often inhabit
                                                                                                               increase breeding success given
                                                       appearance.                                                                                                   areas with a history of disturbance by
                                                                                                               predation that occurs on mountain
                                                       Feeding Habits                                          plover nests or broods. This breeding                 burrowing rodents such as prairie dogs
                                                                                                               system, rare among bird species, may                  (Cynomys spp.), native herbivores, or
                                                         Mountain plover feed on ground-                                                                             domestic livestock.
                                                       dwelling invertebrates and flying                       result in greater reproductive potential
                                                       invertebrates found on the ground,                      than in other shorebirds (Knopf and                      Mountain plover breed from Canada
                                                       primarily beetles, crickets, and ants.                  Wunder 2006). It may have developed                   (extreme southern Alberta and
                                                       They forage with a series of short runs                 in response to food fluctuations that                 Saskatchewan) to northern Mexico
                                                       and stops, feeding opportunistically as                 typically occur in the shortgrass prairie,            (Figure 1) with greatest apparent
                                                       they encounter prey (Knopf and Wunder                   where insect populations likely                       numbers in Colorado and Wyoming, and
                                                       2006, unpaginated).                                     fluctuate in response to annual,                      substantial numbers in Montana, New
                                                                                                               seasonal, and local fluctuations in                   Mexico, and Nebraska. In Mexico,
                                                       Breeding                                                precipitation (Graul 1973, p. 85).                    breeding populations are suspected in
                                                         Mountain plover return north to their                    Average incubation period is 29 days               the States of Chihuahua, Cohuila, and
                                                       breeding sites in the western Great                     (Graul 1975, p. 19). Chicks leave the                 Nuevo Leon (Andres and Stone 2009,
                                                       Plains and Rocky Mountain States in                     nest within hours of hatching and                     p. 9).
                                                       spring. They arrive at their breeding                   obtain their own food. Only one adult                 BILLING CODE 4310–55–P
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                                                       27758                    Federal Register / Vol. 76, No. 92 / Thursday, May 12, 2011 / Proposed Rules




                                                       BILLING CODE 4310–55–C                                  Breeding Habitat                                      support reduced height and density of
                                                         Mountain plover winter in similar                                                                           vegetation, creating favorable breeding
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                                                       habitat, many in California, but also in                  Common elements of mountain plover                  habitat for mountain plover. While the
                                                       southern portions of Arizona, Nevada,                   breeding habitat include short                        mountain plover is categorized as a
                                                       New Mexico, Texas, and in northern                      vegetation, bare ground, and flat                     shorebird, it is seldom found near
                                                       Mexico. While California’s Sacramento,                  topography. The mountain plover                       margins of freshwater or marine
                                                       San Joaquin, and Imperial Valleys                       historically nested in a region impacted              estuaries. Dinsmore (2003, pp. 14–17)
                                                       support the greatest documented                         by a variety of herbivores, including                 described four types of breeding habitat:
                                                       concentrations of wintering mountain                    prairie dogs, bison (Bison bison), and                Short- and mixed-grass prairie, prairie
                                                       plover, relatively little is known about                pronghorn antelope (Antilocapra                       dog colonies, agricultural lands, and
                                                       wintering numbers or distribution in                    americana), because these heavily                     semi-desert.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 EP12MY11.000</GPH>




                                                       other areas.                                            grazed or similarly disturbed landscapes


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                                                                                Federal Register / Vol. 76, No. 92 / Thursday, May 12, 2011 / Proposed Rules                                           27759

                                                          On the plains, the mountain plover is                tracked annual changes in the area                    on bare agricultural fields (90 percent of
                                                       generally considered an associate of the                occupied by black-tailed prairie dogs                 observations), with few (5 percent of
                                                       shortgrass prairie, dominated by blue                   (Dinsmore et al. 2003, p. 1024). Both                 observations) associated with prairie
                                                       grama (Bouteloua gracilis) and buffalo                  prairie dog and mountain plover                       dog towns (McConnell et al. 2009, pp.
                                                       grass (Buchloe dactyloides) (Knopf and                  numbers declined sharply in the mid-                  31–32).
                                                       Miller 1994, p. 504). In the Pawnee                     1990s in response to an outbreak of                      It remains unknown whether Texas or
                                                       National Grasslands (PNG) in northern                   sylvatic plague, which caused deaths of               Mexico crop fields support mountain
                                                       Weld County, Colorado, an area that                     prairie dogs and resultant loss of                    plover breeding (Andres and Stone
                                                       formerly supported the greatest known                   favored mountain plover habitat.                      2009, p. 24). Holliday (2010) reported
                                                       concentration of breeding mountain                      Mountain plover later increased in                    that breeding season sightings of
                                                       plover, breeding habitat was described                  concert with subsequent increases in                  mountain plover from the Texas
                                                       as restricted to flat, heavily grazed areas             prairie dogs (Dinsmore et al. 2005, pp.               Panhandle tended to be in cultivated
                                                       (Graul 1973, p. 69). Native prairie                     1550–1552).                                           fields as in adjacent Oklahoma,
                                                       grasslands formerly presented a diverse                    In the Colorado shortgrass prairie                 although previously reported nesting in
                                                       ecosystem, shaped by low precipitation,                 ecosystem, mountain plover densities                  West Texas was in grazed, short-grass
                                                       grazing, and fire. Today, prairie                       observed on black-tailed prairie dog                  habitat.
                                                       landscapes often consist of grassland                   colonies were higher than those on                       Knopf and Wunder (2006) described
                                                       fragments where current cattle grazing                  dryland agriculture and much higher                   mountain plover as breeding ‘‘more
                                                       practices tend to create relatively                     than those on grasslands without prairie              predictably’’ at semi-desert locations
                                                       uniform grass coverage and height,                      dogs (Dreitz et al. 2006, p. 702; Tipton              west of the shortgrass prairie in
                                                       which is not beneficial to mountain                     et al. 2009, p. 496). Mountain plover                 Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana.
                                                       plover (Knopf 2008, pp. 55–57). Typical                 were significantly more abundant on                   Beauvais and Smith (2003, entire)
                                                       range management practices such as                      black-tailed prairie dog colonies than on             developed a model of mountain plover
                                                       rotational grazing, limited grazing, and                other rangeland within a bison pasture                breeding habitat in shrub-steppe habitat
                                                       improving soil moisture are designed to                 in northeastern New Mexico (Groguen                   of western Wyoming. They related
                                                       promote taller grasses that limit                       2010, pers. comm.). Prairie dog colonies              favored patches of mountain plover
                                                       mountain plover use. Within these                       occupied by mountain plover were, on                  breeding habitat to poor soils, low
                                                       landscapes, areas of cattle concentration               average, larger in size than colonies                 precipitation, and wind scour, features
                                                       (loafing areas and near water),                         with no mountain plover. In Utah,                     they predicted would persist over time,
                                                       disturbance caused by prairie dogs, and                 mountain plover nested in proximity to                especially on public lands. In such
                                                       plowed or fallow (unseeded for one or                   white-tailed prairie dog (C. leucurus)                habitats, mountain plover are less
                                                                                                               colonies (Manning and White 2001, p.                  dependent on prairie dog colonies to
                                                       more seasons) agricultural fields create
                                                                                                               226). In northeastern Mexico, breeding                create breeding habitat. A Wyoming
                                                       conditions favorable for mountain
                                                                                                               mountain plover were associated with                  study located 55 mountain plover nests
                                                       plover nesting (Knopf and Wunder
                                                                                                               Mexican prairie dog (C. mexicanus)                    in grassland or desert scrub habitat in
                                                       2006). Mountain plover are also
                                                                                                               colonies (Gonzales-Rojas et al. 2006, p.              six counties (Plumb et al. 2005a, p. 225).
                                                       attracted to burned areas in their
                                                                                                               82).                                                  All nest sites were grazed by ungulates
                                                       breeding grounds, and burning may be
                                                                                                                  Mountain plover have been found to                 with prairie dogs present at only 36
                                                       valuable as a habitat management tool
                                                                                                               regularly use fallow or plowed                        percent of nest sites, mostly in grassland
                                                       (Knopf 2008, pp. 25–26, 57–58, 61;
                                                                                                               agricultural fields for nesting (Shackford            (Plumb et al. 2005a, pp. 226–227). In
                                                       Andres and Stone 2009, p. 34).
                                                                                                               et al. 1999, entire; Dreitz and Knopf                 Montana, Childers and Dinsmore (2008,
                                                          Prairie dog colonies create important                2007, pp. 684–685; Bly et al. 2008, p.                p. 107) noted that sparsely vegetated,
                                                       habitat for mountain plover, and are                    127; McConnell et al. 2009, pp. 30–33).               hardpan clay flats provided nesting
                                                       especially important to maintaining                     Where mountain plover have an                         habitat.
                                                       mountain plover populations in the                      opportunity to choose between                            In summary, mountain plover require
                                                       northern portions of their range                        agriculture and prairie, they may use                 short vegetation with some bare ground
                                                       (Dinsmore et al. 2003, pp. 1024–1025;                   both equally (Knopf and Rupert 1999, p.               on their breeding sites. In grasslands,
                                                       Dinsmore et al. 2005, p. 1552;                          84). Shackford et al. (1999, entire) found            this usually requires disturbance, such
                                                       Augustine et al. 2008, unpaginated;                     mountain plover nesting on cultivated                 as that provided by prairie dogs, cattle
                                                       Childers and Dinsmore 2008, p. 705;                     fields in Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas,                 grazing, fire, or farming. In semi-desert
                                                       Tipton et al. 2009, pp. 496–497; Dreitz                 and Wyoming. Fifty percent of all nests               environments, breeding habitat may
                                                       2009, pp. 875–877). Active prairie dog                  they encountered during their research                persist without these forms of
                                                       colonies provide exposed soils around                   were on fallow or bare fields. While                  disturbance.
                                                       burrows and, because prairie dogs keep                  many nests were destroyed by farm
                                                       surrounding vegetation clipped, an area                 machinery, they concluded that                        Migration and Wintering Habitat
                                                       of low-growing, perennial vegetation                    mountain plover were using cultivated                    Southbound migration of mountain
                                                       that is suitable as mountain plover                     fields successfully for nesting,                      plover is prolonged, with post-breeding
                                                       breeding and brood-rearing habitat. In                  especially in southern portions of the                flocks numbering in the hundreds
                                                       addition, prairie dogs give alarm calls in              species’ range (Shackford et al. 1999, p.             forming in late June with some
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                                                       response to the approach of predators                   117).                                                 remaining on breeding areas until
                                                       and may alert mountain plover to                           Recent studies addressed the                       September or October (Bly et al. 2008,
                                                       predator presence. The density of                       mountain plover’s nesting ecology, and                p. 123; Andres and Stone 2009, p. 10).
                                                       mountain plover was found to be much                    attempted to identify the extent of                   Mountain plover migrate southward
                                                       greater on black-tailed prairie dog (C.                 breeding distribution and population                  across the southern Great Plains in late
                                                       ludovicianus) colonies than on other                    size in Nebraska (Bly et al. 2008). They              summer and early fall to Texas, New
                                                       habitats in Montana (Childers and                       encountered 272 nests on agricultural                 Mexico, and Mexico, with many then
                                                       Dinsmore 2008, pp. 705–706). In north-                  fields of cultivated wheat and millet                 traveling west to California (Knopf and
                                                       central Montana, the size of the adult                  (Bly et al. 2008, p.123). Studies in                  Wunder 2006). During spring migration,
                                                       mountain plover population closely                      Oklahoma encountered mountain plover                  mountain plover move from their


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                                                       27760                    Federal Register / Vol. 76, No. 92 / Thursday, May 12, 2011 / Proposed Rules

                                                       wintering sites in early March and                      availability, furrow depth, size of dirt              mixing of mountain plover populations
                                                       proceed quickly to breeding sites in                    clods, and the vegetation on contiguous               in winter and that birds may use
                                                       eastern Colorado by mid-March and in                    land parcels were all believed to                     alternate wintering sites in different
                                                       Montana by mid-April (Knopf and                         influence the suitability of agricultural             years (Wunder 2007, p. 118). While
                                                       Wunder 2006). Mountain plover are                       fields to mountain plover.                            mountain plover appear annually at
                                                       generally thought to use habitats similar                  In California, annual climatic                     some favored wintering sites, site
                                                       to those on the breeding and wintering                  variability, especially abundant rainfall,            fidelity by individual birds appears low.
                                                       grounds during migration. During                        influences field conditions and can                   Mountain plover can move long
                                                       migration, they have also been reported                 reduce mountain plover use of                         distances and use various sites even
                                                       using alkaline or mud soils, and sod                    traditionally occupied wintering sites.               within a given winter.
                                                       farms (Knopf and Wunder 2006). Few                      For example, mountain plover became
                                                                                                               virtually absent from cultivated fields in            Survival, Lifespan, and Site Fidelity
                                                       studies have been conducted on
                                                       stopover habitat, and little is known                   the Imperial Valley during the rainy                     A long-term study on mountain
                                                       about stopover ecology or food                          winter of 2004–2005 (Knopf and                        plover breeding grounds in Phillips
                                                       resources exploited (Andres and Stone                   Wunder 2006). Movement patterns of                    County, Montana, provides much of
                                                       2009, pp. 14, 21, 37).                                  wintering mountain plover in California               what is known regarding population
                                                          In winter, mountain plover use                       are shown to be highly variable, with                 dynamics of the species. The annual
                                                       habitats similar to those on their                      birds on several occasions moving more                survival rate of adult mountain plover of
                                                       breeding grounds. Mountain plover are                   than 34 miles (mi) (55 kilometers (km))               both sexes in Phillips County ranged
                                                       found wintering in California mostly on                 in a week (Knopf and Wunder 2006).                    from 0.74 to 0.96 yearly (Dinsmore
                                                       fallow and cultivated agricultural fields,                 In Arizona, mountain plover winter                 2008, p. 50). The annual survival rate
                                                       but also on grasslands and grazed                       on sod farms and grazed pastures, and                 for juvenile mountain plover (survival
                                                       pastures (Hunting et al. 2001, p. 39;                   are observed using the same sites yearly.             to 1 year of age) was 0.06 at hatching,
                                                       Knopf and Wunder 2006).                                 Their use of farm fields and other                    but for those chicks that reached
                                                          Throughout the Central Valley of                     potential habitats is generally unknown,              fledging age was 0.62 (Dinsmore 2008,
                                                       California, the field types used by                     and these areas are rarely surveyed                   p. 51). Survival estimates did not
                                                       mountain plover vary seasonally, from                   (Robertson 2010, p. 1). A few mountain                account for permanent emigration (birds
                                                       uncultivated lands in October and                       plover have wintered in recent years on               surviving but returning in subsequent
                                                       November, shifting toward cultivated                    mowed grasses at Gila Bend Air Force                  years to sites outside of the study area),
                                                       lands over the winter (Hunting and                      Auxiliary Field (Mendelsohn 2010).                    so the actual annual survival may have
                                                       Edson 2008, pp. 183–184). Mountain                         In Texas, winter reports of mountain               been higher.
                                                       plover wintering in the San Joaquin                     plover were correlated with barren                       Previous estimates of survival rates
                                                       Valley of California used tilled fields,                fields and grazed pastures (Holliday                  and of estimated mean lifespan of 1.92
                                                       grazed pastures, alkali flats, and burned               2010). In Williamson and Bell Counties,               years (Dinsmore et al. 2003, pp. 1020–
                                                       fields, but they preferred native valley                Texas, mountain plover winter only on                 1021) supported our December 5, 2002,
                                                       sink scrub (low vegetation dominated by                 large, flat, plowed fields, especially                conclusion that the mountain plover
                                                       alkali-tolerant shrubs) and nonnative                   those with some corn or sorghum                       had a shorter lifespan than other plovers
                                                       grazed or burned grasslands over any of                 stubble (Fennel 2002, p. 29). In the                  (Charadriidae) (67 FR 72397) and that
                                                       the more common cultivated land types                   Texas coastal bend area (Nueces and                   this might impact its opportunity to
                                                       (Knopf and Rupert 1995, pp. 747–749).                   San Patricio Counties), wintering plover              reproduce. These conclusions
                                                       Winter habitat availability in                          are largely limited to plowed fields                  underestimated adult mountain plover
                                                       California’s Carrizo Plain seems linked                 rather than grasslands or fallow fields,              survival. The longer study of the same
                                                       to a combination of livestock grazing                   with mountain plover often following                  population over years with varying
                                                       and precipitation, with heavy grazing                   tractors while feeding (Cobb 2009, pers.              weather and habitat conditions
                                                       and dry conditions creating conditions                  comm.). Wintering mountain plover in                  modified the earlier conclusions
                                                       most favorable to the mountain plover.                  Texas have also been reported using                   regarding the mountain plover’s
                                                       Giant kangaroo rat (Dipodomys ingens)                   burned fields (Knopf and Wunder 2006),                longevity. Mountain plover of 5 to 7
                                                       precincts (colonies) are also used,                     sod farms (Cobb 2011, pers. comm.),                   years of age were frequently
                                                       especially when wet years produce tall                  coastal prairies, and alkaline flats                  encountered, and a longevity record
                                                       vegetation elsewhere (Sharum 2010,                      (Andres and Stone 2009, p. 12).                       over 10 years was established (Dinsmore
                                                       pers. comm.).                                              In Mexico, mountain plover are found               2008, p. 52). Based on this additional
                                                          Mountain plover exclusively used                     wintering in grassland areas with high                research, survival rates for mountain
                                                       cultivated sites in the Imperial Valley of              densities of prairie dogs (both black-                plover appear comparable to those
                                                       California (Wunder and Knopf 2003, pp.                  tailed and Mexican) and on heavily                    reported for other plovers, and the
                                                       74–75). While cultivated lands are                      grazed pastures (Andres and Stone                     mountain plover is now considered a
                                                       abundant throughout the Imperial                        2009, p. 12; Macias-Duarte and Panjabi                relatively long-lived species (Dinsmore
                                                       Valley, not all provide suitable feeding                2010, pp. 5, 7). Consistent with other                et al. 2010, unpaginated). We no longer
                                                       habitat. Mountain plover were found to                  areas, open habitat with low grass cover              believe that the mountain plover’s
                                                       favor irrigated farmland, including                     and sparse or no shrub cover are                      lifespan is a liability that could
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                                                       burned bermudagrass (Cynodan                            elements common to areas used by                      contribute to the negative impact of
                                                       dactylon); harvested, grazed, or                        mountain plover in Mexico. However,                   natural or manmade events affecting the
                                                       sprouting alfalfa (Medicago spp.) fields;               significant mountain plover use of crop               species.
                                                       and newly cultivated fields (Wunder                     fields in Mexico has not been reported                   Mountain plover have a high nest
                                                       and Knopf 2003, pp. 75–76; AMEC                         (Macias-Duarte and Punjabi 2010, p. 7).               survival rate compared to other ground-
                                                       Earth and Environment 2003, p. 12).                        Wunder (2007) studied geographic                   nesting species (Dinsmore et al. 2010),
                                                       Fallow fields were used mostly for                      population structure in mountain plover               but nest success in mountain plover has
                                                       roosting, and melon and vegetable fields                through color-banding and stable                      varied greatly from study to study.
                                                       were rarely or never used (Wunder and                   isotope concentrations in feathers. He                Successful hatching (of at least one egg)
                                                       Knopf 2003, pp. 75–76). Insect                          concluded that there is widespread                    ranged from 26 percent (Knopf and


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                                                       Rupert 1996, pp. 29–30) to 65 percent                   of adults with broods for the 30 days                    The previous year’s nesting success
                                                       (Graul 1975, p. 18). Dinsmore et al.                    after hatching. A study of overwintering              influences adult dispersal; unsuccessful
                                                       (2002, pp. 3485–3486) found differences                 mountain plover in California showed                  adults disperse farther than successfully
                                                       in nest success between nests incubated                 nearly 95 percent survival of wintering               breeding adults (Skrade and Dinsmore
                                                       by males (49 percent) and females (33                   birds from November 1 to March 15                     2010, p. 671). While adults rarely move
                                                       percent). Dreitz and Knopf (2007, p.                    (Knopf and Rupert 1995, p. 746). Since                far from the area where they nested the
                                                       684) found nest success of 37 percent                   survival of adults during stationary                  previous year, evidence of potential for
                                                       with no appreciable difference between                  periods is believed to be relatively high,            year-to-year dispersal in adults is
                                                       nests on agricultural fields and on                     and there is no estimate for adult                    exemplified by an adult mountain
                                                       native rangeland.                                       survival during spring and fall                       plover banded on a breeding area in
                                                          There have been relatively few studies               migration, there is potential that losses             Colorado in 2009, that was found
                                                       of chick survival (hatching to fledging)                of adults during migration may be                     nesting approximately 25 mi (40 km)
                                                       and results vary greatly. Dreitz (2009, p.              significant and efforts to increase adult             away in Nebraska in 2010 (Bly 2010b,
                                                       6) estimated that 30-day survival of                    survival might be focused on migration                pers. comm.).
                                                       chicks of mountain plover from prairie                  periods (Dinsmore et al. 2003, p. 1023;                  Results from genetic studies suggest
                                                       dog colony nesting habitat was 75                       Andres and Stone 2009, p. 1; Dinsmore                 that gene flow among breeding areas is
                                                       percent, and that 30-day survival on                    et al. 2010). However, there is no                    sufficient to offset genetic effects of
                                                       other grasslands and on agricultural                    scientific information available to                   small populations and reported adult
                                                       fields was less than 25 percent.                        indicate that high mortality during                   fidelity to breeding areas (Oyler-
                                                       Following similar methodology,                          migration is occurring.                               McCance et al. 2008, pp. 496–497).
                                                       research on crop fields in Nebraska                        A life stage-specific model based on
                                                                                                                                                                     Population Size and Trends
                                                       found 95 percent survival of chicks                     data from three breeding areas, two in
                                                       accompanying 31 adult mountain plover                   Colorado and one in Montana, found                      Mountain plover are difficult to detect
                                                       that were radio-tracked for the 36 days                 that mean adult survival was the                      because they are cryptically colored and
                                                       after eggs hatched (Blakesley and                       parameter that most influenced modeled                in general are widely distributed at low
                                                       Jorgensen 2010). Radio contact was lost                 population growth (Dinsmore et al.                    densities (Knopf and Wunder 2006).
                                                       with other adults (due to birds leaving                 2010). The importance of adult survival               Based on historical observations of
                                                       the area or transmitter failure), but even              was characterized as typical of long-                 mountain plover and extensive habitat
                                                       if assuming all chicks associated with                  lived bird species, for which repeated                changes, there is general agreement that
                                                       these adults perished, chick survival                   reproductive attempts throughout life                 the mountain plover is currently greatly
                                                       was at least 58 percent (Blakesley and                  are less important to population growth,              reduced in numbers and range
                                                       Jorgensen 2010). Dreitz et al. (2010)                   as evidenced by low chick survival,                   compared to their numbers and range
                                                       studied post-hatching chick survival                    than adult survival (Dinsmore et al.                  prior to European settlement (Graul and
                                                       (hatching to fledging) via radio-tracking               2010). Nest survival was comparable to,               Webster 1976, p. 265; Knopf and
                                                       in Colorado and Montana. The study                      or higher than, other ground-nesting                  Wunder 2006). The mountain plover’s
                                                       targeted factors affecting survival,                    shorebirds and was less important to                  historical breeding range is believed to
                                                       including landscape characteristics,                    population growth than survival of                    have differed from that currently
                                                       with an objective of informing                          chicks, juveniles, and adults. Large                  occupied primarily in its eastern extent,
                                                       conservation and management efforts.                    variation in estimates of chick survival              which may have encompassed the
                                                       Field studies in 2010 were hampered by                  led to the conclusion that to improve                 western thirds of North Dakota, South
                                                       unusually cold and wet weather. Of 93                   population viability on breeding areas,               Dakota, and Nebraska, and more of
                                                       chicks radio-tracked over three habitat                 management to increase chick survival                 western Kansas and the Texas
                                                       types in Colorado, only 9 were                          should be a priority. The authors                     Panhandle than is currently occupied
                                                       confirmed to survive to 30 days (Dreitz                 believed such management should be                    (Graul and Webster 1976, p. 265, Knopf
                                                       et al. 2010, p. 3). Thirty-eight confirmed              emphasized over past efforts to decrease              and Wunder 2008).
                                                       mortalities included 13 from avian                      nest losses and increase hatching                       Population estimates for the species,
                                                       predators, 8 from mammalian predators,                  success (Dinsmore et al. 2010).                       both historical and recent, appear
                                                       and 17 from unknown predation,                          However, the authors conceded that                    imprecise. Graul and Webster (1976, p.
                                                       weather, and undetermined factors.                      management to improve chick survival                  266) estimated that mountain plover
                                                       Contact with other chicks was lost, and                 is more difficult than improving                      populations in Montana, Wyoming,
                                                       their fates were unknown. Results did                   hatching success and might require                    eastern Colorado, and New Mexico then
                                                       not reflect higher chick survival on                    large-scale habitat improvement.                      totaled 214,200 to 319,220 birds, with
                                                       prairie dog towns than on other                            Mountain plover were thought to have               20,820 in the population stronghold of
                                                       grasslands or agricultural fields. In                   high site fidelity to nesting locations,              Weld County, Colorado. However,
                                                       Montana, only 1 of 39 chicks monitored                  returning to same area where they                     Knopf and Wunder (2008) cited Graul
                                                       on black-tailed prairie dog colonies was                hatched each year (Graul 1973, p. 71).                (pers. comm.) as saying that the
                                                       confirmed to survive to 30 days.                        Skrade and Dinsmore (2010, p. 672)                    estimates may have been off (i.e., high)
                                                       Nineteen mortalities were documented,                   quantified mountain plover dispersal on               by an order of magnitude (a factor of
                                                       with 13 from heavy rains (Dreitz et al.                 breeding sites in Montana and reported                10).
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                                                       2010, p. 4). Sources of mortality differed              juvenile (natal) dispersal (hatching year               Knopf (1996, p. 12) estimated the total
                                                       among habitats in Colorado, with avian                  to return at age 1) averaged 8.1 mi (13.0             population of mountain plover to be
                                                       predation higher at black-tailed prairie                km) for males and 6.3 mi (10.2 km) for                about 8,000 to 10,000, based on a 1994
                                                       dog towns (Dreitz et al. 2010, p. 6).                   females. Only 4 of 38 banded chicks                   wintering survey in California and on
                                                       However, results of the study are                       returning as adults arrived back at the               assumptions regarding proportion of the
                                                       considered preliminary, and future                      same black-tailed prairie dog colony                  wintering population observed (i.e., that
                                                       work is planned.                                        where they were banded. Knopf and                     only half of birds wintering in California
                                                          Few studies have estimated seasonal                  Wunder (2006) noted a chick that had                  had been counted and that 1,000 to
                                                       adult survival rates. Dreitz (2010,                     dispersed over 30 mi (50 km) in                       3,000 birds wintered in Texas and other
                                                       unpaginated) found 89 percent survival                  Colorado.                                             areas). We cited this estimate in our


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                                                       December 5, 2002, proposed rule (67 FR                  on our review of recent data, including               approximately two-thirds over the
                                                       72396). In our September 9, 2003,                       those from Nebraska (Van der Berg et al.              period). However, Knopf and Wunder
                                                       withdrawal of our proposed listing (68                  2010) and New Mexico (see Breeding                    (2004, p. 1) suggested that the timing of
                                                       FR 53083), we again cited the Knopf                     Range below), we estimate that the                    surveys (which occur mostly in June
                                                       estimate above and, using similar                       current rangewide mountain plover                     when mountain plover are less
                                                       assumptions and newer California                        breeding population exceeds 20,000                    conspicuous) and the low densities at
                                                       winter survey data (1998–2002),                         birds. This was supported by Knopf                    which mountain plover occur prevent
                                                       provided a rangewide estimate of 5,000                  (2009, pers. comm.). We have no                       reliable trend estimates.
                                                       to 11,000 mountain plover. More recent                  information to indicate that this
                                                                                                                                                                        Based on recent BBS data analysis
                                                       studies, which estimated populations                    estimate reflects an actual increase in
                                                                                                                                                                     (Sauer 2010a), the mountain plover has
                                                       present on specific portions of the                     rangewide mountain plover numbers
                                                                                                                                                                     declined rangewide at an estimated rate
                                                       breeding range, have resulted in a                      over previous, lower estimates. Instead,
                                                                                                                                                                     of 2.6 percent per year for the period
                                                       higher rangewide estimate of the                        it likely reflects the limitations of those
                                                       mountain plover breeding population.                    earlier rangewide estimates (based on                 from 1966 to 2009 (95 percent
                                                       After investigating Wyoming                             mountain plover wintering in California               confidence interval (CI) ¥6.7 to +0.6).
                                                       populations, Plumb et al. (2005b, p. 15)                that largely discounted birds wintering               However, for the period from 1999
                                                       estimated a minimum of 3,393                            elsewhere) and more accurate recent                   through 2009, the estimated rate of
                                                       mountain plover in Wyoming (up from                     estimates of breeding populations.                    decline decreased to 1.1 percent per
                                                       previous estimates of 500 to 1,500) and                    Accurate trend information for                     year (95 percent CI ¥5.8, +9.6) (Figure
                                                       estimated a rangewide total of 11,000 to                mountain plover numbers is generally                  2). While neither estimate varies
                                                       14,000 mountain plover. Based on                        lacking. Interpreting trends from the two             statistically from a stable population (at
                                                       newer information, including an                         long standing surveys, the Breeding Bird              a 95 percent CI), the probability that the
                                                       upward revision of estimated mountain                   Survey (BBS) and the National Audubon                 estimated long-term trend (1966 through
                                                       plover numbers on the eastern Colorado                  Society’s Christmas Bird Count (CBC),                 2009) is less than or equal to zero is 95
                                                       plains (a conservative estimate of 8,577                suffer from a variety of problems,                    percent. The probability that the
                                                       birds), Tipton et al. (2009, p. 497)                    including the inherent difficulties                   estimated short-term trend (1999
                                                       provided a rangewide estimate of 15,000                 associated with using a survey of only                through 2009) is less than or equal to
                                                       to 20,000 mountain plover. Andres and                   a small portion of a total population to              zero is 68 percent. The estimated long-
                                                       Stone (2009, p. 8) reviewed available                   infer rangewide trends (Knopf and                     term decline is consistent with the
                                                       data and provided a coarse, minimum                     Wunder 2004, p. 1).                                   generally accepted conclusion that the
                                                       rangewide estimate of 18,000 breeding                      The BBS is a large-scale survey of                 mountain plover’s rangewide
                                                       mountain plover. Knopf and Dreitz (in                   North American birds that began in                    population is currently smaller than it
                                                       press) concluded that the continental                   1966, and is conducted during the                     was in the 1960s. The more recent (1999
                                                       breeding population is ‘‘certainly larger’’             breeding season by observers driving                  through 2009) estimated decline and
                                                       than the 17,500 birds estimated in                      along roads over established routes.                  associated CI lead us to conclude that
                                                       Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado,                         Knopf (1996, p. 12) cited BBS data from               most or all of the long-term decrease
                                                       citing small populations in contiguous                  1966 through 1993 as indicative of a                  took place before 1999, that any recent
                                                       States, a potentially significant                       steep decline in mountain plover                      declines are modest, and that the
                                                       population in New Mexico, and an                        numbers across their breeding range (3.7              mountain plover population may be
                                                       unknown population in Mexico. Based                     percent per year, a decline of                        near stable.
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                                                          Sauer (2011, pers. comm.) concluded                  acknowledge that this is the best                        The vast majority of mountain plover
                                                       that limited regional data from the BBS                 available information on trends for this              reported in CBCs come from California
                                                       (i.e., the low numbers of routes                        species and BBS survey results suggest                and, within California, from the South
                                                       reporting the species and low numbers                   a recent (1999 through 2009) moderated                Salton Sea count. Pandolfino (2009,
                                                       of mountain plover observed) resulted                   rate of decline (Figure 2). We provide                unpaginated) submitted his analysis of
                                                       in imprecise trend estimates within                     long-term and recent BBS trend                        CBC data for California and recognized
                                                       individual States and for the time                      estimates for three States where the                  the data’s limitations, but concluded
                                                       periods of interest. He also concluded                  sample size allowed for analysis (see                 that the data reflected long-term and
                                                       that BBS data only provide an imprecise                 Conservation Status and Local                         recent declines in mountain plover
                                                       summary of mountain plover                              Populations below), but with the same                 numbers wintering in California. The
                                                       population dynamics, and the limited                    reservations regarding precision.                     CBC data on mountain plover numbers
                                                       sample size likely reflects the                            The CBC is an annual count                         is highly variable from year to year. The
                                                       limitations of the roadside sampling                    performed around the end of December                  Salton Sea South CBC, the only CBC in
                                                       frame in sampling mountain plover                       in which volunteers observe birds in 15-              the Imperial Valley, is limited in scope
                                                       breeding populations.                                   mi (24-km) radius count circles. While                and does not include portions of the
                                                          We conclude that, while the BBS is                   CBCs can be used to infer species                     valley where most mountain plover
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                                                       the only long-term trend information                    population trends, spatial coverage is                have been seen (Wunder and Knopf
                                                       available for the mountain plover on its                limited (Knopf and Wunder 2004, p. 1)                 2003, p. 76). Inherent limitations in data
                                                       breeding range, it is an imprecise                      and established count circles commonly                collection methods (volunteers
                                                       indicator of mountain plover population                 coincide with populated areas where                   surveying small areas relative to total
                                                       trends. Given the wide confidence                       volunteers are available. The CBC data                winter range) and lack of sufficient
                                                       interval and the conclusion by Sauer                    estimated an annual decrease of 2.8                   detections of mountain plover in
                                                       (2011, pers. comm.) above, the data                     percent in mountain plover observed                   California count circles (Hunting et al.
                                                       provide limited support for any recent                  from 1966 through 2007, but reliability               2001, p. 40) render trend analysis
                                                       (1999 through 2009) trend in mountain                   was described as low (Butcher and                     uncertain. CBC data from other States
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  EP12MY11.001</GPH>




                                                       plover numbers. Even so, we                             Niven 2007, Appendix 1).                              and Mexico is even less representative


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                                                       of wintering populations and provides                   higher rangewide population estimates                 of a process of deteriorating habitat,
                                                       no insight into possible trends for the                 emerged. The U.S. Shorebird                           exacerbated by other factors such as wet
                                                       mountain plover.                                        Conservation Plan provided a rangewide                spring weather, increased predation,
                                                          We conclude, based on observations                   estimate of 9,000 mountain plover until               and the relocation of breeding mountain
                                                       across the mountain plover’s range and                  2006, when the estimate was revised                   plover to better habitats elsewhere
                                                       BBS trend data, that a historical decline               upward to 12,500 (Morrison et al. 2006,               (Knopf 2008, p. 61).
                                                       of the mountain plover has occurred                     p. 69).                                                  Despite the virtual loss of the PNG
                                                       since the 1960s. However, we agree with                    All States within the range of the                 population, over half of all mountain
                                                       the conclusion of Andres and Stone                      mountain plover have included the                     plover are thought to breed in Colorado
                                                       (2009, p. 3) that precise and accurate                  species in their Comprehensive Wildlife               (Andres and Stone 2009, p. 15). A recent
                                                       information on recent trends in                         Conservation Strategy or Wildlife                     study reported a conservative estimate
                                                       mountain plover numbers is lacking.                     Action Plans or both (State Plans)                    of 8,577 breeding mountain plover in
                                                       The recent (1999 through 2009) decline                  (Arizona Game and Fish Department                     eastern Colorado (95 percent CI 7,511 to
                                                       estimate from BBS data is modest (1.1                   2006; University of California 2005;                  35,130) (Tipton et al. 2009, p. 497). A
                                                       percent per year) and any difference                    Colorado Division of Wildlife 2006;                   separate, higher elevation population in
                                                       from a stable population estimate (slope                Wasson et al. 2005; Montana Fish,                     South Park, Park County, Colorado, was
                                                       of 0.0) is statistically insignificant.                 Wildlife and Parks 2005; Schneider et                 estimated at 2,310 adults (Wunder et al.
                                                       However, we acknowledge that the BBS                    al. 2005; New Mexico Department of                    2003, p. 661). Surveys through 2006
                                                       data is the best available information on               Game and Fish 2006; Oklahoma                          suggested a stable population in South
                                                       trends for the mountain plover and that                 Department of Wildlife Conservation                   Park, with any variation largely
                                                       BBS results suggest a recent (1999                      2005; Texas Parks and Wildlife 2005;                  attributable to wet years and dry years
                                                       through 2009) moderated rate of decline                 Wyoming Game and Fish Department                      affecting breeding conditions (Wunder
                                                       (Figure 2). The CBC wintering data are                  2005) as either ‘‘Species of concern’’ or             2010a). Small numbers of mountain
                                                       highly variable and come mostly from                    ‘‘Species of greatest conservation need.’’            plover also occur in Colorado’s San Luis
                                                       California, but also suggest a long-term                Each State categorizes species under                  Valley (Hicks-Anderson and
                                                       decline. No comprehensive trend data                    these designations based on available                 VerCauteren 2006, entire). Andres and
                                                       across the mountain plover’s wintering                  information about the status,                         Stone (2009, p. 8) provided population
                                                       range are available. The discussion                     distribution, and trend of the species in             estimates for the United States,
                                                       below provides information on                           their State. They are not regulatory                  Canadian provinces, and Mexican States
                                                       populations and trends within States,                   classifications, but rather are intended              based on their review of all available
                                                       Canada, and Mexico, where available.                    to guide resource managers in making                  information. Their estimate of 11,000
                                                                                                               proactive decisions regarding species                 mountain plover breeding in Colorado
                                                       Conservation Status and Local
                                                                                                               conservation and data collection                      appears appropriate given information
                                                       Populations
                                                                                                               priorities. The State Plans are not                   available.
                                                          The mountain plover is listed as                                                                              The BBS data from Colorado, 1966
                                                                                                               intended to be specific action plans for
                                                       endangered in Canada, as a sensitive                                                                          through 2009 (¥0.9 percent decline
                                                       species in Alberta, and as a threatened                 any species. These designations do not
                                                                                                                                                                     annually, 95 percent CI (¥7.0 to 3.5))
                                                       species in Mexico (Andres and Stone                     result in any protection for the species.
                                                                                                                                                                     and 1999 through 2009 (0.3 percent
                                                       2009, p. 13; Gober 2010). The mountain                  However, the mountain plover is
                                                                                                                                                                     increase annually, 95 percent CI (¥5.5
                                                       plover is identified by the Service as a                identified as threatened in the State of
                                                                                                                                                                     to 14.7)) (Sauer 2010a), suggest little
                                                       Bird of Conservation Concern (Service                   Nebraska, the only State where the
                                                                                                                                                                     long-term or recent change in breeding
                                                       2008), is considered ‘‘highly imperiled’’               species is listed as endangered or
                                                                                                                                                                     numbers in Colorado. Based on these
                                                       in the U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan                 threatened.
                                                                                                                                                                     data, we conclude that the current
                                                       (2004, p. 2), a category assigned to                    Breeding Range                                        breeding population in Colorado, which
                                                       species listed as threatened or                                                                               likely supports half or more of all
                                                                                                               Colorado
                                                       endangered nationally, and all species                                                                        breeding mountain plover, is relatively
                                                       with significant population declines and                  In Eastern Colorado, the shortgrass                 stable.
                                                       either low populations or some other                    prairie ecosystem provides flat, dry
                                                       high risk factor. It is also identified as              breeding habitat for the mountain                     Wyoming
                                                       ‘‘G3-vulnerable’’ by NatureServe (2010).                plover. The species occupies grasslands                 Wyoming has the highest estimated
                                                       The species is listed as a sensitive                    within prairie dog colonies, grasslands               number of breeding mountain plover
                                                       species by the U.S. Forest Service                      without prairie dog colonies, and dry                 outside of Colorado. The mountain
                                                       (USFS) (2010) and by the Bureau of                      land agricultural fields (Dreitz et al.               plover is locally common and has been
                                                       Land Management (BLM) (2000a, 2006,                     2005, pp. 129–130; Tipton et al. 2009,                detected in every county of Wyoming
                                                       2010a). It is identified as a species of                p. 496).                                              (Smith and Keinath 2004, p. 3). A
                                                       global conservation concern in the                        Knopf and Miller (1994, p. 504) noted               projected 20.5 million ac (8.3 million
                                                       American Bird Conservancy and                           the PNG, Weld County, Colorado, as a                  ha) of mountain plover habitat exists in
                                                       National Audubon Watchlist, and it is                   breeding stronghold for the species, but              Wyoming, with 59 percent occurring on
                                                       listed as ‘‘near threatened’’ by the                    in the mid-1990s the population fell                  public lands (Wyoming Natural
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                                                       International Union for the                             dramatically. The PNG now supports                    Diversity Database (WYNDD) 2010;
                                                       Conservation of Nature (IUCN) (BirdLife                 relatively few breeding mountain                      Emmerich 2010).
                                                       International 2010). The designations                   plover. In 2009, Knopf provided an                      Nesting of mountain plover in
                                                       discussed above may, in part, reflect                   overview of mountain plover studies on                Wyoming occurs in both grassland,
                                                       population estimates at the time those                  the PNG from 1986 through 2007. He                    mostly in the eastern part of the State,
                                                       designations were established. The                      suggested that mountain plover                        and desert-shrub (Plumb et al. 2005b, p.
                                                       IUCN previously (from 2004 to 2007)                     numbers on the PNG had been in                        20). Mountain plover densities were
                                                       listed the species as ‘‘vulnerable,’’ a                 decline since the late 1930s and early                comparable across habitat types with
                                                       higher level of concern than ‘‘near                     1940s, and that the dramatic decline in               overall density only slightly higher in
                                                       threatened,’’ but changed its rating as                 the mid-1990s was the abrupt endpoint                 grassland than in desert-shrub (Plumb et


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                                                       al. 2005b, p. 20). Mountain plover                        Andres and Stone (2009, p. 8) used                     BBS data from New Mexico (Sauer
                                                       appear to have less association with                    the above estimate by Childers and                    2010a), 1966 through 2009 (¥5.0
                                                       prairie dog habitat in Wyoming than                     Dinsmore (2008, p. 706) and previous                  percent decline annually, 95 percent CI
                                                       elsewhere (Plumb et al. 2005a, p. 226).                 estimates of about 600 mountain plover                (¥8.6 to ¥1.2)) and 1999 through 2009
                                                       Little of the mountain plover breeding                  elsewhere in Montana and provided a                   (¥4.8 decline annually, 95 percent CI
                                                       range in Wyoming (approximately 12                      Statewide estimate of approximately                   (¥12.1 to 2.7)), demonstrate a long-term
                                                       percent) is on cropland Knopf and                       1,600 mountain plover. BBS                            decline and also suggest a short-term
                                                       Rupert 1999, p. 85).                                    observations of mountain plover on                    decline in breeding mountain plover
                                                          Plumb et al. (2005b, pp. 19–20)                      routes in Montana were insufficient to                numbers in New Mexico. New Mexico
                                                       estimated a minimum population of                       provide estimates of population trend.                is the only State for which the long-term
                                                       3,393 mountain plover in Wyoming in                                                                           BBS trend statistically differs from zero.
                                                       2002 and 2003. Andres and Stone (2009,                  New Mexico
                                                       p. 8) provide an estimate of 3,400                         Most breeding season reports of                    Nebraska
                                                       mountain plover breeding in Wyoming.                    mountain plover in New Mexico have                       In our December 5, 2002, proposal to
                                                       This number is based on Plumb et al.’s                  come from the northeast and western                   list the mountain plover we estimated
                                                       estimate and, like that estimate, it                    counties. Sager (1996, pp. 8–9) found                 200 mountain plover in Nebraska (67 FR
                                                       reflects the minimum number likely                      152 presumed breeding adults at 35                    72399). Recent studies attempted to
                                                       present. Given that Plumb et al. (2005b,                sites in 11 counties in northern New                  identify the extent of breeding
                                                       pp. 19–20) provided a conservative                      Mexico. Marguilies et al. (2004, p. 3)                distribution and population size in
                                                       estimate, the actual breeding population                estimated 200 mountain plover in                      Nebraska (Bly et al. 2008, entire). Most
                                                       is likely larger; however, we have no                   Union County alone throughout the                     nests were found on agricultural fields
                                                       basis to provide a more accurate                        summer and located 46 nests. In a                     in Kimball County, in extreme
                                                       estimate.                                               limited effort, they also found 22                    southwestern Nebraska, but mountain
                                                          The BBS data from Wyoming (Sauer                     mountain plover and six nests on public               plover were also found in nearby
                                                       2010a), 1966 through 2009 (¥1.2                         lands in Taos and Colfax Counties.                    Cheyenne and Blain Counties. The
                                                       percent decline annually, 95 percent CI                    At BLM’s North Unit, Taos County,                  minimum breeding population was
                                                       (¥5.7 to 3.3)) and 1999 through 2009                    point counts in 2005 through 2007                     estimated to be 80 adults in 2007, based
                                                       (¥2.3 percent decline annually, 95                      estimated 176 mountain plover on 8,400                on nests found, and the total estimate of
                                                       percent CI ¥13.9 to 4.5)), suggest that                 ac (3,400 ha) of the 50,000-ac (20,000-               breeding birds ranged upward to 360
                                                       both long-term and recent declines in                   ha) unit considered to be favorable                   (Bly et al. 2008, p. 127). Van der Burg
                                                       breeding mountain plover numbers in                     mountain plover breeding habitat, based               et al. (2010, pp. 50–53) reported on
                                                       Wyoming may have occurred.                              on past observation of mountain plover                monitoring in the same three counties
                                                                                                               (Hawks Aloft 2007, pp. 9–11). If the                  (Kimball, Cheyenne, and Blain) in
                                                       Montana                                                 entire unit was occupied at the same                  southwestern Nebraska and estimated
                                                         Primary breeding habitat for mountain                 density, an estimated 1,000 mountain                  that mountain plover breeding numbers
                                                       plover in Montana is in the north-                      plover might have been present on the                 of 1,650, 1,617, and 1,558 over 3 years
                                                       central portion of the State where                      North Unit. Manderson (2010, pers.                    of the study (2005, 2006, and 2007,
                                                       mountain plover are highly dependent                    comm.) inspected habitat away from                    respectively). The authors attributed
                                                       on black-tailed prairie dog colonies for                survey routes in 2010, and suggested                  past low estimates in Nebraska to:
                                                       habitat. Montana Fish, Wildlife and                     that, based on habitat quality, 500 or                (1) Low detection probabilities;
                                                       Parks modeled suitable mountain plover                  more mountain plover could be present                 (2) clumped spatial distribution of
                                                       habitat in the State. Mapping indicated                 on the entire unit. Mountain plover                   mountain plover, which their estimation
                                                       that the greatest area of highly suitable               numbers seen on the same survey routes                methodology corrected for; and (3)
                                                       habitat occurs in Phillips, Blain, Valley,              in 2010 were comparable to those in                   ‘‘chronic undersampling.’’ Given the
                                                       and Fergus Counties with patchy                         earlier (2005 through 2007) surveys                   above estimates from Van der Burg et al.
                                                       distribution though the central and                     (Hawks Aloft 2010, p. 13), suggesting                 (2010, pp. 50–53), an estimate by
                                                       southeast portions of the State. The total              this population may be stable.                        Andres and Stone (2009, p. 8) of 500
                                                       area of suitable habitat estimated was                     Goguen (2010, pers. comm.) estimated               breeding mountain plover in Nebraska
                                                       18.5 million ac (7.5 million ha)                        a minimum of 40 to 50 breeding                        appears low.
                                                       (McDonald 2010).                                        mountain plover on the Vermejo Ranch,                    Nebraska is the only State that has
                                                         Childers and Dinsmore (2008, p. 706)                  Colfax and Taos Counties. Mountain                    regulatory mechanisms in place to
                                                       reported an estimate of 1,028 mountain                  plover were also recently reported                    conserve the mountain plover and its
                                                       plover in Phillips and Valley Counties                  present in El Malpais National                        habitat, which likely protect relatively
                                                       in 2004 (95 percent CI (903 to 1,153)).                 Conservation Area, Cibola County                      few individuals. The Nebraska Game
                                                       In 2010, standardized census areas in                   (Hawks Aloft 2008, entire).                           and Parks Commission lists the
                                                       southwest, central, and northeast                          We found no Statewide breeding                     mountain plover as a ‘‘threatened’’
                                                       Montana produced fewer sightings than                   surveys or estimates of Statewide                     species. Listing of endangered and
                                                       previous surveys (1992–2000, 2004);                     breeding populations for mountain                     threatened species identifies those
                                                       however, McDonald (2010) stated that                    plover in New Mexico, other than                      animals and plants whose continued
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                                                       results were negatively influenced by                   Andres and Stone’s (2009, p. 8)                       existence in Nebraska is in jeopardy.
                                                       above average rainfall, increased                       conservative estimate of 500. Given the               Efforts can then be made to restore the
                                                       vegetation height, and limited private                  above data from Union County, the                     species or to prevent extirpation or
                                                       land access; therefore, results cannot be               BLM’s North Unit in Taos County, the                  extinction. Once a species is listed, a
                                                       relied upon. Other than apparent                        Vermejo Ranch in Colfax and Taos                      State law, titled the Nebraska Nongame
                                                       confirmation of a previously                            Counties, and likely mountain plover                  and Endangered Species Conservation
                                                       documented decline in the southwest                     occurrence in several other counties, we              Act, automatically prohibits take,
                                                       census area (FaunaWest Wildlife                         believe that at least 1,000 and                       exportation, and possession, and
                                                       Consultants 2004, pp. 4–5), no trends                   potentially significantly more mountain               imposes severe penalties on violators
                                                       could be inferred from the 2010 survey.                 plover breed in New Mexico.                           (Nebraska Game and Parks Commission


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                                                       2011). Proposed projects that would be                  have been attempted; however, given                   present in South Dakota, but there are
                                                       authorized, funded, or carried out by                   their apparent use of both prairie and                no recent breeding records in either
                                                       Nebraska State agencies are reviewed as                 cropland, and a substantial population                North Dakota or South Dakota (North
                                                       part of a mandatory consultation                        in nearby Colorado, the estimate may be               Dakota Game and Fish Department
                                                       process designed to prevent a State                     appropriate.                                          2010; South Dakota Game, Fish and
                                                       action from jeopardizing the existence                                                                        Parks 2010).
                                                                                                               Texas
                                                       of an endangered or threatened species.
                                                                                                                 The mountain plover likely breeds in                Canada
                                                       Recovery plans for endangered or
                                                       threatened species are developed; these                 Texas, but there are no confirmed                        A review of breeding records for
                                                       recovery plans identify, describe, and                  reports of breeding since 1993 (Andres                Canada (Knapton et al. 2006, p. 33)
                                                       schedule the actions necessary to restore               and Stone 2009, p. 16). Holliday (2010)               concluded that the mountain plover is
                                                       populations of these animals and plants                 described breeding season sight reports               a peripheral species in Canada with no
                                                       to a more secure status. Given that most                of mountain plover from the Texas                     evidence that it was ever a common or
                                                       mountain plover in Nebraska occur on                    Panhandle near known Oklahoma                         regular breeder. The first breeding
                                                       private agricultural lands, there are not               breeding sites. Holliday (2004) also                  record was documented in 1979 and the
                                                       many State projects that are reviewed                   mapped potential breeding habitat,                    most recent in 2007 (Knapton et al.
                                                       under the law. It is generally                          much of it on private land that has not               2006, pp. 32–33; Holroyd 2010, pers.
                                                       implemented only 4 or 5 times per year,                 been surveyed. Andres and Stone (2010)                comm.). Most sightings and breeding
                                                       primarily on transportation,                            did not provide an estimate of breeding               records come from extreme southeastern
                                                       transmission, and energy development                    mountain plover in Texas. We believe                  Alberta, with at least one incidence of
                                                       projects (Lackey 2011, pers. comm.).                    that at least minimal numbers of                      confirmed breeding in Saskatchewan.
                                                       While this law may provide protection                   mountain plover breed in Texas.                       Holroyd (2010, pers. comm.) provided
                                                       for some individual mountain plover in                                                                        updated records of sightings through
                                                                                                               Arizona                                               2009, mostly from Alberta. Andres and
                                                       Nebraska, we believe that it would only
                                                       have minimal positive effects on the                       The only known mountain plover                     Stone (2009, p. 8) estimated fewer than
                                                       entire population in Nebraska, or on the                nesting in Arizona is in Apache County                100 mountain plover breeding in
                                                       rangewide population.                                   in east-central portion of the State, with            Canada. We are not aware of any
                                                                                                               at maximum perhaps a dozen breeding                   attempts to systematically survey all
                                                       Oklahoma                                                birds (Gardner 2010, pers. comm.).                    potential breeding areas in the Canadian
                                                          Recent studies to determine the                      Breeding has occurred on grasslands                   range. However, given the low number
                                                       breeding distribution and population                    where cattle were concentrated and at                 and limited distribution of reported
                                                       size in Oklahoma detected mountain                      Gunnison prairie dog (C. gunnisoni)                   recent sightings (Holroyd 2010, pers.
                                                       plover in Cimarron and Texas Counties                   colonies (Corman 2005, pp. 591–591;                   comm.), we believe that actual breeding
                                                       in the Oklahoma panhandle, mostly on                    Gardner 2010). However, hundreds of                   numbers are fewer than 100.
                                                       fallow or barren agricultural fields                    square miles of potential breeding                    Mexico
                                                       (McConnell et al. 2009, pp. 30–33).                     habitat in northern and western Arizona
                                                       Randomized point counts were used to                    have never been surveyed, and there are                  Breeding records of mountain plover
                                                       derive a Statewide population estimate                  reports of potential breeding mountain                in Mexico have been documented in
                                                       of 68 to 91 birds (McConnell et al. 2009,               plover on Tribal lands in Navajo County               southeastern Coahuila and Nuevo Leon,
                                                       pp. 32–33). Andres and Stone (2009, p.                  (Corman 2005, pp. 591–591; Gardner                    following a history of breeding season
                                                       8) estimated 200 mountain plover                        2010, pers. comm.). Andres and Stone                  observations in Mexican prairie dog
                                                       breeding in Oklahoma. Given results of                  (2009, p. 8) estimated 100 breeding                   colonies (Desmond and Chavez-Ramirez
                                                       McConnell et al. (2009, pp. 32–33), we                  mountain plover in Arizona. This                      2002 entire; Gonzalez-Rojas 2006, pp.
                                                       believe that Andres and Stone’s (2009,                  estimate acknowledges potential for a                 81–84). Nesting is suspected in San Luis
                                                       p. 8) estimate may be slightly high. The                more substantial breeding population                  Potosi, 130 mi (200 km) south of the
                                                       range of the mountain plover in                         than limited observations have                        above records (Luevano et al. 2010, p.
                                                       Oklahoma was described as stable over                   documented.                                           123).
                                                       the past 100 years, with the suggestion                                                                          The extent of mountain plover
                                                       that populations may have changed                       Utah                                                  breeding in Mexico is largely unknown.
                                                       little (Hatcher 2010).                                    The mountain plover has been a                      Andres and Stone (2009, pp. 8, 15)
                                                                                                               historically rare breeder in shrub-steppe             estimated fewer than 300 mountain
                                                       Kansas                                                                                                        plover breeding in Mexico (fewer than:
                                                                                                               habitat in the Uinta Basin of
                                                          The Kansas Department of Wildlife                    northeastern Utah. Manning and White                  50 in Chihuahua, 100 in Cohuila, 100 in
                                                       and Parks (2005) stated that mountain                   (2001, p. 225) described a small                      Nuevo Leon, and 50 in San Luis Potosi),
                                                       plover breed only on dry upland in the                  breeding population that averaged about               but suspect that if there are major
                                                       shortgrass prairie of western Kansas.                   15 adults yearly. Mountain plover                     concentrations of breeding mountain
                                                       While conversion to agriculture has left                breeding in the area subsequently                     plover not yet discovered anywhere in
                                                       little native breeding habitat, Cable and               declined, and no birds have been found                their range, they are likely in Mexico.
                                                       Seltman (2010, pp. 50–51) reported                      during surveys of the area since 2003                 The estimate of fewer than 300 birds is
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                                                       mountain plover are an uncommon but                     (Maxfield 2010, pers. comm.). Andres                  at best a guess, but is appropriately
                                                       regular breeding species in western                     and Stone (2009, p. 8) estimated fewer                conservative given the lack of
                                                       Kansas and that they also use idle                      than 50 breeding mountain plover in                   knowledge regarding breeding mountain
                                                       cropland. Morton County may also serve                  Utah. Based on no recent records of                   plover occurrence and distribution in
                                                       as a staging area for migration in late                 breeding mountain plover, this estimate               Mexico.
                                                       summer (Cable and Seltman 2010, p.                      may be optimistic.                                       In summary, we believe that the
                                                       51). Andres and Stone (2009, p. 8)                                                                            rangewide breeding population of
                                                       estimated 200 breeding mountain plover                  North Dakota and South Dakota                         mountain plover likely exceeds 20,000,
                                                       in Kansas. No comprehensive surveys of                    The mountain plover once bred in                    with largest populations in Colorado,
                                                       breeding mountain plover in Kansas                      these States, with higher numbers                     conservatively 11,000; Wyoming,


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                                                       conservatively 3,400; Montana 1,600;                    27) comment that mountain plover were                 numbers of mountain plover wintering
                                                       Nebraska 1,600; New Mexico, at least                    ‘‘rare and local, exceedingly rare, or                in California over previous decades.
                                                       1,000 and potentially many more; and                    accidental’’ within individual counties               However, we found little evidence
                                                       smaller populations elsewhere (Kansas,                  in the San Joaquin Valley. Wunder and                 available to establish any trend in more
                                                       Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Canada, and                      Knopf (2003, p. 78) suggested that, as a              recent (2000 to present) wintering
                                                       Mexico).                                                result of habitat loss, many mountain                 numbers in California. The 4,500
                                                                                                               plover had shifted from the Central                   mountain plover recorded in the
                                                       Wintering Range                                         Valley to the Imperial Valley. Hunting                Imperial Valley survey in 2007 (Kelsey
                                                       California                                              and Edson (2008, p. 182) considered                   2011, pers. comm.) exceeded mountain
                                                         Mountain plover are found from                        reports of 200 to 300 birds in the San                plover observed in Statewide surveys
                                                       north-central California to the Mexico                  Joaquin Valley in winter of 2004–2005,                from 1994, and 1998 through 2002
                                                       border, mostly from September to mid-                   100 to 200 in Madera County in 2005–                  (Knopf 1996, p. 12; 68 FR 53083). Most
                                                       March, with peak numbers from                           2006, 645 in Tulare County in December                recently, a Statewide survey over 5 days
                                                       December through February (Knopf and                    2005, and about 300 in western Kings                  in January 2011 found 1,235 mountain
                                                       Wunder 2006; Hunting and Edson 2008,                    County in January 2006 to be                          plover (Kelsey 2011, pers. comm.),
                                                       p. 181). Mountain plover were                           ‘‘exceptional.’’ They also found                      considerably fewer than found in
                                                       historically common on the coastal                      noteworthy a survey total of 381                      previous Statewide surveys or recent
                                                       plain in southern California (coastal                   mountain plover at the Carrizo Plain in               Imperial Valley surveys. However, it is
                                                       prairie, alkaline flats, agricultural fields)           2006 (Hunting and Edson 2008, p. 182).                not apparent how unusually wet
                                                                                                               However, recent reports from the                      weather or other factors contributed to
                                                       before being displaced by human
                                                                                                               Central Valley also include 645 birds in              the relatively low number of mountain
                                                       development (Hunting and Edson 2008,
                                                                                                               Madera County in 2006 (McCaski and                    plover reported in the 2011 survey.
                                                       p. 182; Wunder and Knopf 2003, p. 78).
                                                                                                               Garrett 2006, p. 283), 426 in Tulare                  California experienced heavy rains in
                                                       Historically, much of the mountain
                                                                                                               County in 2007 (McCaski and Garrett                   late 2010. December 2010 was the City
                                                       plover habitat in the Central Valley
                                                                                                               2007, p. 326), 230 in San Joaquin                     of Los Angeles’ wettest December in 121
                                                       grasslands was lost following the
                                                                                                               County in 2008 (eBird 2010), 230 in                   years (Southern California Weather
                                                       decline of grazing elk (Cervus
                                                                                                               Solano County in 2008 (Central Valley                 Notes 2010).
                                                       canadensis), pronghorn antelope,                                                                                 While California remains the best
                                                                                                               Bird Club 2010), and 223 in Kern
                                                       burrowing kangaroo rats, ground                                                                               documented wintering area for the
                                                                                                               County in 2010 (eBird 2010). These
                                                       squirrels (Spermophilus spp.), and other                reports suggest that significant numbers              mountain plover, it may winter less
                                                       mammals. The combined activities of                     of mountain plover continue to use                    than 50 percent of the estimated
                                                       these herbivores maintained suitable                    widespread areas of the Central Valley                breeding population (Andres and Stone,
                                                       habitat conditions for mountain plover,                 annually. Nearby, a recent high count                 p. 9). Knopf (1996, p. 12) estimated
                                                       conditions closely resembling habitat                   for the Carrizo Plain National                        7,000 mountain plover wintering in
                                                       characteristics found on breeding                       Monument was 540 birds in 2009                        California and 1,000 to 3,000 wintering
                                                       habitats (Knopf and Rupert 1995, p.                     (Sharum 2010).                                        elsewhere. In our December 5, 2002,
                                                       750). Farther south in California, desert                  In the Imperial Valley, coordinated                proposed rule to list the mountain
                                                       scrub in the Imperial Valley was                        surveys by 26 observers over 2 days in                plover as threatened, we suggested that
                                                       converted to agriculture beginning in                   December 1999 sighted 3,758 mountain                  few mountain plover wintered in Texas,
                                                       the 1940s, creating important wintering                 plover (Shuford et al. 2004, p. 7). A                 Arizona, and Mexico (67 FR 72397). We
                                                       habitat for the mountain plover. See                    survey of mountain plover and their use               do not know the actual number of
                                                       Hunting and Edson (2008, p. 181) for                    of cultivated fields in the Imperial                  mountain plover wintering in California
                                                       details of the mountain plover’s                        Valley of California in 2001 found 4,037              or how the number varies from year to
                                                       historical range and abundance in                       birds (Wunder and Knopf 2003, p. 75),                 year; however, given no recent evidence
                                                       California.                                             and 3,476 were counted from January 29                that wintering birds in California
                                                         Mountain plover currently occur in                    through February 6, 2002, by four                     number more than the 7,000 estimate
                                                       the greatest numbers in two general                     observers, with the largest flock                     above (Knopf 1996, p. 12), and our
                                                       areas in California: (1) The western                    consisting of 410 birds (AMEC Earth                   current rangewide estimate of at least
                                                       Central Valley from southern Colusa                     and Environment 2003, p. 9–10).                       20,000 breeding mountain plover, the
                                                       and Yolo Counties in the north to Kern                  Mountain plover wintering in the                      previous contention that California
                                                       County in the south (especially the                     Imperial Valley were surveyed in 2003                 winters the majority of all mountain
                                                       western San Joaquin Valley, the name                    and 2004, in an attempt to develop a                  plover appears incorrect. The fewer
                                                       by which the southern Central Valley is                 statistically reliable estimate of numbers            mountain plover that are wintering in
                                                       known); and (2) the Imperial Valley in                  (Knopf and Wunder 2004, entire).                      California, on average or in any given
                                                       Imperial County (Hunting and Edson                      Flocking behavior, mobility, and                      winter, the more important that
                                                       2008, p. 182). The Carrizo Plain,                       weather were among factors found to                   wintering areas outside California
                                                       separated from the San Joaquin Valley                   limit the reliability of Imperial Valley              become. Unfortunately, we have little
                                                       by the Temblor Range, and the Panoche                   estimates (Knopf and Wunder 2004, pp.                 information to pinpoint where the
                                                       Valley are also regularly occupied                      9–12). Results of more recent survey                  majority of mountain plover are
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                                                       wintering areas.                                        estimates in the Imperial Valley include              wintering.
                                                         Populations and trends in the Central                 more than 4,500 mountain plover seen
                                                       Valley are difficult to determine due to                in January 2007, approximately 3,000                  Texas
                                                       the abundance of potential habitat, flock               seen in January 2008, and 827 seen in                   Holiday (2010), based on an
                                                       movements, and lack of systematic                       January 2011 (Kelsey 2011, pers.                      examination of LandSat (satellite)
                                                       surveys (Knopf and Rupert 1995, p. 749;                 comm.).                                               photos, found that winter records of
                                                       Edson and Hunting 1999, p. 17). In our                     Hunting et al. (2001 p. 40), Wunder                mountain plover in Texas correlated to
                                                       December 5, 2002, proposal to list the                  and Knopf (2003, p. 76), and Hunting                  the distribution of barren fields and
                                                       mountain plover (67 FR 72396), we                       and Edson (2008, pp. 181–183) all                     grazed pastures. He also suggested that
                                                       included Edson and Hunting’s 1999 (p.                   suggested a significant decline in                    the northern limit of the wintering range


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                                                       in Texas is related to the average                      New Mexico                                            trends (Macias-Duarte and Punjabi 2010,
                                                       number of frost-free days, which                          While some mountain plover likely                   pp. 5–6, 16, 17).
                                                       influences insect availability. Collins                 winter in southern New Mexico, we                     Summary of Comments and
                                                       (2006, pp. 27–31) summarized mountain                   have no information regarding locations               Recommendations
                                                       plover wintering status in Texas (with                  or numbers.
                                                       much of the compiled records and maps                                                                            We requested written comments from
                                                       attributable to Holliday). Populations in               Mexico                                                the public on the proposed listing of the
                                                       Hondo County and Medina County                                                                                mountain plover during the June 29,
                                                                                                                 Mountain plover’s winter distribution
                                                       areas were described as potentially the                                                                       2010, through August 30, 2010,
                                                                                                               in Mexico has not been well studied,
                                                       largest; Williamson County was                                                                                comment period that followed our June
                                                                                                               but the species is believed to winter
                                                       characterized as a well-known wintering                                                                       29, 2010, document (75 FR 37353)
                                                                                                               from along the United States-Mexico
                                                       area, but with populations potentially                                                                        vacating our September 9, 2003,
                                                                                                               border south into the border States of
                                                       small compared to other less known                                                                            withdrawal (68 FR 53083) and
                                                                                                               Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua,
                                                       areas. Mountain plover were also                                                                              reinstating our December 5, 2002,
                                                                                                               Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, and Tamaulipas,                 proposal to list the mountain plover (67
                                                       present around Wharton, Wharton                         and beyond into Durango, Zacatecas,
                                                       County, and surrounding counties, and                                                                         FR 72396). We contacted appropriate
                                                                                                               and San Luis Potosi (Gonzales-Rojas et                Federal, State, and local agencies;
                                                       the Corpus Christi area was said to                     al. 2006, p. 81; Knopf and Wuder 2006;
                                                       potentially hold more mountain plover                                                                         scientific organizations; and other
                                                                                                               Macias-Duarte and Punjabi 2010, p. 4).                interested parties, and invited them to
                                                       than reports indicate (Collins 2006, p.                 While the Mexicali Valley, Baja
                                                       30). Estimates by knowledgeable local                                                                         comment on the proposed rule and
                                                                                                               California, located just south of the                 supporting documents. Following an
                                                       birders of wintering mountain plover in                 Imperial Valley, seems to have suitable
                                                       the coastal bend area (Nueces and San                                                                         initial draft of our final determination
                                                                                                               wintering habitat (200,000 ac (80,000                 we contacted 5 peer reviewers and
                                                       Patricio Counties) ranged from 200 up to
                                                                                                               ha) of farmland), mountain plover have                asked them to review selected portions
                                                       2,000 to 3,000 birds (Cobb 2009, pers.
                                                                                                               rarely been reported from the area                    of the draft.
                                                       comm.). The higher numbers were
                                                                                                               (Macias-Duarte and Punjabi 2010, p. 3).                  We received 53 comments in response
                                                       characterized as speculative because the
                                                                                                                 Two primary concentration areas                     to the December 5, 2002, proposed rule
                                                       vast amount of available habitat where
                                                                                                               within the Chihuahuan Desert are                      (67 FR 72396) during the June 29, 2010,
                                                       access is generally limited makes it
                                                                                                               believed to be most important for                     to August 30, 2010, comment period.
                                                       difficult to draw any conclusions.
                                                                                                               wintering mountain plover: (1) The                    These included comments from 3
                                                       Andres and Stone (2009, p. 20) provided
                                                                                                               Janos area in northwestern Chihuahua;                 Federal entities, 10 States, 3 local
                                                       an estimate of 1,500 mountain plover
                                                                                                               and (2) the El Tokio grasslands in                    governments, 28 organizations or groups
                                                       wintering in Texas, with a note that
                                                                                                               southern Coahuila, Nuevo Leon,                        (business, industry, environmental), and
                                                       abundance could be much greater.
                                                                                                               northeastern Zacatecas, and northern                  8 private parties. WildEarth Guardians
                                                       Arizona                                                 San Luis Potosi (Macias-Duatre and                    also forwarded us 302 similar comments
                                                         Approximately 500 mountain plover                     Punjabi 2010, pp. 3–6). Mountain plover               from individuals, and the Colorado
                                                       are believed to winter in agricultural                  are most abundant in the La Soledad                   Farm Bureau forwarded us 8 similar
                                                       areas of southern and western Arizona,                  region of the El Tokio grasslands. The                comments from individuals. We
                                                       but numbers could be higher because                     highest estimated density in Llano de la              received no requests for public hearings.
                                                       private and Tribal lands are largely                    Soledad (based on data from the winter                We also reviewed comments received
                                                       unsurveyed (Gardner 2010). Wintering                    of 2005–2006) extrapolated over the area              after our February 16, 1999, and
                                                       numbers in La Paz and Pinal Counties                    suggests that over 2,000 mountain                     December 5, 2002, proposals to list the
                                                       appeared stable; numbers in Cochise                     plover were present. Extrapolation from               mountain plover (64 FR 7587 and 67 FR
                                                       County have significantly decreased in                  Llano de la Soledad to all prairie dog                72396, respectively) for relevant issues
                                                       the last 10 to 15 years due to urban                    colonies in the entire El Tokio region                not addressed in more recent comments.
                                                       expansion; and Yuma County                              provided an estimate of 6,800 mountain                All substantive comments have either
                                                       populations were characterized as                       plover (Macias-Duarte and Punjabi                     been incorporated into this final
                                                       increasing, with 150 to 300 birds                       2010, p. 6). While this estimate is crude             determination or are addressed below.
                                                       annually (Gardner 2010; Robertson                       and may be optimistically high, it is not
                                                                                                               inconsistent with reports of mountain                 Peer Review
                                                       2010, pp. 3–4). Wintering mountain
                                                       plover are also reported from the                       plover flocks in the area totaling 1,600                In accordance with our policy
                                                       Sulphur Springs Valley in Cochise                       to 3,500 birds reported by Andres and                 published in the Federal Register on
                                                       County (Robertson 2010, p. 2). Andres                   Stone (2009, p. 18). In the winter of                 July 1, 1994 (59 FR 34270), we solicited
                                                       and Stone (2009, p. 20) provided an                     2005–2006, surveys in Janos estimated                 expert opinions from five
                                                       estimate of 200 mountain plover                         1,435 birds (Salinas 2006, p. 43).                    knowledgeable individuals with
                                                       wintering in Arizona. Given limited                       The reported sightings and the                      scientific expertise that included
                                                       coverage of potential wintering habitat,                estimates presented above are                         familiarity with the mountain plover,
                                                       we consider the above estimate of 500                   maximums reported, and the numbers                    with other shorebird species, the
                                                       birds wintering in Arizona the likely                   can vary greatly from year to year.                   geographic region and habitats in which
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                                                       minimum.                                                However, these reports suggest that a                 the mountain plover occurs, and
                                                                                                               substantial number of mountain plover                 conservation biology principles. We
                                                       Nevada                                                  may winter in Mexico. Andres and                      provided reviewers with a partial draft
                                                         Wintering mountain plover are rarely                  Stone (2009, p. 20) provided an estimate              of this document. We received
                                                       reported from Nevada, with the most                     of 5,000 birds wintering in Mexico.                   responses from all five of the peer
                                                       recent reports of up to 17 mountain                     Changes in sampling methodology,                      reviewers that we contacted. The peer
                                                       plover coming from the Armagosa                         annual variability in mountain plover                 reviewers generally agreed that we
                                                       Valley near the Nevada-California                       numbers, and the short duration                       accurately described the species and its
                                                       border northwest of Las Vegas (eBird                    covered by recent systematic surveys                  habitat requirements; that we provided
                                                       2010).                                                  prevent any conclusions regarding                     accurate review and analysis of factors


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                                                                                Federal Register / Vol. 76, No. 92 / Thursday, May 12, 2011 / Proposed Rules                                            27769

                                                       affecting the species; that our                         year of life) and adult mountain plover                  (8) Comment: One peer reviewer
                                                       assumptions and definitions of suitable                 annual survival rates, but the extent to              stated that there is insufficient
                                                       habitat were logical and adequate; that                 which these studies underestimate                     information about the distribution and
                                                       there were few oversights, omissions, or                survival rates due to emigration is not               status of the mountain plover in Mexico
                                                       inconsistencies in out draft document;                  known.                                                to evaluate whether past, present, or
                                                       and that we used pertinent literature to                   (4) Comment: One reviewer asserted                 future loss of prairie dogs and the
                                                       support our assumptions and                             that recent literature clearly identified             ecosystem they support in Mexico is a
                                                       conclusions. One reviewer was                           adult survival as a vital importance to               significant threat to the mountain
                                                       generally critical of the synthesis of                  productivity and survival of shorebird                plover.
                                                       information regarding threats to                        populations.                                             Our Response: We agree that
                                                       mountain plover habitat, especially our                    Our Response: We agree. In the                     information on the distribution and
                                                       assessment of wintering habitat in the                  limited studies that have estimated                   status of the mountain plover in Mexico
                                                       Imperial Valley. One reviewer limited                   adult survival of mountain plover, adult              is limited. Based on the information
                                                       comments primarily to population                        mountain plover survival appears                      available, past loss of prairie dogs
                                                       trends. The peer reviewers provided                     relatively high. The suggestion that                  colonies in Mexico has decreased
                                                       suggestions to improve this final                       management efforts to increase                        available mountain plover habitat and
                                                       document. Recommended editorial                         mountain plover populations might best                may have had some adverse impact on
                                                       revisions, clarifications, and other                    be targeted at increased chick survival               the mountain plover. Recent Mexican
                                                       changes have been incorporated into the                 (hatching to fledging) result, in part,               and international attention to
                                                       final document as appropriate. We                       from data showing relatively low and                  conservation of prairie dogs and
                                                       respond to all substantive comments                     highly variable survival of mountain                  grassland complexes in Mexico
                                                       below or through changes to the final                   plover chicks (see Survival, Lifespan,                improves prospects for maintaining
                                                       document.                                               and Site Fidelity above).                             existing mountain plover wintering
                                                                                                                  (5) Comment: Two reviewers noted                   habitat (see Factor A below). While
                                                       Comments From Peer Reviewers                            that while the mountain plover may                    future losses of prairie dog colonies in
                                                          (1) Comment: Three reviewers                         have a long lifespan compared to many                 Mexico may occur, we do not believe
                                                       questioned specific details of our range                other shorebirds, some shorebirds do                  that associated impacts to mountain
                                                       map.                                                    live longer and other bird families, such             plover’s habitat present a significant
                                                          Our Response: Figure 1, depicting the                as seabirds, live much longer.                        threat to the mountain plover over its
                                                       mountain plover’s range, was developed                     Our Response: Mountain plover in the               wintering range.
                                                       based on those in Knopf and Wunder                      wild have been known to live to over 10                  (9) Comment: One reviewer stated
                                                       2006, and Andres and Stone 2009, with                   years. We have qualified our description              that discussion of habitat loss to land
                                                       modifications based on our review of                    of the mountain plover as a ‘‘relatively’’            use modification would be greatly
                                                       recent information. Our map depicts                     long-lived species.                                   improved by including specifics of how
                                                       generalized areas believed to support                      (6) Comment: One reviewer suggested                these losses fall within the precise
                                                       breeding and wintering mountain                         that mountain plover fidelity to                      breeding and wintering habitats of the
                                                       plover, and does not depict localized                   breeding sites is more regional than site-            mountain plover. Two reviewers
                                                       areas of presence or absence. We made                   specific and that differences in habitat              contended that the relative threat posed
                                                       some revisions to our range map based                   across the mountain plover breeding                   by agricultural conversion (of
                                                       on reviewer comments.                                   range may influence site fidelity.                    grasslands) was difficult to assess unless
                                                          (2) Comment: One reviewer pointed                       Our Response: Both may be correct.                 analyzed at a fine spatial scale.
                                                       out that while mountain plover are                      Lack of genetic differentiation found by                 Our Response: The mountain plover’s
                                                       attracted to burned areas on their                      Oyler-McCance et al. (2005, p. 359;                   breeding and wintering ranges extend
                                                       breeding ground, there is little evidence               2008, pp. 496–497) suggest that mixing                across a large area and encompass a
                                                       as to whether such burned areas benefit                 of mountain plover across regions is                  variety of habitat types. We have
                                                       breeding mountain plover (for example,                  also occurring.                                       addressed habitats supporting the
                                                       through higher nest success or fledging                    (7) Comment: One reviewer suggested                mountain plover, habitat losses, and
                                                       success) compared to habitats they may                  that we discuss spatial and temporal                  threats to mountain plover habitat on a
                                                       otherwise use.                                          variation in long-term and recent BBS                 rangewide and regional level, and in
                                                          Our Response: Reduced vegetative                     trend data for the mountain plover and                some cases on a State or local level as
                                                       cover resulting from burning appears                    cited a long-term (1966 through 2009),                well.
                                                       more attractive to mountain plover than                 negative New Mexico trend as the only                    (10) Comment: One reviewer offered
                                                       similar habitat left unburned. However,                 statistically significant population trend            that uncertainties regarding future
                                                       we agree that studies have not                          among the rangewide or Statewide BBS                  agricultural practices on private lands
                                                       documented the specific relationship of                 trend estimates we provide.                           emphasized the importance of managing
                                                       burning to successful mountain plover                      Our Response: We have included data                for the mountain plover on State and
                                                       nesting.                                                pertinent to spatial and temporal (by                 Federal lands.
                                                          (3) Comment: One reviewer stated                     State and long-term versus short-term)                   Our Response: A great degree of
                                                       that estimates of annual survival should                trends in mountain plover populations                 uncertainty exists regarding future
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                                                       be considered minimum estimates,                        in this document when available (see                  agricultural practices on private lands,
                                                       because studies do not control for                      Conservation Status and Local                         but we believe that changes in
                                                       permanent migration of mountain                         Populations above). These statistics are              agriculture are not likely to significantly
                                                       plover (i.e., they assume birds not                     based on fewer data and generally                     threaten the mountain plover in the
                                                       accounted for have died rather than                     appear less reliable than rangewide                   foreseeable future. Across the range of
                                                       moved away from the study area).                        trends. The long-term trend estimate in               the mountain plover there are currently
                                                         Our Response: We agree and have                       New Mexico is unique among those we                   many initiatives, on both public and
                                                       acknowledged this in the text. Studies                  cite, in that it reflects a statistically             private lands, to manage habitat for
                                                       in Montana have produced the most                       significant indication of at least some               wildlife including the mountain plover,
                                                       complete information on juvenile (first                 decline.                                              bird species using similar habitats, and


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                                                       27770                    Federal Register / Vol. 76, No. 92 / Thursday, May 12, 2011 / Proposed Rules

                                                       prairie dogs (see Factor A discussion                   currently used by mountain plover. The                Public Comments
                                                       below). The mountain plover has been                    reviewer concluded that because there
                                                                                                                                                                     Process Issues
                                                       designated a bird of conservation                       was ‘‘lack of suitable habitat to move to,’’
                                                       concern by the Service (2008) and has                   this would be detrimental to mountain                    (16) Comment: One commenter stated
                                                       special conservation status in many                     plover.                                               that e-mails, personal communications,
                                                       States (see Conservation Status and                                                                           and letters that the Service referenced in
                                                                                                                  Our Response: Human development
                                                       Local Populations above and Factor A                                                                          support of the December 5, 2002, listing
                                                                                                               and changes in agriculture, including
                                                       discussion below). We anticipate and                                                                          proposal (67 FR 72396) do not meet the
                                                                                                               changes brought on by future water
                                                       support continued emphasis on                                                                                 best information available standard as
                                                                                                               availability, are likely to impact some of
                                                       mountain plover conservation and                                                                              described in Service policy (59 FR
                                                                                                               the areas currently used by wintering
                                                       management by our Federal and State                                                                           34271, July 1, 1994).
                                                                                                               mountain plover in California, in                        Our Response: Our policy, as cited
                                                       partners.                                               southern Arizona, and elsewhere in
                                                          (11) Comment: One reviewer noted                                                                           above, requires that we evaluate all
                                                                                                               their wintering range. Based on the                   scientific and other information
                                                       that, without synthesis of exactly what                 likely magnitude of such changes and
                                                       agricultural lands mountain plover                                                                            available, which includes both
                                                                                                               the extensive wintering range of the                  published and unpublished materials,
                                                       require on their wintering areas and
                                                                                                               mountain plover, we conclude that loss                in the development of a listing action.
                                                       how those specific fields are threatened
                                                                                                               of wintering habitat is not likely to be              We review the information regardless of
                                                       (for example, fallowing of crop fields in
                                                                                                               a significant threat to the mountain                  origin, and determine whether it is
                                                       California’s Imperial Valley), our
                                                                                                               plover in the foreseeable future (see our             reliable, is credible, and represents the
                                                       conclusion that threats impacting only a
                                                                                                               discussion in Factor A below).                        best information available regarding the
                                                       small portion of agricultural lands
                                                       would not affect mountain plover was                       (14) Comment: One reviewer                         species under review. We document our
                                                       problematic.                                            questioned whether mountain plover                    evaluation of any information we use in
                                                          Our Response: In Migration and                       are impacted by pesticides and                        making our decision, whether it
                                                       Wintering Habitat above, we describe                    herbicides used on sod farms where                    supports the decision or not.
                                                       wintering habitats favored by the                       they are often seen during migration or                  (17) Comment: Commenters believed
                                                       mountain plover. In Factor A below we                   in winter.                                            that our analysis in our February 16,
                                                       discuss threats that may impact these                      Our Response: We have found no                     1999, and December 5, 2002, proposals
                                                       habitats, including threats to certain                  documentation of effects to mountain                  to list the mountain plover (64 FR 7587
                                                       crop types favored by the mountain                      plover from exposure to pesticides on                 and 67 FR 72396, respectively) used
                                                       plover. The level of analysis we provide                sod farms. However, in the past, the use              ‘‘selective science’’ to defend our
                                                       is sufficient to evaluate threats to the                of diazinon, an organo-phosphate                      position, while ignoring information
                                                       mountain plover from changes on                         pesticide, on sod farms may have                      contrary to our conclusion.
                                                       agricultural lands that provide                         impacted the mountain plover. In 1988,                   Our Response: We base our
                                                       wintering habitat and utilizes the best                 after documented large die-offs of birds              determinations on review of all
                                                       available information we have regarding                 of other species, the U.S. Environmental              pertinent information available. This
                                                       this topic. Without specific information                Protection Agency (EPA) cancelled the                 final determination is further based on
                                                       to suggest otherwise, we conclude that                  registration of diazinon for use on golf              substantial new and additional
                                                       threats would not disproportionately                    courses and sod farms (EPA 2006, p.                   information available since our previous
                                                       impact those particular fields that                     vii). We have no information regarding                actions.
                                                       presently receive, or in the future would               significant harm of any bird species                     (18) Comment: One commenter stated
                                                       receive, most use by the mountain                       since 1988 that is attributable to use of             that in the 1999 and 2002 proposals to
                                                       plover.                                                 pesticides on sod farms.                              list the mountain plover (64 FR 7587
                                                          (12) Comment: One reviewer noted                                                                           and 67 FR 72396, respectively) the
                                                       that the Imperial Valley, California, an                   (15) Comment: One reviewer
                                                                                                                                                                     Service did not identify or quantify
                                                       area supporting significant numbers of                  suggested more discussion on invasive
                                                                                                                                                                     actual threats, and therefore the Service
                                                       wintering mountain plover, is one of the                grasses and their impact on mountain
                                                                                                                                                                     has not shown that mountain plover
                                                       fastest growing areas of the United                     plover.
                                                                                                                                                                     have declined or are at risk.
                                                       States.                                                    Our Response: Invasive plants,                        Our Response: In this final
                                                          Our Response: From 1984 to 2008,                     including nonnative grasses planted as                determination, we have evaluated the
                                                       urban area in the Imperial Valley                       forage for cattle, are widespread across              relative security of the species from
                                                       increased by 6,000 ac (2,400 ha) (CDC                   the western United States. Many                       present and foreseeable threats across its
                                                       2010), much of it outside of croplands                  invasive plants grow to a density or                  breeding, migratory, and wintering
                                                       favored by the wintering mountain                       height that can make habitat unsuitable               range. Where available information has
                                                       plover. About 381,000 ac (154,000 ha) of                for mountain plover. While perceived                  allowed, we have identified and
                                                       field crops are present in the Imperial                 by some as a potential threat, the effects            quantified actual threats to the
                                                       Valley (Imperial Irrigation District (IID)              of nonnative grasses and invasive plants              mountain plover in this evaluation.
                                                       2009a). We concluded that population                    on the mountain plover have not been                  While threats, especially future threats,
                                                       growth and urban expansion is having                    well documented. Within the                           may be difficult to quantify, we evaluate
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                                                       a modest impact on Imperial Valley                      ecosystems it inhabits, the mountain                  threats based on analysis of the best
                                                       croplands, but does not rise to the level               plover is best supported where native or              scientific and commercial information
                                                       of a threat to the species (see Factor A                domestic herbivores, fire, dry                        available.
                                                       discussion below).                                      conditions, soil conditions, or                          (19) Comment: One commenter stated
                                                          (13) Comment: One reviewer stated                    disturbance create low, sparse                        that e-mails and faxes should be
                                                       that, over the wintering range of the                   vegetation. In general, this is true                  accepted as comment on the proposed
                                                       mountain plover, increase in human                      whether the vegetative community                      listing.
                                                       population, associated land use                         consists only of native vegetation or also               Our Response: Our policy requires
                                                       changes, and reductions in available                    supports a component of nonnative or                  submission of written comments
                                                       water for agriculture would impact areas                invasive plants.                                      through the Internet (via the Federal


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                                                                                Federal Register / Vol. 76, No. 92 / Thursday, May 12, 2011 / Proposed Rules                                           27771

                                                       eRulemaking Portal at http://                           modified. Former rangewide population                 elsewhere. Because the large flock sizes
                                                       www.regulations.gov), or by U.S. mail or                estimates were based on surveys of                    observed in California are not regularly
                                                       hand-delivery, and we believe this                      mountain plover in California, where                  encountered elsewhere, mountain
                                                       provides the means for all interested                   the vast majority of birds were thought               plover numbers may occur at lower
                                                       parties to provide comments,                            to winter. Our current rangewide                      densities in other parts of their
                                                       information, and recommendations.                       population estimate is based on                       wintering range.
                                                         (20) Comment: Various commenters                      minimum breeding range population                        (26) Comment: One commenter stated
                                                       suggested that there are either more or                 estimates. However, no estimate                       that the former estimate of 20,000
                                                       fewer reasons for listing the mountain                  currently exists that provides a precise              breeding mountain plover at the PNG in
                                                       plover now compared to 2003 when our                    estimate of rangewide numbers.                        the 1970s may have been off by an order
                                                       proposed listing was withdrawn (68 FR                      (23) Comment: One commenter                        of magnitude.
                                                       53083, September 9, 2003).                              dismissed population estimates as ‘‘just                 Our Response: While the actual
                                                         Our Response: Our 2003 decision was                   a guess.’’                                            number present in the 1970s is
                                                       vacated by the Court and is not relevant                   Our Response: We believe that some                 unknown, it is well established that
                                                       to this final determination regarding the               structured studies on the breeding range              mountain plover populations on the
                                                       mountain plover. We have based our                      have produced population estimates                    PNG have greatly decreased since that
                                                       determination on the current status of                  that approximate the actual numbers of                time, with relatively few breeding
                                                       the mountain plover and current and                     mountain plover that are present. In                  mountain plover present since the mid-
                                                       future threats to the species, based on                 other cases, estimates may be limited to              1990s.
                                                       the best scientific and commercial                      the minimum number of individuals                        (27) Comment: One commenter
                                                       information available to us at this time.               known, or may suggest the likely                      questioned our estimates of up to 10,000
                                                                                                               population size based on limited data.                mountain plover at Kern NWR in
                                                       Issues Regarding Range, Numbers, and
                                                                                                               While we summarize population                         California during the 1960s.
                                                       Populations Trends
                                                                                                               estimates and seek to understand
                                                          (21) Comment: One commenter                                                                                   Our Response: Many mountain plover
                                                                                                               population trends, numbers alone are
                                                       questioned our emphasis on the PNG in                                                                         used Kern NWR in winter during the
                                                                                                               not the basis for listing determinations
                                                       Colorado and Charles M. Russell                                                                               1960s, but the 10,000 estimate is by far
                                                                                                               under the Act. Listing determinations
                                                       National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in                                                                             the largest recorded (Engler 1992). We
                                                                                                               are based on whether there are threats
                                                       Montana in our proposals to list the                                                                          believe estimates at Kern NWR
                                                                                                               present or likely to occur that would
                                                       mountain plover, as relatively few                                                                            approximate mountain plover numbers
                                                                                                               result in the species being in danger of
                                                       mountain plover breed in either site.                   extinction or likely to become so within              attracted to the refuge by favorable
                                                          Our Response: We agree that neither                  the foreseeable future.                               habitat conditions previously present.
                                                       site currently supports a large                            (24) Comment: Several commenters                      (28) Comment: Multiple commenters
                                                       percentage of the total mountain plover                 cited increased rangewide population                  mentioned continued, significant
                                                       population. Both sites are Federally                    estimates as a reason why the mountain                declines across the breeding and
                                                       controlled and have supported                           plover does not merit listing. One                    wintering range of the mountain plover,
                                                       mountain plover research and                            commenter cited the recent status                     as cited by researchers, as indicative of
                                                       management efforts. The PNG once                        change by the IUCN (downlisting from                  the species’ imperiled status.
                                                       likely supported the highest density of                 ‘‘vulnerable’’ to ‘‘nearly threatened’’) as              Our Response: Documentation of
                                                       mountain plover in the species’                         evidence of reduced threat to the                     historical range contraction and
                                                       breeding range. The dramatic loss of this               species.                                              apparent decline in mountain plover
                                                       sizable population has relevance to the                    Our Response: While greater                        populations is reflected in long-term
                                                       rangewide population trend and may                      abundance suggests less vulnerability,                BBS and CBC trends. Despite more
                                                       provide insight to current and future                   we have no basis to suggest that the                  intensive study in recent years, it is not
                                                       threats to the mountain plover. Charles                 increased estimate of mountain plover                 clear if, or to what extent, any declines
                                                       M. Russell NWR provides management                      numbers reflects an actual, rangewide                 in mountain plover populations
                                                       opportunities on a Montana site                         increase. The number of individuals of                continue. See our discussion of
                                                       representative of those where mountain                  a species present is only one factor                  Population Size and Trends above.
                                                       plover is largely dependent on the                      considered when assessing vulnerability                  (29) Comment: A few commenters
                                                       black-tailed prairie dogs to create                     to extinction. Current and future threats             stated that BBS and CBC data and trends
                                                       desirable habitat conditions.                           may be of greater significance.                       regarding mountain plover are
                                                          (22) Comment: One commenter stated                   Downlisting by the IUCN was based on                  unreliable. Others state that these data
                                                       that breeding habitat on public and                     revised population estimates alone, and               are a reason for concern.
                                                       private lands in the mountain plover’s                  not on changed interpretation of threats                 Our Response: The BBS is the best
                                                       range has not been adequately surveyed                  present.                                              available long-term trend information
                                                       and suggested that additional surveys                      (25) Comment: One commenter noted                  for the mountain plover on its breeding
                                                       will consistently find more mountain                    that all wintering areas in the United                range. It is an imprecise indicator of
                                                       plover.                                                 States and Mexico have not been located               mountain plover population trends.
                                                          Our Response: Knowledge of                           and opined that further searching is                  These data appear to confirm a decline
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                                                       mountain plover populations varies                      likely to yield more wintering sites.                 over the period 1966 through 2009, but
                                                       greatly across the breeding range.                         Our Response: While more                           results suggest that the rate of any
                                                       Surveys vary in methodology and scope.                  information overall has been gathered                 continued (1999 through 2009) decline
                                                       In some cases, lack of access to conduct                since our 2002 proposal (67 FR 72396,                 has moderated. The CBC data are more
                                                       surveys on private lands limits the                     December 5, 2002), much is still                      restricted in geographic scope than are
                                                       accuracy of population estimates. Based                 unknown regarding wintering habitat.                  the BBS data, but these data also suggest
                                                       on information available since 2002,                    Rangewide breeding population                         a long-term decline. Few CBC count
                                                       estimates of mountain plover breeding                   estimates and wintering estimates from                circles regularly report mountain plover,
                                                       numbers in certain States and                           California suggest that a substantial                 and numbers are highly variable, likely
                                                       throughout the range have been                          percentage of mountain plover winter                  reflecting mobility of wintering flocks.


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                                                       27772                    Federal Register / Vol. 76, No. 92 / Thursday, May 12, 2011 / Proposed Rules

                                                       See our discussion of Population Size                   Species Vulnerability                                 also breed in a variety of habitats,
                                                       and Trends above.                                         (33) Comment: One commenter                         including prairie, semi-desert, and
                                                          (30) Comment: We received a                                                                                cropland. See our discussion regarding
                                                                                                               referenced the mountain plover’s
                                                       comment that insufficient data are                                                                            the status and threats to the black-tailed
                                                                                                               relatively short lifespan as contributing
                                                       available to predict any trend toward                                                                         prairie dog and potential effect on the
                                                                                                               to the vulnerability of populations to
                                                       extinction.                                                                                                   mountain plover in Factor A below. We
                                                          Our Response: We agree that current                  extirpation if one or more years of
                                                                                                               unfavorable habitat on their breeding                 recently determined that the black-
                                                       trend data are limited and that the                                                                           tailed prairie dog does not warrant
                                                       ability to project future population                    grounds prevent successful nesting.
                                                                                                                 Our Response: As discussed above in                 listing under the Act (74 FR 63343,
                                                       trends is difficult. However, we have                                                                         December 3, 2009), but it does not
                                                       reviewed the best population and trend                  our discussion of Population Size and
                                                                                                                                                                     follow that this would automatically
                                                       data available as part of our analysis of               Trends, and under Factor E below, our
                                                                                                                                                                     lead to a similar conclusion for the
                                                       the mountain plover’s status. In making                 former conclusion that the lifespan of
                                                                                                                                                                     mountain plover since the species could
                                                       our final listing determination, we not                 mountain plover contributed to its
                                                                                                                                                                     be subject to a variety of threats
                                                       only looked at population trends, but                   vulnerability has been refuted based on
                                                                                                                                                                     unrelated to the status of prairie dogs.
                                                       we have also evaluated the best                         more recent information. The mountain                    (36) Comment: We received a
                                                       available information on current and                    plover is now considered a relatively                 comment that the Service in 1999 and
                                                       future threats to the species.                          long-lived species, with one individual               2002 underestimated the presence of
                                                          (31) Comment: One commenter                          documented living for 10 years                        prairie dogs and therefore their habitat
                                                       suggested that population trends at the                 (Dinsmore 2008, p. 52). We do not                     and the number of mountain plover that
                                                       PNG, where the birds have been closely                  believe that mountain plover lifespan                 prairie dog colonies supported.
                                                       studied, are indicative of the overall                  substantially influences the                             Our Response: Our current analysis
                                                       population trend for the mountain                       vulnerability of mountain plover to                   includes information developed since
                                                       plover.                                                 extinction.                                           2002. Under Factor A below, we discuss
                                                          Our Response: Knopf (2008, p. 61)                      (34) Comment: One commenter stated                  current estimates of prairie dog
                                                       summarized mountain plover studies on                   that breeding mountain plover                         abundance and implications of prairie
                                                       the PNG in Weld County, Colorado, and                   populations are often discontinuous, in               dog numbers to mountain plover.
                                                       suggested reasons for that population’s                 part because of habitat fragmentation,                   (37) Comment: Some commenters
                                                       former abundance and more recent                        and stated that local, isolated mountain              stated that black-tailed prairie dogs lack
                                                       decline, including long-term changes in                 plover populations have an increased                  protection, are often poisoned or shot,
                                                       habitat since abandonment of                            vulnerability to random natural and                   and are often affected by sylvatic
                                                       agricultural fields following the ‘‘Dust                human-caused events.                                  plague; therefore, prairie dog colonies
                                                       Bowl’’ of the 1930s. We believe that this                 Our Response: It is generally true that             and the mountain plover they support
                                                       represents a unique history because                     small and isolated populations are less               remain vulnerable.
                                                       long-term BBS data (Sauer 2010a)                        secure than larger populations. While                    Our Response: We agree that there are
                                                       suggest a relatively stable population in               the mountain plover is a migratory,                   few protections for the black-tailed
                                                       Colorado despite the dramatic drop in                   highly mobile species, it generally                   prairie dog. However, despite the above
                                                       numbers on the PNG. In 2008, Knopf                      returns to the same breeding sites,                   factors, the black-tailed prairie dog has
                                                       expressed the opinion that similar                      which isolates local populations to a                 increased in number throughout all
                                                       numbers of mountain plover were                         degree. Small mountain plover                         States in its range in the United States
                                                       breeding in Weld County as in 1990,                     populations are vulnerable to ‘‘blinking              since the 1960s. In the United States, we
                                                       just not on the PNG (Knopf 2008, p. 54).                out’’ if events destroy or degrade habitat.           do not foresee any significant decreases
                                                       We have no scientific information that                  This vulnerability may be offset by the               in black-tailed prairie dog populations
                                                       would point to the precipitous decline                  species’ ability to colonize new habitat              or the habitats they create. On December
                                                       in mountain plover historically at the                  as it becomes available. Recent studies               3, 2009, the Service published a 12-
                                                       PNG as indicative of the overall                        describe mountain plover dispersal from               month finding that the black-tailed
                                                       mountain plover population trend.                       natal sites or former breeding sites, and             prairie dog is not threatened with
                                                          (32) Comment: One commenter                          suggest that the mountain plover has                  extinction and is not likely to become so
                                                       suggested that mountain plover                          been able to disperse and exploit habitat             in the foreseeable future (74 FR 63343).
                                                       numbers are dynamic, and that their                     nearby if former habitat is destroyed.                In Mexico, both the black-tailed prairie
                                                       current abundance is within the range of                                                                      dog and the Mexican prairie dog
                                                                                                               Prairie Dog Issues
                                                       normal fluctuation due to annual                                                                              continue to be reduced in number and
                                                       variation in weather patterns.                             (35) Comment: We received numerous                 distribution, and this likely impacts
                                                          Our Response: Breeding numbers and                   comments regarding mountain plover                    mountain plover habitat. See our
                                                       nest success can vary locally based on                  and prairie dogs. They included                       discussion under Factor A below.
                                                       a number of factors including weather.                  comments regarding the mountain                          (38) Comment: Other commenters
                                                       However, the historical reduction in                    plover’s dependence on prairie dogs,                  cited conservation efforts that target
                                                       rangewide mountain plover numbers                       and the distribution, abundance, and                  prairie dogs, as well as efforts to
                                                       seems well substantiated. Interpretation                trends in prairie dog populations. One                conserve greater sage-grouse
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                                                       of recent trends is made more difficult                 commenter contended that if the black-                (Centrocercus urophasianus), lesser
                                                       by short-term variability in population                 tailed prairie dog does not merit listing,            prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus
                                                       numbers that may reflect annual                         then the mountain plover does not                     pallidicinctus), and black-footed ferret
                                                       weather variation. The effect of all                    either.                                               (Mustela nigripes), and concluded that
                                                       factors, natural and human-caused, that                    Our Response: It is well established               these existing efforts make mountain
                                                       may contribute to the survival of the                   that in parts of its range, Montana in                plover conservation efforts unnecessary.
                                                       mountain plover is considered in this                   particular, the mountain plover is                       Our Response: Efforts to conserve
                                                       determination, including variation in                   largely dependent during breeding on                  these species are in response to declines
                                                       weather patterns and longer-term                        the habitat that prairie dogs create and              in numbers and threats to their future
                                                       changes in climate.                                     maintain. Elsewhere, mountain plover                  existence. While the mountain plover


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                                                       will benefit from conservation of prairie               or without prairie dogs. Chick survival               adversely affect the mountain plover
                                                       dogs, some other species require                        appears to be lower on crop fields, but               breeding population that is currently
                                                       habitats unlike those favored by the                    results of some studies differ, perhaps               present. However, based on information
                                                       mountain plover. To the extent that                     depending on variables such as annual                 from Park County, population growth is
                                                       mountain plover benefit from                            weather conditions and site-specific                  much slower than once predicted, and
                                                       conservation efforts for other species,                 levels of predation. The influence of the             we do not anticipate substantial human
                                                       these are addressed under Factor A,                     agricultural landscape on mountain                    development will occur in the area in
                                                       below.                                                  plover recruitment has not been fully                 the foreseeable future. See our
                                                          (39) Comment: One commenter                          determined. Wintering mountain plover                 discussion under Factor A below.
                                                       contended that the presence of prairie                  favor crop fields at times, but habitat
                                                       dogs was only one of several factors that                                                                     Livestock/Grazing/Range Management
                                                                                                               preference seems to vary greatly by
                                                       create mountain plover breeding habitat                 region. Mountain plover use of crop                      (45) Comment: One commenter stated
                                                       and that soil type, soil moisture, cattle               fields in winter may reflect the loss of              that range management has contributed
                                                       grazing, fire, and incidence of drought                 preferred native habitats.                            to the past decline of mountain plover
                                                       all play a role in supplying suitable                      (42) Comment: One commenter stated                 and is a current threat, as practices vary
                                                       mountain plover breeding habitat.                       that farming practices on the prairie                 little from those used previously.
                                                          Our Response: While the literature on                have not changed in 50 years and                         Our Response: Range management is
                                                       the mountain plover is replete with the                 questioned why they could suddenly be                 often designed to maximize forage and
                                                       association of mountain plover and                      a threat.                                             diminish excessive disturbance to grass
                                                       prairie dog colonies, we agree that other                  Our Response: Dryland farming                      and soil. Such management, when
                                                       factors, singly or in combination, can                  practices in eastern Colorado and                     employed, does not benefit the
                                                       shape mountain plover breeding habitat,                 adjacent States have remained relatively              mountain plover. However, we do not
                                                       and we have taken this into                             stable, although market factors may                   see range management as representing a
                                                       consideration in this final listing                     favor one crop over another.                          current or future threat to the mountain
                                                       determination.                                          Historically, conversion of prairies to               plover, as there is no information to
                                                                                                               crop fields likely contributed to the                 suggest that current range management
                                                       Grassland Conversion and Agricultural
                                                                                                               decline of mountain plover, especially                practices and the habitat conditions
                                                       Issues
                                                                                                               in the eastern portion of its range. Farm             now present are likely to change
                                                          (40) Comment: Multiple commenters                    operations can directly impact nesting,               substantially in the future.
                                                       state that grassland conversion to                      but the current relationship between                     (46) Comment: One commenter cited
                                                       cropland is a significant threat.                       dryland crop fields and breeding                      recommendations by Knopf and
                                                          Our Response: While grassland                        mountain plover is complex. However,                  Wunder (2006) to prioritize research
                                                       conversion contributed to past                          the best available information indicates              regarding varied livestock grazing
                                                       contraction in the mountain plover’s                    that current agricultural practices have              practices and their effects on mountain
                                                       range and reduction of the mountain                     remained largely unchanged in recent                  plover.
                                                       plover’s numbers, much of this took                     years and have not been shown to pose                    Our Response: Research is ongoing as
                                                       place on the eastern Great Plains where                 a threat to the mountain plover (see                  to how range management affects
                                                       conversion to crops such as corn and                    Factor A discussion below).                           mountain plover and a variety of other
                                                       soybeans was feasible. The rate of                         (43) Comment: Several commenters                   grassland species. We have a basic
                                                       grassland conversion is now much                        stated that the Conservation Reserve                  understanding of how livestock grazing
                                                       reduced. We do not believe that the                     Program is beneficial to the mountain                 can enhance mountain plover habitat
                                                       current or anticipated future conversion                plover, while other commenters thought                (Dechant et al. 2003, entire).
                                                       of grasslands to other uses is a                        the program was detrimental to the                       (47) Comment: Commenters cited the
                                                       significant threat. Dryland agriculture,                mountain plover.                                      decline in sheep (Ovis aries) numbers in
                                                       found in the southern portions of the                      Our Response: The U.S. Department                  the mountain plover’s breeding range as
                                                       mountain plover’s breeding range,                       of Agriculture (USDA) administers the                 detrimental to mountain plover.
                                                       supports significant numbers of                         Conservation Reserve Program, which                      Our Response: Sheep grazing helps
                                                       breeding mountain plover. The extent to                 allows producers to retire agricultural               maintain low vegetation structure
                                                       which the use of dryland agricultural                   lands for a 10-year period, thereby                   favored by the mountain plover. The
                                                       habitat is beneficial to the mountain                   benefitting wildlife and other resources.             U.S. sheep industry has been in decline
                                                       plover is largely undetermined. See our                 Most of these lands are planted with                  since the 1940s. Past declines in sheep
                                                       discussion under Factor A below.                        nonnative grasses that support other                  may have contributed to losses in
                                                          (41) Comment: One commenter                          wildlife species but often do not create              mountain plover breeding habitat. The
                                                       contended that current farming                          mountain plover habitat. The program                  future of the sheep industry in the
                                                       practices benefit breeding mountain                     likely has little effect on overall                   United States is difficult to predict. See
                                                       plover, that mountain plover are an                     mountain plover habitat because a                     our discussion under Factor A below.
                                                       adaptable species that have shifted from                relatively small portion of agricultural                 (48) Comment: One commenter stated
                                                       grasslands to cultivated lands on both                  fields are retired at any one time and                that cattle do not replace the role of
                                                       their breeding and wintering areas, and                 retired lands provide minimal benefit to              bison in the ecosystem, and that the role
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                                                       that cultivated lands are now the most                  mountain plover.                                      of cattle grazing as it relates to insect
                                                       important habitat for the mountain                         (44) Comment: Commenters expressed                 availability has not been adequately
                                                       plover. Other commenters raised the                     concern that anticipated human                        evaluated.
                                                       question of whether the choice to nest                  population growth in South Park, Park                    Our Response: The historical loss of
                                                       in cropland is detrimental to mountain                  County, Colorado, and the                             bison resulted in a number of changes
                                                       plover.                                                 fragmentation of existing habitat there,              to the prairie ecosystem. Current
                                                          Our Response: Research findings from                 will impact a significant mountain                    mountain plover numbers and
                                                       Colorado present a complex picture.                     plover population.                                    distribution, and our evaluation of
                                                       Hatching success on some croplands is                      Our Response: We agree that buildout               threats to the species, are based on an
                                                       similar to that found on grasslands with                of private lands in South Park would                  ecosystem largely devoid of bison.


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                                                       Insect numbers and availability to                      reduce potential for any associated                   below). These agencies address
                                                       mountain plover under various grazing                   adverse impacts on the mountain                       potential impacts to the species when
                                                       regimes may be worthy of investigation.                 plover, there is uncertainty as to                    reviewing energy development.
                                                                                                               whether such measures will persist into               However, we will continue to work with
                                                       Mineral Extraction/Energy Development
                                                                                                               the future. Designated greater sage-                  these and other Federal agencies, States,
                                                          (49) Comment: We received many                       grouse Core Breeding Areas are broad                  and other partners to monitor the status
                                                       comments on the threat to the mountain                  and encompass habitats that support                   of the mountain plover.
                                                       plover posed by oil and gas field                       mountain plover, but from a habitat
                                                       development, and wind energy                                                                                  Wintering Habitat
                                                                                                               perspective, the needs of the two
                                                       development. Commenters stated that                     species differ. Measures to manage for                   (56) Comment: We received many
                                                       effects of energy development on the                    the greater sage-grouse may not benefit               comments on actual or potential loss of
                                                       mountain plover are largely unknown                     the mountain plover.                                  wintering habitat in California and how
                                                       and that the mountain plover’s response                    (53) Comment: One commenter                        this could affect rangewide populations
                                                       to oil, gas, and wind energy                            suggested that the Service should base                of mountain plover. Commenters stated
                                                       development should be investigated.                     its analysis of the energy development                that the historical and ongoing
                                                          Our Response: We discuss the                         threats on what is known regarding the                conversion of grasslands in California is
                                                       potential impact of energy development                  impact of roads, habitat conversion, and              a threat to the mountain plover. Some
                                                       on mountain plover under Factor A                       fragmentation. Others raised the issue of             commenters cited Andres and Stone
                                                       below. Wells, turbines, roadways, and                   roads and structures resulting in                     (2009, p. 1), describing crucial threats
                                                       related development constitute potential                increases in mammalian and avian                      facing the mountain plover, including
                                                       threats. While far from definitive, recent              predators of mountain plover, which in                ‘‘* * * the inability to manage
                                                       studies suggest mountain plover may be                  turn could lead to higher mortality of                agricultural lands in the Imperial
                                                       little affected by oil and gas                          mountain plover chicks and adults.                    Valley, California, to provide consistent
                                                       development. Thus far, we have no data                     Our Response: In general, while some               winter habitat, and the loss or
                                                       on the effect of wind energy                            other species have been shown to be                   inadequate management of other known
                                                       development on wintering mountain                       adversely impacted by energy                          wintering areas in California.’’
                                                       plover.                                                 development, we have little evidence of                  Our Response: Much of the native
                                                          (50) Comment: One commenter                          similar impacts on the mountain plover.               grassland that the mountain plover
                                                       recounted the history of mountain                       Changes in habitat brought on by energy               formerly used for wintering in
                                                       plover presence at the Antelope Coal                    development, including the potential                  California has been lost. While the
                                                       Mine in Wyoming and suggested that                      that roads and structures may facilitate              mountain plover has shown a
                                                       mountain plover are tolerant of both                    increased predation on the mountain                   preference for native and nonnative
                                                       ground disturbance and nearby                           plover, are addressed under Factor A                  grasslands in California, especially
                                                       industrial activity.                                    and Factor C below. Some adverse                      when heavily grazed, the mountain
                                                          Our Response: We agree that results of               impacts are likely, but there may also be             plover has successfully switched to
                                                       monitoring at this site confirm the                     offsetting benefits resulting from the                using crop fields. Additional conversion
                                                       mountain plover’s preference for open                   increase in bare ground preferred by the              of grasslands to various other lands uses
                                                       ground created by disturbance and a                     mountain plover.                                      may increase mountain plover
                                                       general tolerance of human activity.                       (54) Comment: One commenter noted                  dependence on these crop fields. Any
                                                       While mining activity displaces                         that the Western Governors Association,               resulting adverse effects of this change
                                                       mountain plover, reclamation following                  States, and the wind industry have been               are largely speculative.
                                                       mining may restore habitat.                             addressing concerns regarding                            Based on a variety of existing and
                                                          (51) Comment: One commenter                          construction of wind energy projects on               projected trends in land use, the further
                                                       described new wind energy projects                      sensitive wildlife areas.                             reduction of grassland and crop fields
                                                       under development in southern Texas                        Our Response: The Service is engaged               used by mountain plover for wintering
                                                       areas where mountain plover winter and                  with the wind industry and other                      in California seems likely. However, as
                                                       thought that the species would be                       partners on issues regarding a range of               of 2007, California supported over 25
                                                       affected by the presence of turbines.                   wildlife including the endangered                     million ac (10 million ha) of land in
                                                          Our Response: As stated earlier, thus                whooping crane (Grus americana), and                  farms, including 9.5 million ac (3.8
                                                       far, we have no data on the effect of                   candidates including the greater sage-                million ha) of cropland, 5.5 million
                                                       wind energy development on wintering                    grouse, lesser prairie chicken, and                   cattle, and 600,000 sheep (USDA 2010).
                                                       mountain plover. The response of                        Sprague’s pipit (Anthus spragueii), as                The mountain plover is a highly mobile
                                                       mountain plover to turbines on their                    well as the mountain plover. We                       species that uses habitat
                                                       breeding areas (which indicates some                    anticipate that current emphasis on                   opportunistically in winter. The
                                                       degree of tolerance) may not provide                    renewable energy projects will be                     mountain plover’s preference for certain
                                                       insight into how flocks respond in                      accompanied by cooperative initiatives                agricultural lands above others is well
                                                       winter.                                                 to minimize impacts to species of                     documented. However, the pervasive
                                                          (52) Comment: One commenter noted                    concern.                                              expanse of agriculture throughout the
                                                       conservation efforts to limit energy                       (55) Comment: One commenter was                    Central Valley and Imperial Valley
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                                                       development on State-designated greater                 concerned that mountain plover                        suggests to us that, while current and
                                                       sage-grouse Core Breeding Areas in                      populations could decrease significantly              foreseeable future changes may reduce
                                                       Wyoming, which include 36 percent of                    while studies on impacts from energy                  favored wintering habitat, the quantity
                                                       likely mountain plover breeding habitat                 development were ongoing and that                     and variety of agricultural habitat
                                                       in the State. The commenter suggested                   precautionary measures should be                      remaining in California will continue to
                                                       that this will provide a significant                    enacted to preclude potential impacts.                provide sufficient wintering areas for
                                                       measure of protection for the mountain                     Our Response: The USFS and BLM                     the mountain plover.
                                                       plover.                                                 have designated the mountain plover a                    (57) Comment: One commenter noted
                                                          Our Response: While limitations on                   sensitive species within portions of the              that in the Imperial Valley, an important
                                                       energy development in these areas may                   range (see discussion under Factor D                  wintering area for mountain plover, the


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                                                       area of bermudagrass and alfalfa (crops                 variation. Anticipated changes in                     contribute to continued cooperation
                                                       favored by the mountain plover) has                     climate will alter annual norms of                    efforts with private landowners. Were
                                                       declined.                                               temperature and precipitation, but those              we to determine that the mountain
                                                          Our Response: Both bermudagrass                      changes will likely vary across the                   plover met the definition of a threatened
                                                       and alfalfa show recent declines in area                mountain plover’s breeding and                        species, we would consider developing
                                                       from 2005 to 2009 (Imperial Irrigation                  wintering range (see discussion under                 a special rule under section 4(d) of the
                                                       District (IID) 2010). While area devoted                Factor E below). Overall, we believe it               Act. However, because we determined
                                                       to all hay (including bermudagrass and                  is speculative to conclude that these                 that the species does not warrant listing,
                                                       alfalfa) in the Imperial County varies                  effects will be beneficial to the                     the consideration of a special 4(d) rule
                                                       yearly, 233,000 ac (90,000 ha) were                     mountain plover.                                      is not necessary.
                                                       present in both the 1997 and the 2007
                                                                                                               Conservation Efforts and Effects of                   Summary of Information Pertaining to
                                                       (USDA Census of Agriculture (USDA)
                                                                                                               Listing                                               Five Factors
                                                       2010). We do not have evidence
                                                       indicating the likelihood of long-term                     (61) Comment: Several commenters                      Section 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1533)
                                                       future declines in acreage devoted to                   noted that conservation partnerships                  and implementing regulations (50 CFR
                                                       these two crops.                                        between State agencies, landowners,                   424) set forth procedures for adding
                                                          (58) Comment: One commenter noted                    and conservation groups have promoted                 species to the Federal Lists of
                                                       that the wintering range of the mountain                conservation of mountain plover and                   Endangered and Threatened Wildlife
                                                       plover in Texas is not well described                   that listing would negate some gains in               and Plants. Under section 4(a)(1) of the
                                                       and that the species’ occurrence in                     cooperation.                                          Act, a species may be determined to be
                                                       Texas is variable. There was concern                       Our Response: We agree that                        endangered or threatened based on any
                                                       that habitat needs were not understood                  partnerships are important to the                     of the following five factors:
                                                       and that Texas populations were not                     conservation of the mountain plover,                     (A) The present or threatened
                                                       receiving the attention they merited.                   especially in those States where                      destruction, modification, or
                                                          Our Response: We agree that                          mountain plover occur mostly on                       curtailment of its habitat or range;
                                                       knowledge of mountain plover                            private lands. The concern that such                     (B) Overutilization for commercial,
                                                       wintering in Texas has been scant (as                   partnerships could be affected by listing             recreational, scientific, or educational
                                                       described in Conservation Status and                    is legitimate, but is not a factor                    purposes;
                                                       Local Populations above). Distribution                  evaluated when determining whether a                     (C) Disease or predation;
                                                       is largely limited to private lands where               species warrants listing under the Act.                  (D) The inadequacy of existing
                                                       land use has varied little and where few                   (62) Comment: One commenter                        regulatory mechanisms; or
                                                       threats are known. New efforts to survey                suggested that traditional land uses on                  (E) Other natural or manmade factors
                                                       abundance and habitat use of mountain                   private land would continue even if                   affecting its continued existence.
                                                                                                               listing occurred. Another commenter                      The February 16, 1999 (64 FR 7587),
                                                       plover in Texas are currently under
                                                                                                               suggested listing under the Act would                 proposed listing rule provided a
                                                       way.
                                                                                                               decrease the ability to effectively                   description of threats affecting the
                                                       Pesticides                                              manage habitat, slowing management                    mountain plover under the five listing
                                                         (59) Comment: Some commenters                         response to changing science and                      factors identified in section 4(a)(1) of
                                                       expressed concern that use of pesticides                conditions on the ground. A third                     the Act. The December 5, 2002, proposal
                                                       to control grasshoppers (family                         commenter suggested listing would                     (67 FR 72396), which was described as
                                                       Acrididae) and the Mormon cricket                       provide impetus for needed research.                  a ‘‘supplemental proposal,’’ provided
                                                       (Anabrus simplex) reduces foods that                       Our Response: We agree that listing                pertinent new information. Both of the
                                                       sustain breeding mountain plover,                       under the Act could lead to multiple                  proposed rules concluded that the
                                                       especially chicks, in the mountain                      outcomes, including those above. We                   mountain plover was likely to become
                                                       plover’s breeding range.                                considered all available scientific and               an endangered species in the foreseeable
                                                         Our Response: Efforts to control                      commercial information in making our                  future unless measures were taken to
                                                       grasshoppers and Mormon crickets are                    determination as to whether the                       reverse its decline. Conservation
                                                       generally limited to suppressing                        mountain plover is currently, or may in               measures to reverse the decline were
                                                       populations in years and in areas where                 the foreseeable future become, in danger              discussed in both of the proposals.
                                                       infestations occur, and have the goal of                of extinction.                                           In our February 16, 1999, proposed
                                                       reducing densities to limit economic                       (63) Comment: Several commenters                   rule to list the species (64 FR 7587) and
                                                       impacts. While at times local mountain                  emphasized the importance of                          our December 5, 2002, proposed rule to
                                                       plover populations could be affected by                 developing a special rule under section               list the species (67 FR 72396) we
                                                       these activities, we do not believe that                4(d) of the Act to exempt certain                     described a number of potential threats
                                                       grasshopper and Mormon cricket                          activities from the take provisions of the            to the mountain plover. We cited
                                                       control represents a significant threat to              Act should the mountain plover be                     historical decline in the black-tailed
                                                       mountain plover populations. See our                    listed.                                               prairie dog (98 percent range wide) and
                                                       further discussion under Factor E                          Our Response: In our June 29, 2010,                its effect on mountain plover habitat.
                                                       below.                                                  document (75 FR 37353) we addressed                   We described effects of past rangeland
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                                                                                                               the possible development of a special                 loss to agricultural conversion (30
                                                       Climate                                                 4(d) rule if the mountain plover were                 percent of the Great Plains) and more
                                                         (60) Comment: Some commenters                         listed as threatened. The intent was to               recent conversion at specific mountain
                                                       suggested that climate change could                     develop a mechanism by which                          plover breeding sites. We addressed
                                                       bring warmer and drier conditions that                  agricultural practices that might result              residential expansion into a mountain
                                                       may benefit mountain plover breeding.                   in take, but were believed to have no net             plover breeding area in South Park,
                                                         Our Response: Mountain plover                         adverse impact on the mountain plover,                Colorado, and stated that buildout of
                                                       breeding numbers and breeding success                   could continue. Development of such a                 private lands would be detrimental. We
                                                       can vary greatly based on a number of                   rule would allay some concerns                        hypothesized that cultivated areas used
                                                       factors, including annual weather                       associated with listing and would                     for breeding by mountain plover may


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                                                       act as a ‘‘population sink’’ and that this              into the value of crop lands to breeding              create; loss of native prairie and
                                                       could impact population viability. We                   mountain plover. It now appears that                  rangeland habitats; cropland breeding
                                                       expressed concern over the rising trend                 perhaps one quarter of the rangewide                  habitat as a potential reproductive sink;
                                                       in oil, gas, and mineral exploration in                 mountain plover population breeds in                  oil, gas, and mineral development; wind
                                                       mountain plover breeding habitat and,                   crop fields and little evidence has                   and solar energy development; loss and
                                                       while we suggested habitat changes                      surfaced to suggest that is problematic.              changes to wintering habitat in
                                                       might not be detrimental, we cautioned                  Energy production in mountain plover                  California; livestock grazing practices;
                                                       that roads and human disturbance could                  habitat continues to expand, including                and urbanization. We address these
                                                       impact mountain plover breeding. We                     increased development of oil and gas,                 below.
                                                       cited potential impacts of both historical              and wind energy projects. Studies to
                                                                                                                                                                     Threats to Prairie Dogs and Associated
                                                       loss of grasslands and changing                         date have not documented adverse
                                                                                                                                                                     Loss of Habitat
                                                       agricultural practices on mountain                      impacts of oil and gas development, or
                                                       plover wintering areas in California.                   wind energy projects. Effects of such                    Much of the mountain plover
                                                       With the Imperial Valley growing in                     projects on mountain plover merit                     breeding range described above follows
                                                       importance to wintering mountain                        continued study, largely because of their             the range of the black-tailed prairie dog
                                                       plover, we suggested that water                         potential future scope. In California,                on grasslands of the Great Plains from
                                                       conservation, water transfer projects,                  land use changes continue in the                      Canada to Mexico. To a lesser extent,
                                                       burning restrictions, urbanization, and                 Imperial Valley and elsewhere.                        mountain plover also breed within the
                                                       resulting modification of agricultural                  However, based on current rangewide                   ranges of the white-tailed, Gunnison’s,
                                                       practices in the Imperial Valley could be               mountain plover population estimates                  and Mexican prairie dogs. Mountain
                                                       detrimental to mountain plover                          (over 20,000 breeding birds) we now                   plover often nest in black-tailed prairie
                                                       populations. In our 1999 and 2002                       believe that the majority of mountain                 dog colonies at densities greater than in
                                                       proposals we also expressed concerns                    plover winter in areas other than                     other habitats (Childers and Dinsmore
                                                       regarding the mountain plover’s average                 California. We conclude that even with                2008, p. 707; Tipton et al. 2009, p. 496),
                                                       life span and breeding site fidelity as                 reduction of California wintering                     and mountain plover numbers have
                                                       factors potentially impacting persistence               habitat, sufficient area of wintering                 been shown to track changes in prairie
                                                       of local breeding populations. We                       habitat will remain, in California and                dog abundance brought on by sylvatic
                                                       described a short average life span as                  elsewhere, to support current                         plague (Dinsmore et al. 2005, pp. 1550–
                                                                                                               populations. Life span, site fidelity, and            1551; Augustine et al. 2008,
                                                       limiting opportunities for mountain
                                                                                                               dispersal of both adult and juvenile                  unpaginated; Dinsmore and Smith 2010,
                                                       plover to reproduce. We also suggested
                                                                                                               mountain plovers have been further                    pp. 42–44). A common recommendation
                                                       that high site fidelity and the specific
                                                                                                               investigated. Contrary to our previous                regarding conservation of the mountain
                                                       breeding habitat that mountain plover
                                                                                                               belief, the mountain plover is now                    plover is to assure the maintenance or
                                                       required limited opportunities to
                                                                                                               considered a relatively long-lived                    expansion of black-tailed prairie dog
                                                       disperse to new breeding sites should
                                                                                                               species. Results of genetic research                  populations and the landscapes they
                                                       former breeding areas turn inhospitable.
                                                                                                               provide evidence that mixing among                    create (Dinsmore et al. 2005, p. 1552;
                                                       We addressed concerns over mountain
                                                                                                               mountain plover breeding populations                  Augustine et al. 2008; Knopf 2008, p.
                                                       plover exposure to pesticides; however,
                                                                                                               is occurring. Dispersal, especially by                61; Andres and Stone 2009, p. 35;
                                                       we documented no deleterious effects.                                                                         Dinsmore et al. 2010). Current and
                                                                                                               returning one year old mountain plover,
                                                          In the nine years since our 2002                     appears significant. Site fidelity and the            future threats to the distribution and
                                                       proposal, substantial new information                   mountain plover’s ability to seek out                 abundance of prairie dogs, especially
                                                       has been developed regarding the                        alternative sites for breeding are no                 the black-tailed prairie dog, may in turn
                                                       mountain plover and potential threats to                longer of concern. While substantially                be threats to the mountain plover.
                                                       its existence. Our December 3, 2009,                    more information has been developed                      On December 3, 2009, the Service
                                                       12-month finding on a petition to list                  regarding exposure of mountain plover                 published a 12-month finding on a
                                                       the black-tailed prairie dog summarized                 to pesticides, no evidence of actual                  petition to list the black-tailed prairie
                                                       new information on the species and                      impacts to individuals, or suggestions                dog as endangered or threatened under
                                                       provided a basis for us to assess whether               that pesticides are having local or                   the Act (74 FR 63343). We found listing
                                                       threats to black-tailed prairie dog may,                rangewide impacts to the species have                 to be not warranted. Here, we rely
                                                       in turn, affect the mountain plover (74                 surfaced.                                             heavily on the analysis and results of
                                                       FR 63343). We now believe that the                         The following summary builds on                    that finding to assess the potential threat
                                                       black-tailed prairie dog is a resilient                 scientific and commercial information                 to the mountain plover from current or
                                                       species and that, overall, populations in               presented in our 1999 and 2002                        future loss of breeding habitat in the
                                                       the mountain plover breeding range are                  proposals and provides our current                    United States that is created and
                                                       not likely to decline. Recent data                      analysis based on all information                     maintained by the black-tailed prairie
                                                       confirms that rangeland conversion to                   currently available.                                  dog.
                                                       agriculture remains insignificant across                                                                         In our December 5, 2002, proposal to
                                                       the mountain plover’s breeding range.                   Factor A. The Present or Threatened                   list the mountain plover we discussed
                                                       Of the States where we previously                       Destruction, Modification, or                         historical reduction of the black-tailed
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                                                       documented rangeland declines, none                     Curtailment of Habitat or Range                       prairie dog numbers, but not current
                                                       have experienced significant decline in                   Recent summaries of the mountain                    populations or recent population trends
                                                       rangeland in recent years. Expanded                     plover’s status (Dinsmore 2003; Knopf                 (67 FR 72402). In our 2009 finding
                                                       human development of mountain plover                    and Wunder 2006; Andres and Stone                     regarding the black-tailed prairie dog,
                                                       breeding habitat in South Park,                         2009) have highlighted the loss or                    we estimated that 2.4 million ac (1
                                                       Colorado, did not proceed as previously                 degradation of mountain plover habitat                million ha) of occupied black-tailed
                                                       anticipated, and is not expected to do so               as the greatest threat to the species. The            prairie dog habitat exists in a shifting
                                                       in the foreseeable future. Mountain                     primary issues that have been raised are              mosaic over time, throughout an
                                                       plover use of cultivated lands has been                 potential loss of prairie dog populations             estimated 283 million ac (115 million
                                                       further investigated, providing insight                 and the mountain plover habitat they                  ha) of suitable habitat. We evaluated


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                                                       recent trends in occupied habitat and                   365). Current prairie dog distribution is             habitat; however, we have no
                                                       considered occupied habitat an                          scattered in remnant populations over                 information regarding the extent of
                                                       appropriate surrogate for the status of                 90 percent of the historical range (Van               potential impacts. Nevertheless, prairie
                                                       the species. Rangewide, we estimated                    Pelt 2009, p. 20). Currently, 193,862 ac              dog occupancy has apparently increased
                                                       historical occupied area of black-tailed                (78,453 ha) of occupied habitat are                   within oil and gas development areas in
                                                       prairie dog colonies to be between 80                   estimated to occur in Montana                         Wyoming (Sorensen et al. 2009, pp. 5–
                                                       million ac and 104 million ac (32 to 42                 (Hanauska-Brown 2009). This represents                6). We have no evidence that present or
                                                       million ha), almost all in the United                   nearly a seven-fold increase over                     threatened curtailment of habitat due to
                                                       States. Occupied area in the United                     occupied habitat thought to be present                oil, gas, coalbed methane, and mineral
                                                       States had decreased to a low of 364,000                in Montana in 1961.                                   extraction, and wind energy
                                                       ac (147,000 ha) by 1961 (largely because                   In Wyoming, the black-tailed prairie               development, is a limiting factor for the
                                                       of eradication efforts), and subsequently               dog historically occupied habitat in the              black-tailed prairie dog in Wyoming or
                                                       increased to the 2.4 million ac (1                      eastern half of the State, east of the                elsewhere throughout its range.
                                                       million ha) cited above. Throughout the                 Rocky Mountains (Hall and Kelson                        Approximately 110 million ac (45
                                                       United States, this represents a 600                    1959, p. 365). Currently, distribution is             million ha) of cropland and 283 million
                                                       percent increase in estimated black-                    scattered in remnant populations                      ac (115 million ha) of rangeland occur
                                                       tailed prairie dog numbers from 1961.                   throughout at least 75 percent of the                 within the black-tailed prairie dog’s
                                                       See our December 3, 2009, finding (74                   historical range (Van Pelt 2009, p. 40).              range at present (Ernst 2008, pp. 10–19).
                                                       FR 63343) for the methods used to                       A 2006 study estimated the amount of                  In our December 3, 2009, finding for the
                                                       arrive at these estimates and cautions                  occupied habitat to be 229,607 ac                     black-tailed prairie dog (74 FR 63343),
                                                       regarding their accuracy.                               (92,919 ha) (Grenier et al. 2007, p. 125)             we contrasted the 2.4 million ac (1
                                                          The following evaluation of black-                   and these results suggested that black-               million ha) of currently occupied
                                                       tailed prairie dog status highlights the                tailed prairie dog populations in                     habitat with the 283 million ac (115
                                                       three States, Colorado, Montana, and                    Wyoming remain stable (Emmerich                       million ha) of rangeland and concluded
                                                       Wyoming, which have the greatest                        2010, pers. comm.). This represents                   that sufficient potential habitat still
                                                       number of breeding mountain plover                      nearly a five-fold increase over occupied             occurs within the range of the species in
                                                       associated with black-tailed prairie dog                habitat thought to be present in                      the United States to accommodate large
                                                       colonies. In Colorado, occupied black-                  Wyoming since in 1961.                                expansions of prairie dog populations
                                                       tailed prairie dog habitat historically                    In the past, the conversion of native              (which in turn would benefit the
                                                       existed in the eastern half of the State,               prairie habitat or rangeland to cropland              mountain plover) if the landowners and
                                                       east of the Front Range Mountains (Hall                 reduced black-tailed prairie dog                      public sentiment allow. We concluded
                                                       and Kelson 1959, p. 365). Currently, the                colonies, and thereby impacted the                    that the present or threatened
                                                       distribution of the black-tailed prairie                mountain plover’s most productive                     destruction, modification, or
                                                       dog is scattered in remnant populations                 breeding habitat in the grassland                     curtailment of habitat or range is not a
                                                       throughout at least 75 percent of the                   ecosystem. Conversion of native prairie               limiting factor for the black-tailed
                                                       historical range (Van Pelt 2009, p. 14).                to cropland historically progressed                   prairie dog and that we do not
                                                       The most recent estimate of occupied                    across the Great Plains from east to                  anticipate that impacts from habitat loss
                                                       habitat is 788,657 ac (319,158 ha) (Odell               west. The most intensive farming                      are likely to negatively impact the status
                                                       et al. 2008, p. 1311). This is                          activity remains in the east, in portions             of the species in the foreseeable future.
                                                       approximately one-third of all currently                of North Dakota, South Dakota,                        Because of the association between the
                                                       occupied black-tailed prairie dog habitat               Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and                       mountain plover and the black-tailed
                                                       in the United States, and is an eight-fold              Texas, where higher rainfall amounts                  prairie dog, we believe that appropriate
                                                       increase over occupied habitat thought                  and generally better soils result in                  habitat to support prairie dog colonies is
                                                       to be present in Colorado in 1961.                      greater agricultural production, and the              not a limiting factor within the breeding
                                                          The Conservation Plan for Grassland                  land supports crops such as corn and                  range of the mountain plover.
                                                       Species in Colorado (Conservation Plan)                 soybeans. This land conversion resulted                 Sylvatic plague is an exotic disease
                                                       (Colorado Division of Wildlife 2003, p.                 in the historical reduction in black-                 foreign to the evolutionary history of
                                                       1) has a goal ‘‘to ensure, at a minimum,                tailed prairie dog populations; as well as            North American prairie dogs. It is
                                                       the viability of the black-tailed prairie               reductions in mountain plover                         caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis.
                                                       dog and associated species (mountain                    populations in Nebraska, Kansas,                      Black-tailed prairie dogs are very
                                                       plover, burrowing owl, swift fox, and                   Oklahoma, and Texas; it also resulted in              sensitive to sylvatic plague, and
                                                       ferruginous hawk (Buteo regalis)) and                   the extirpation of the mountain plover                mortality in colonies affected frequently
                                                       provide mechanisms to manage for                        populations in North Dakota and South                 reaches 100 percent. Sylvatic plague has
                                                       populations beyond minimum levels,                      Dakota. Land with the highest potential               expanded its range to all States within
                                                       where possible, while addressing the                    for traditional farming uses was                      the range of the black-tailed prairie dog
                                                       interests and rights of private                         converted many years ago. The threat of               in recent years and has caused local
                                                       landowners.’’ The Conservation Plan                     future destruction of both prairie dog                population declines at several sites.
                                                       includes a species account for mountain                 and mountain plover habitat through                   These declines are typically followed by
                                                       plover, but does not provide any                        cropland conversion is minimal, much                  partial or complete recovery. Rangewide
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                                                       regulatory protections for the species or               less than in the early days of                        and Statewide estimates of prairie dog
                                                       its habitat.                                            agricultural development in the Great                 occupied area did not include
                                                          In Montana, where mountain plover                    Plains (see Loss of Breeding Habitat to               unoccupied prairie dog colonies where
                                                       are strongly associated with prairie dog                Land Conversion and Development,                      sylvatic plague (or poisoning) had at
                                                       colonies (Childers and Dinsmore 2008,                   below).                                               least temporarily eliminated prairie
                                                       p. 701), black-tailed prairie dog                          The present or threatened alteration of            dogs. Over all prairie dog colonies,
                                                       occupied habitat historically existed in                habitat due to oil, gas, coalbed methane,             unoccupied area was found to total
                                                       the eastern two-thirds of the State, with               and mineral extraction, and wind                      12 percent in Colorado, 15 percent in
                                                       the exception of the northeastern corner                energy development, affects portions of               Montana, and 13 percent in Wyoming.
                                                       of the State (Hall and Kelson 1959, p.                  black-tailed prairie dog occupied                     The BLM mapped prairie dog colonies


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                                                       27778                    Federal Register / Vol. 76, No. 92 / Thursday, May 12, 2011 / Proposed Rules

                                                       in Phillips County, Montana in 2004                     own Statewide management plans.                       complex at Janos has been reduced by
                                                       and 2005, and returned to 50 randomly                   Colorado and Wyoming have finalized                   73 percent since 1988, to approximately
                                                       selected prairie dog colonies in 2010. Of               grassland conservation plans that                     38,000 ac (16,000 ha), while Mexican
                                                       the 50 colonies selected for sampling, 48               support and meet the objectives of the                prairie dog colonies within the El Tokio
                                                       were still active in 2010 (McDonald                     Multi-State Plan. However, Montana is                 region have also been reduced to
                                                       2010). In the changing mosaic, colonies                 among the States that have finalized                  approximately 79,000 ac (32,000 ha)
                                                       lost or temporarily inactive may be                     management plans that do not support                  (Andres and Stone 2009, p. 28; Ceballos
                                                       offset by colonies reoccupied or newly                  or meet all of the objectives of the Multi-           et al. 2010, pp, 7–8; Macias-Duarte and
                                                       established.                                            State Plan. These and other efforts give              Punjabi 2010, p. 9–10). Both areas, at
                                                          We documented in our 12-month                        promise that the trend of increasing                  least in some years, support significant
                                                       finding on a petition to list the black-                black-tailed prairie dogs populations                 numbers of wintering mountain plover
                                                       tailed prairie dog that, since the early                since 1961 can be sustained.                          (see Conservation Status and Local
                                                       1960s, occupied black-tailed prairie dog                   Climate change will likely affect                  Populations above). Destruction and
                                                       habitat has increased in every State,                   black-tailed prairie dogs and their                   fragmentation of prairie dog colonies
                                                       even in those States where sylvatic                     habitat; however, at this time we have                has occurred through poisoning and
                                                       plague has been present for over 50                     no information on the direct                          shooting of prairie dogs, conversion to
                                                       years (74 FR 63355–63356). This                         relationship between climate change                   cattle ranching or farming, overgrazing,
                                                       increase has occurred despite continued                 and black-tailed prairie dog population               and drought. Mexico experienced a
                                                       impacts from sylvatic plague and other                  trends, and we cannot quantify the                    prolonged drought in the Janos area in
                                                       threats. In our 2009 finding, we                        potential magnitude or extent of impact               recent years, which resulted in dramatic
                                                       concluded that the status of the black-                 that climate change may have on the                   loss of vegetation, followed by a
                                                       tailed prairie dog, as indicated by                     species. While climate change may                     reduction in black-tailed prairie dog
                                                       increased occupied habitat since the                    potentially impact the species in future              occupied habitat (Larson 2008, p. 87).
                                                       early 1960s, indicates that sylvatic                    decades, particularly through its effects                These losses in prairie dog habitat in
                                                       plague is not a limiting factor for the                 on sylvatic plague, it is not apparent                Mexico have degraded or eliminated the
                                                       species (74 FR 63357).                                  that a net loss in occupied habitat will              extent of wintering plover habitat in
                                                          Similarly, the increase in black-tailed              result. The current status of the black-              these areas. Recent efforts to protect
                                                       prairie dog numbers in the United States                tailed prairie dog does not suggest that              prairie dogs and grasslands also benefit
                                                       has occurred despite conflicting Federal                the combined effects of sylvatic plague               wintering mountain plover and may
                                                       and State regulations and policies that                 and climate change are currently                      help stop or reverse recent trends.
                                                       encourage conservation of prairie dogs                  limiting factors for the species or that              Government designation of protected
                                                       through development of State and                        they will become so within the                        areas in Chihuahua and Nuevo Leon,
                                                       rangewide management plans, yet in                      foreseeable future, and we do not                     and efforts by Pronatura Noreste, The
                                                       many cases continue to allow shooting                   believe climate change will result in                 Nature Conservancy, and other
                                                       and poisoning of prairie dogs.                          significant population-level impacts to               institutions, hold promise (Andres and
                                                       Nevertheless, affected Federal and State                the black-tailed prairie dog.                         Stone 2009, pp. 33, 40; Macias-Duarte
                                                       agencies are engaged in black-tailed                       In summary, we believe that the                    and Punjabi 2010, p. 10). In 2009, the
                                                       prairie dog management and monitoring                   black-tailed prairie dog is a resilient               1.3-million-ac (526,000-ha) Janos
                                                       to a much greater extent than they were                 species and that overall United States                Biosphere Reserve was established to
                                                       10 years ago.                                           populations are not expected to be                    protect some of the best remaining
                                                          Efforts to conserve the black-tailed                 significantly affected by habitat loss due            shortgrass prairie in Mexico and thereby
                                                       prairie dog will likely be beneficial to                to conversion to cropland, sylvatic                   benefit the black-tailed prairie dog. This
                                                       the mountain plover. Our December 3,                    plague, shooting, poisoning, or climate               conservation initiative is led by
                                                       2009, finding for the black-tailed prairie              change (74 FR 63364, December 3,                      Mexico’s National Protected Areas
                                                       dog (74 FR 63343) described the 1998                    2009).                                                Commission and the Chihuahuan State
                                                       establishment of the Black-tailed Prairie                  Mountain plover populations in                     government (The Nature Conservancy
                                                       Dog Conservation Team, with                             Montana, and to a lesser extent other                 2010). The Llano de la Soledad, which
                                                       representatives from each State within                  breeding areas, are dependent on the                  encompasses the major Mexican prairie
                                                       the historical range of the species, and                prairie dog for breeding habitat. Given               dog complexes of the El Tokio area, a
                                                       the development of ‘‘The Black-tailed                   our conclusion that habitat created or                26,000-ac (10,500-ha) area, has been
                                                       Prairie Dog Conservation Assessment                     enhanced by black-tailed prairie dogs is              designated a State Natural Area for
                                                       and Strategy’’ (Van Pelt 1999, entire),                 unlikely to decrease, we conclude that                Ecological Conservation administered
                                                       which initiated development of ‘‘A                      threats to the black-tailed prairie dog in            by the Agency of Environmental
                                                       Multi-State Conservation Plan for the                   the United States do not represent a                  Protection and Natural Resources of
                                                       Black-tailed Prairie Dog, Cynomys                       threat to the continued existence of the              Nuevo Leon. Neotropical migratory bird
                                                       ludovicianus, in the United States’’                    mountain plover.                                      grants from the Service have supported
                                                       (Multi-State Plan) (Luce 2002). The                        Potential dependence of both                       efforts led by Pronatura Noreste to
                                                       purpose of the Multi-State Plan was to                  wintering and breeding mountain plover                protect and manage key lands through
                                                       provide adaptive management goals for                   populations on remaining prairie dog                  purchase and easement. While past
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                                                       future prairie dog management in the 11                 colonies in Mexico is of concern                      habitat loss for the mountain plover at
                                                       States within the species’ range. The                   (Macias-Duarte and Panjabi 2010, pp.                  Janos and El Tokio has been significant,
                                                       plan identified 10-year target objectives               9–10). In Mexico, decline of native                   international attention to these and to
                                                       including maintaining and increasing                    grasslands supporting the black-tailed                other important grassland complexes in
                                                       occupied acreage of black-tailed prairie                prairie dog and the Federally                         Mexico improves prospects for future
                                                       dog habitat, and increasing the number                  endangered Mexican prairie dog have                   conservation and maintenance of
                                                       of large prairie dog complexes. The                     been extensive, despite some                          mountain plover wintering habitat.
                                                       States also agreed to draft Statewide                   environmental regulations designed to                    Knowledge of mountain plover
                                                       management plans for the black-tailed                   protect prairie dogs and their habitats.              breeding on prairie dog colonies in
                                                       prairie dog. The States approve their                   The large black-tailed prairie dog                    Mexico is limited. The primary known


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                                                       value of black-tailed and Mexican                       slower rate. Over the 15-year period                  be very extensive in the largely rural
                                                       prairie dog colonies to the mountain                    from 1982 to 1997, in Montana,                        areas of the species’ breeding habitat.
                                                       plover is as wintering habitat; yet use                 Wyoming, and Colorado, there were no                     An area that generated past concern in
                                                       varies greatly from year to year.                       decreases in the amount of rangeland or               our 1999 and 2002 proposals is South
                                                       Mountain plover use of croplands and                    pastureland present (USDA 2010).                      Park, Park County, Colorado, an
                                                       rangelands present in Mexico for                        Conversion to cropland may be locally                 approximately 480,000 ac (200,000 ha)
                                                       wintering is largely unstudied. For                     affecting mountain plover in some areas               grassland basin where the mountain
                                                       example, agricultural areas in northern                 of Montana. Approximately 47,000 ac                   plover breeding population is estimated
                                                       Baja California, the coastal plains of                  (19,000 ha) of native grassland was                   to be about 2,300 birds. Much of the
                                                       Sonora and Sinaloa, and throughout the                  converted to agriculture in Montana                   mountain plover habitat in South Park
                                                       northern Chihuahuan Desert States may                   from 2005 to 2009 (Ducks Unlimited,                   is privately owned, and 32 percent of
                                                       potentially support substantial                         cited in McDonald 2010). Statewide, the               this area has been subdivided (Granau
                                                       wintering populations (Macias-Duarte                    amount of cropland in Montana                         and Wunder 2001, pp. 8–9). Substantial
                                                       and Punjabi 2010, p. 10). The net effect                increased by about 3 percent from 1997                build-out of those properties currently
                                                       of reduction in prairie dog colonies in                 to 2007 (USDA 2010). In the four                      subdivided would be detrimental to
                                                       Mexico to mountain plover is largely                    Montana counties with the most                        mountain plover; however, human
                                                       unknown. However, given that                            mountain plover habitat (Blain, Fergus,               population growth in South Park is
                                                       mountain plover winter extensively in                   Phillips, and Valley Counties), cropland              modest (Nichols 2010, pers. comm.).
                                                       cropland habitats in California and                     increased over the same period by about               Many of the subdivisions occurred in
                                                       Texas, we believe that cropland habitats                6 percent, with most of the increase                  the 1960s and 1970s, and have not been
                                                       in Mexico are likely available as                       attributable to Valley County (USDA                   developed. Earlier forecasts suggested
                                                       alternative wintering habitat. There is                 2010). However, the cited conversion                  South Park would have a human
                                                       no available information to indicate that               from 2005 to 2009 represents less than                population of 10,000 by 2010, but the
                                                       the past, current, or potential future loss             0.2 percent of the 30 million ac (12                  current human population stands at
                                                       of black-tailed and Mexican prairie dog                 million ha) of ‘‘grassland/herbaceous’’               approximately 3,500 (Nichols 2010,
                                                       colonies and the ecosystems they                        cover present in Montana in 2001                      pers. comm.). Issuance of building
                                                       support in Mexico is a significant threat               (USGS 2001). Cropland is used by                      permits countywide have decreased
                                                       to the mountain plover.                                 breeding mountain plover elsewhere,                   steadily in recent years, from 297 in
                                                          Despite the ongoing effects of habitat               but its potential for use in Montana is               2002 to 70 in 2009 (Carrington 2010,
                                                       conversion, sylvatic plague, shooting                   unknown. Conversion of grasslands to                  pers. comm.). In addition, land
                                                       and poisoning, and lack of regulatory                   cropland in Montana may locally                       protection and conservation efforts by
                                                       mechanisms that provide protection,                     impact mountain plover; however, we                   the BLM, Park County, Colorado Open
                                                       black-tailed prairie dog habitats have                  believe this low rate of conversion                   Lands, and The Nature Conservancy are
                                                       increased in the United States over the                 would have negligible rangewide effect.               ongoing in South Park. The BLM (2009a,
                                                       last 50 years (74 FR 63343, December 3,                                                                       p. 2) amended their Royal Gorge
                                                                                                                  The best information available does
                                                       2009). Although there is significant                                                                          Resource Area Management Plan for the
                                                                                                               not allow us to estimate the specific
                                                       concern about the status of black-tailed                                                                      South Park Subregion in light of new
                                                                                                               amount of occupied grassland breeding
                                                       and Mexican prairie dogs and their                                                                            resource goals, including the protection
                                                                                                               habitat for mountain plover that has                  of mountain plover breeding habitat.
                                                       habitats in Mexico, there is no
                                                       information available to indicate that                  been converted to other uses in recent                Their Land Tenure Designation Plan for
                                                       further reductions in prairie dogs in                   years. However, given the apparent low                South Park was modified to keep a
                                                       Mexico are threatening the mountain                     rate of grassland conversion in Montana               greater portion of the BLM’s
                                                       plover. At this time, the best available                and rangewide, and the mountain                       approximately 63,000 ac (26,000 ha) of
                                                       scientific information does not indicate                plover’s ability to use grassland that has            South Park lands in Federal ownership
                                                       that the loss of prairie dog habitat is                 been converted to other uses such as                  and make less sensitive BLM lands
                                                       likely to threaten the mountain plover                  certain agricultural crops including                  available for exchange to consolidate
                                                       now or in the foreseeable future.                       wheat, sorghum, and millet, we believe                Federal lands of highest resource value.
                                                                                                               that grassland conversion does not pose               Primary goals of Park County’s Master
                                                       Loss of Breeding Habitat to Land                        a substantial threat to the mountain                  Plan include protection of
                                                       Conversion and Development                              plover in Montana, or elsewhere in its                environmentally sensitive areas, and
                                                          As described above, losses of native                 breeding range, now or in the                         managing the location and pace of
                                                       grasslands in the Great Plains have been                foreseeable future.                                   residential growth (Park County 2001, p.
                                                       severe since European settlement.                          In our 1999 and 2002 proposals to list             13). In addition, Colorado Open Lands
                                                       Losses of these native grasslands have                  the mountain plover as a threatened                   and their partners have preserved
                                                       been greatest in the eastern Great Plains               species (64 FR 7587 and 67 FR 72396,                  approximately 17,000 ac (7,000 ha) of
                                                       and have impacted the mountain plover                   respectively), we also addressed the                  lands in South Park to minimize
                                                       mainly from conversion of prairie                       concern that grassland breeding habitat               development in and around significant
                                                       grasslands to crop fields incompatible                  may be lost to human development.                     conservation areas (Colorado Open
                                                       with mountain plover breeding,                          Since the mountain plover’s breeding                  Lands 2011).
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                                                       including those planted to corn and                     range is extensive, there are                            The current level of residential
                                                       soybeans. These losses are likely the                   undoubtedly instances where human                     development in South Park is not
                                                       reason why the mountain plover no                       development is and will locally displace              currently a threat to the mountain
                                                       longer breeds in the Dakotas, has a                     the mountain plover. We agree with the                plover and, given recent development
                                                       limited range in Nebraska, and is now                   conclusion of Andres and Stone (2009,                 trends and conservation initiatives, we
                                                       a rare breeder in Kansas (Graul and                     p. 22) that habitat in the mountain                   do not consider residential development
                                                       Webster 1976, p. 266; Knopf and                         plover breeding range is subject to little            in South Park to be a threat in the
                                                       Wunder 2006). Land conversion to                        overall threat from residential and                   foreseeable future. Elsewhere, threats
                                                       agriculture continues, primarily in the                 commercial development, because                       from human development are largely
                                                       northern Great Plains, but at a much                    human development is not expected to                  limited to wintering habitat.


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                                                       27780                    Federal Register / Vol. 76, No. 92 / Thursday, May 12, 2011 / Proposed Rules

                                                         In summary, we do not believe that                    suppress vegetation and provide                       Natural Resources Conservation Service
                                                       conversion of the mountain plover’s                     breeding habitat (Knopf and Wunder                    conservation efforts under the Farm Bill;
                                                       grassland breeding habitat to cropland,                 2006). In years of low precipitation,                 preservation of grasslands via
                                                       or to human residential and commercial                  grazing at relatively low intensity has a             conservation easements, including more
                                                       development, represents a threat to the                 greater impact on grassland vegetation                than 350,000 ac (140,000 ha) in
                                                       mountain plover now or in the                           and can produce habitat conditions                    easements reported by the Colorado
                                                       foreseeable future.                                     favorable for mountain plover breeding.               Cattleman’s Agricultural Land Trust
                                                                                                                  Knopf (2008, entire) provided an                   (2010); the Rocky Mountain Bird
                                                       Range Management                                        historical account of mountain plover                 Observatory’s Prairie Partners; and The
                                                          Breeding mountain plover in                          populations on the PNG, Weld County,                  Nature Conservancy’s ‘‘Prairie Wings’’
                                                       grasslands are strongly associated with                 Colorado, and discussed the future of                 effort. Many of these initiatives include
                                                       heavy grazing and soil disturbance                      mountain plover in the area. He                       conservation of the mountain plover,
                                                       (Knopf and Wunder 2006). In the                         suggested that mountain plover                        the black-tailed prairie dog, and other
                                                       absence of prairie dogs, activities such                numbers in the area had been in decline               species supported by the prairie dog
                                                       as heavy cattle grazing, the                            since the post-dust bowl days of the late             ecosystem.
                                                       concentration of cattle at loafing areas                1930s and early 1940s, and that the                      In summary, the extent to which
                                                       and at water, and burning of rangeland                  dramatic decline in the mid-1990s was                 mountain plover are benefitted by cattle
                                                       provide habitat for mountain plover.                    the abrupt end point of a process of                  grazing on any given site is determined
                                                       However, typical range management                       deteriorating mountain plover habitat                 by the range management practices
                                                       practices such as fencing, rotational                   (recovery of grassland habitat), which                employed. While some current
                                                       grazing, decreased stocking rates, and                  was exacerbated by other factors such as              management practices result in habitat
                                                       planting nonnative grasses to improve                   wet spring weather and predation                      conditions that are not optimal for
                                                       soil moisture promote uniform                           (Knopf 2008, p. 60). Given current range              mountain plover breeding, a large
                                                       vegetative cover and taller grasses,                    management practices, Knopf suggested
                                                       which are less beneficial to breeding                                                                         number of mountain plover nest on
                                                                                                               that short-term benefits from prescribed
                                                       mountain plover. In addition, human                                                                           rangeland. We do not anticipate future
                                                                                                               burning and, more significantly, the
                                                       efforts to suppress wildfire are generally                                                                    changes to the current pattern of range
                                                                                                               maintenance of prairie dog colonies
                                                       detrimental to mountain plover.                                                                               management across the breeding range
                                                                                                               were the only viable means to enhance
                                                          Specific range management options                                                                          of the mountain plover that would
                                                                                                               mountain plover habitat on the PNG.
                                                       for mountain plover are somewhat                           Sheep grazing can maintain the low                 prove detrimental to the mountain
                                                       limited. Cattle grazing provides benefits               vegetation structure that is beneficial to            plover and its habitat. The extent to
                                                       to mountain plover, but this is                         breeding mountain plover. However, the                which range management practices
                                                       especially true when it maintains low                   current level of sheep grazing does not               could benefit the mountain plover in the
                                                       vegetation and patches of bare ground.                  maintain significant amounts of                       future is dependent on conservation of
                                                       Heavy cattle grazing may not be a                       mountain plover breeding habitat                      black-tailed prairie dog colonies and, to
                                                       financially justifiable option for                      rangewide. The sheep industry in the                  a lesser extent, on willingness to employ
                                                       ranchers and can create conditions                      United States has been in decline for                 prescribed burning as a range
                                                       unfavorable to many other species of                    more than 60 years and now supports                   management tool. Grazing by sheep can
                                                       wildlife. Aside from grazing, specific                  about one-tenth of the number of sheep                create favorable breeding habitat for
                                                       range management options for mountain                   present in the 1940s. Decreases in sheep              mountain plover. The sheep industry in
                                                       plover are somewhat limited. Mountain                   grazing may have been a contributing                  the western United States has declined
                                                       plover use burned areas for breeding,                   factor to loss of favorable grassland                 over time, but we do not anticipate that
                                                       and prescribed burning can be used as                   breeding habitat for the mountain plover              future changes in the sheep industry
                                                       a habitat management tool (Knopf 2008,                  in the past. The future of the industry               will have a net negative impact on
                                                       p. 61; Andres and Stone 2009, p. 29).                   is uncertain; continued declines in the               existing mountain plover habitat or be a
                                                       Ongoing USFS burning programs on the                    industry are likely in some areas, but                threat to existing mountain plover
                                                       PNG and the Comanche National                           changes in the industry also present                  habitat in the future.
                                                       Grasslands in Colorado to attract                       opportunities for its growth (National                Cultivated Areas in the Mountain Plover
                                                       breeding mountain plover have had                       Academy of Sciences 2008, p. 4). For                  Breeding Range Acting as a Potential
                                                       some success (Augustine 2010a, pers.                    the foreseeable future, it appears likely             Population Sink
                                                       comm.). However, primary benefits of                    that sheep grazing will remain a minor
                                                       burning a site are generally of short                   rangewide contributor to maintenance                     Agricultural practices can destroy
                                                       duration, i.e., 1 or 2 years (Augustine                 of favorable mountain plover breeding                 mountain plover nests and eggs from
                                                       2010b, pers. comm.). The value of                       habitat, but that potential for any further           mechanical treatment (tilling, planting,
                                                       burning is dependent on the extent and                  decline in breeding habitat due to                    application of fertilizers and pesticides),
                                                       the frequency of burns. Augustine and                   additional loss of acreage grazed by                  and crops growing beyond a certain
                                                       Malchunas (2009, p. 89) suggested that                  sheep is minimal.                                     height may cause nest abandonment
                                                       late winter shortgrass burns may have                      A number of conservation efforts                   (Knopf and Rupert 1999, p. 85;
                                                       neutral or positive consequences for                    target the conservation of grasslands,                Dinsmore 2003, p. 27). In our 1999 and
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                                                       livestock, but burning is not a                         prairie ecosystems, and prairie birds:                2002 proposals to list the mountain
                                                       management practice generally                           The Great Plains Landscape                            plover as a threatened species (64 FR
                                                       employed within the mountain plover’s                   Conservation Cooperative (a public/                   7587 and 67 FR 72396, respectively), we
                                                       breeding range.                                         private initiative to proactively conserve            raised the concern that these activities
                                                          Even without rangeland management                    declining habitats on private lands); The             could create a reproductive ‘‘sink,’’ or in
                                                       that specifically benefits the mountain                 Nature Conservancy’s ecoregional plan                 other words a situation in which
                                                       plover, soil type, site history, or drought             for the Central Shortgrass Prairie; the               mountain plover are drawn to crop
                                                       may create habitat conditions that are                  Colorado Division of Wildlife’s                       fields for nesting but do not produce
                                                       beneficial to breeding mountain plover.                 Conservation Plan for Grassland Species               viable young at a rate that would sustain
                                                       Rocky or clay pan substrate may                         and similar efforts in other States;                  the population.


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                                                                                Federal Register / Vol. 76, No. 92 / Thursday, May 12, 2011 / Proposed Rules                                            27781

                                                          Knopf and Rupert (1999, p. 84)                       pers. comm.), although loss of contact                this habitat to the mountain plover.
                                                       suggested that breeding mountain                        with other adult mountain plover                      However, in studies from eastern
                                                       plover having the opportunity to nest on                suggests that actual chick survival was               Colorado, nest success in crop fields
                                                       either agricultural or prairie areas chose              somewhat lower (Blakesley 2010, pers.                 (Dreitz and Knopf 2007, pp. 684–685)
                                                       both equally. In the eastern Colorado                   comm.). Preliminary data from studies                 and chick survival in crop fields (Dreitz
                                                       shortgrass prairie ecosystem, mountain                  of radio-tracked chicks in Montana and                2009, pp. 875–877; Dreitz et al. 2010)
                                                       plover breeding densities on crop fields                Colorado in 2010 (Dreitz et al. 2010) did             appear similar to nest success and chick
                                                       were twice as high as the densities                     not show chick survival in crop fields                survival in native shortgrass without
                                                       found on grasslands without prairie                     to be lower than in other habitats. While             prairie dogs. We conclude that crop
                                                       dogs, although only one-fifth as high as                results reported by Dreitz (2009, pp.                 fields support breeding mountain plover
                                                       the densities found on prairie dog                      875–877) above come from the most                     as well as shortgrass without prairie
                                                       colonies (Tipton et al. 2009, p. 496).                  comprehensive study of chick survival                 dogs, although likely not as well as
                                                       Based on the area of habitats surveyed                  in crop fields, other studies indicate that           shortgrass with prairie dogs. If the crop
                                                       and densities of mountain plover                        mountain plover chick survival rates on               fields in eastern Colorado that are
                                                       estimated, approximately 40 percent of                  crop fields and among other prairie                   regularly occupied by breeding
                                                       mountain plover may use crop fields for                 habitats vary greatly in time and place.              mountain plover are a reproductive
                                                       nesting in eastern Colorado. Nebraska                      Shackford et al. (1999, p. 119)                    sink, their continued occupancy by
                                                       studies (Van der Burg et al. 2010, pp. 48,              suggested that decreasing nest loss from              mountain plover is dependent on a net
                                                       50) suggested a similar percentage of the               mechanical treatment of fields would                  influx of birds dispersing from other
                                                       mountain plover in Nebraska utilize                     benefit mountain plover. Nest marking                 breeding habitats. We have no evidence
                                                       crop fields for nesting. The small,                     efforts that allow farmers to avoid nests             to suggest whether or not this is
                                                       seemingly stable, breeding mountain                     and reduce nest mortality from                        occurring. Further, unless mountain
                                                       plover population in Oklahoma was                       agricultural operations have been                     plover prefer and choose crop fields for
                                                       primarily found in plowed or fallow                     conducted with cooperating farmers in                 breeding over available (unoccupied)
                                                       fields, although again the potential of a               Colorado and Nebraska (Dreitz and                     habitat where reproductive success is
                                                       reproductive sink was raised                            Knopf 2007, p. 685; Lock and                          higher, breeding in crop fields, even if
                                                       (MacConnell et al. 2009, pp. 31–33).                    VerCauteren 2008, entire; Bly 2010a).                 less successful, would not seem
                                                       Based on estimates of mountain plover                   The Colorado Division of Wildlife and                 detrimental. We conclude that, based on
                                                       using crop fields in Colorado and                       the Nebraska Game and Parks                           the information available, the mountain
                                                       Nebraska, together with known use of                    Commission, along with the Rocky                      plover’s use of crop fields for breeding
                                                       crop fields in Wyoming, Oklahoma, and                   Mountain Bird Observatory, initiated                  does not represent a threat to the
                                                       Kansas, we conclude that up to one                      nest marking programs. In Nebraska, a                 species.
                                                       quarter of all mountain plover may                      reported 80 percent of 246 nests marked                  Another concern is the potential that
                                                       utilize crop fields for breeding. Given                 in crop fields over 3 years successfully              change in current agricultural practices
                                                       the significance of crop fields to                      hatched young (Bly 2010a). As a                       will result in future loss of the types of
                                                       breeding mountain plover and questions                  comparison, an experiment using                       crop fields that currently provide
                                                       regarding a possible reproductive sink,                 dummy nests suggested a 35 percent                    breeding habitat for mountain plover.
                                                       research is ongoing to better understand                success rate was likely in crop fields if             Dryland agriculture is the type of
                                                                                                               nests were not marked (Bly 2010a).                    agriculture that most frequently
                                                       the role that crop fields play in support
                                                                                                                  While recent analysis of mountain                  supports breeding mountain plover, and
                                                       of breeding mountain plover
                                                                                                               plover populations suggests that efforts              it is dominated by wheat, but also
                                                       populations (Dreitz et al. 2010).                       targeting chick survival may hold more                includes crops of sorghum, millet, and
                                                          In Colorado, mountain plover                         conservation value than those efforts to              sunflowers. Annual variation in the use
                                                       hatching success was found to be                        enhance nest success, management                      of dryland agriculture fields is dictated
                                                       similar in native grasslands and crop                   techniques to achieve higher chick                    by a number of factors including
                                                       fields, although causes of nest mortality               survival may be difficult to employ. In               weather, government programs, crop
                                                       differed between the two habitats                       addition, nest marking programs have                  prices, and preferences of individual
                                                       (Dreitz and Knopf 2007, pp. 684–685).                   helped establish ties between the                     farmers. It is not known whether any
                                                       Use of crop fields was not determined                   agricultural community and wildlife                   significant future changes to dryland
                                                       to be detrimental to mountain plover                    managers (Dreitz and Knopf 2007, pp.                  agriculture that the mountain plover
                                                       hatching success. However, a                            685–686; VerCauteren 2010). Outreach                  uses for breeding are likely to occur or
                                                       subsequent eastern Colorado study                       efforts to farmers continue, including                how they would affect mountain plover
                                                       found chick survival to be similar on                   education regarding mountain plover                   (Andres and Stone 2009, p. 23).
                                                       crop fields (23 percent) to shortgrass                  and transition from nest marking to                      In recent years, ethanol production
                                                       habitat without prairie dogs (24                        landowners’ taking the lead in finding                from corn has expanded in the United
                                                       percent), but lower than chick survival                 and avoiding mountain plover nests in                 States; however, most corn is cultivated
                                                       on shortgrass habitat occupied by black-                the course of their field operations.                 east of the range of the mountain plover
                                                       tailed prairie dogs (75 percent), and the               Community efforts, such as the annual                 (Westcott 2007, pp. 1–3). Additionally,
                                                       author again suggested that crop fields                 Mountain Plover Festival sponsored by                 the increase in corn production largely
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                                                       may represent a reproductive sink or                    the Karval Community Alliance in                      occurs by adjusting crop rotations
                                                       ‘‘ecological trap’’ (Dreitz 2009, pp. 875–              Lincoln County, Colorado, promote                     between corn and soybeans (Westcott
                                                       877). Given the study results, the same                 stewardship of the mountain plover and                2007, p. 7); neither crop regularly
                                                       concern could be raised regarding                       other wildlife as an integral part of both            supports mountain plover. We do not
                                                       shortgrass habitat lacking prairie dogs.                farming and ranching practices.                       anticipate that increased ethanol
                                                       In contrast to the study above, recent                     Studies documenting numbers and                    production will result in a substantial
                                                       research on crop fields in Nebraska                     reproductive success of mountain                      loss in the species’ occupied or
                                                       found 95 percent survival of chicks of                  plover breeding on crop fields in eastern             potential habitat because the majority of
                                                       adult mountain plover tracked for 35                    Colorado and Nebraska do not entirely                 this activity lies outside the range of the
                                                       days (Blakesley and Jorgensen 2010,                     resolve the issue of the relative value of            mountain plover.


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                                                       27782                    Federal Register / Vol. 76, No. 92 / Thursday, May 12, 2011 / Proposed Rules

                                                         In conclusion, we believe that                        well per about 1,400 ac (560 ha) in areas             2010c), and may lead to more
                                                       approximately one quarter of the                        of high probability of mountain plover                widespread use of development
                                                       rangewide mountain plover population                    occurrence and one well per 1,080 ac                  practices that minimize impacts. For
                                                       breeds in crop fields in Colorado,                      (430 ha) in areas medium probability of               example, directional drilling, where
                                                       Nebraska, or elsewhere, but there is no                 occurrence. We believe that this                      feasible, has the potential to decrease
                                                       evidence that this represents a                         represents a relatively low overall                   habitat impacts. Increased piping,
                                                       reproductive sink detrimental to the                    potential impact to mountain plover                   product storage in central locations, and
                                                       rangewide population. Dryland                           habitat.                                              remote sensing of wells may reduce
                                                       agriculture has changed little over                        Of 13 million ac (6 million ha) of                 vehicular traffic and the impact of
                                                       recent decades, and we have little                      authorized (both developed and                        roads.
                                                       evidence to suggest that crop fields now,               undeveloped) BLM oil and gas leases in                   Despite the prevalence of energy
                                                       or in the future, represent a significant               Wyoming (BLM 2009b), we estimated                     development activities throughout the
                                                       threat to the mountain plover.                          that 52 percent were in areas of high or              range of the mountain plover, there is
                                                                                                               medium probability of mountain plover                 little evidence as to whether, or to what
                                                       Energy and Mineral Development                          occurrence (or about one-third of all                 extent, the overall effects of energy
                                                          Development targeting oil and gas,                   areas of high or medium probability of                development are detrimental to
                                                       coal bed methane, wind energy, and                      mountain plover occurrence were under                 mountain plover (Andres and Stone
                                                       other mineral resources is extensive                    BLM lease).                                           2009, p. 25). Although oil and gas field
                                                       within the breeding range of the                           Areas in Wyoming of wind classes 4                 development modifies and fragments
                                                       mountain plover. Energy development                     through 7 (a measure of wind resource                 nesting, brood rearing, and foraging
                                                       is a national priority as mandated by                   potential) account for about 6 million ac             habitats, mountain plover continue to
                                                       Executive Orders 13212 (Actions to                      (2.4 million ha), or about 30 percent, of             use these areas (Smith and Keinath
                                                       Expedite Energy-Related Projects) (66                   those areas of high or medium                         2004, p. 36; Carr, in review). For many
                                                       FR 28357, May 22, 2001) and 13514                       probability of mountain plover                        wildlife species, the principal impact of
                                                       (Federal Leadership in Environmental,                   occurrence (National Renewable Energy                 energy development is fragmentation
                                                       Energy, and Economic Performance) (74                   Laboratory 2002). Since additional                    rather than habitat loss. Energy
                                                       FR 52117, October 8, 2009), and the                     factors determine development                         development, even when extensive, may
                                                       Energy Independence and Security Act                    potential, only a portion of these areas              directly impact only a small percentage
                                                       of 2007 (42 U.S.C. 17001 et seq.).                      would likely see future wind energy                   of an area. In a study of the Big Piney-
                                                       Current permitting and construction of                  development.                                          LaBarge oil and gas field in the Upper
                                                       new energy projects on Federal and                         Future energy development will                     Green River Valley of Wyoming, where
                                                       non-Federal lands reflects this priority.               depend on whether oil and gas                         well density averaged about one well
                                                       The development of energy resources                     resources are actually present, the                   per 64 ac (26 ha), 97 percent of the
                                                       requires construction at well or wind                   location of wind resources relative to                landscape was within 0.25 mile (0.40
                                                       turbine sites, as well as access roads,                 consumers, future demand, economic                    kilometer) of infrastructure (roads,
                                                       pipelines, power lines, and other                       considerations, and environmental                     pipelines, well pads, waste pits), but
                                                       support facilities. These projects could                regulations. Therefore, it is uncertain to            only 4 percent of the area was directly
                                                       have an immediate effect on breeding                    what degree energy projects will be                   impacted by oil and gas infrastructure
                                                       mountain plover due to disturbance and                  developed in mountain plover breeding                 (Morton et al. 2004, pp. 10–11). Carr (in
                                                       habitat conversion, and secondary                       habitat in Wyoming, or other portions of              review) found that mountain plover
                                                       effects associated with operation and                   the range, in the foreseeable future.                 located nests in relation to habitat
                                                       maintenance.                                            However, given our evaluation above,                  available, rather than avoiding locations
                                                          The magnitude of the issue is best                   we believe that current and future                    of energy development. We have no data
                                                       exemplified by energy development in                    energy development in mountain plover                 to suggest that the mountain plover is
                                                       Wyoming, where the Wyoming Natural                      habitat may be substantial in Wyoming.                impacted by habitat fragmentation, as
                                                       Diversity Database (WYNDD) (2010) has                   Existing and proposed oil and gas                     opposed to habitat loss.
                                                       used habitat mapping and mountain                       development and wind energy projects                     Because the mountain plover
                                                       plover observation records to map the                   also occur in mountain plover habitat in              generally favors disturbance that
                                                       probability of mountain plover                          Montana and the plains of Colorado, as                reduces vegetative cover and exposes
                                                       presence. In Wyoming, WYNDD (2010)                      well as in other States within the                    bare ground (e.g., prairie dogs, grazing,
                                                       predicts a high probability of mountain                 mountain plover’s breeding, migratory,                fire), it may tolerate surface disturbance
                                                       plover occurrence over about 7 million                  and wintering range. The cumulative                   from energy development (Andres and
                                                       ac (3 million ha) and a medium                          total of current and future energy                    Stone 2009, p. 25; Carr, in review). In
                                                       probability of occurrence over about 14                 development elsewhere in the mountain                 Utah, disturbed areas around oil well
                                                       million ac (6 million ha). We evaluated                 plover’s breeding range may not                       pads reportedly created open habitat
                                                       overlap between predicted mountain                      approach that likely to occur in                      with bare ground suitable for the
                                                       plover presence and energy                              Wyoming, but energy development is                    mountain plover (Day 1994, pp. 298–
                                                       development (Lindstom 2010).                            likely to occur within many breeding                  299). Manning and White (2001, p. 226)
                                                          As of February 2010, 5,043 wells,                    areas used by the species. For example,               found all mountain plover nests in Utah
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                                                       approximately 12 percent of operating                   oil and gas development continues in                  to be situated near roadways or oil well
                                                       oil and gas wells in Wyoming (Wyoming                   Weld County, Colorado, and renewed                    pads, and saw adults and chicks using
                                                       Oil and Gas Commission 2010),                           exploration is occurring on and near the              these areas for foraging both day and
                                                       occurred in areas of high probability of                PNG (Philbrook 2010, pers. comm.),                    night. However, they suggested that
                                                       mountain plover occurrence, while                       formerly an important breeding area for               while mountain plover tended to choose
                                                       13,266 wells, about 32 percent of wells,                the mountain plover.                                  nest sites near surface disturbance, the
                                                       occurred in areas with medium                              Concerns over impacts of oil and gas               overall impact of oil and gas expansion
                                                       probability of mountain plover                          development to landscapes and to                      could be negative (Manning and White
                                                       occurrence. While wells are clustered in                various wildlife species have prompted                2001, p. 226). This small, apparently
                                                       well fields, this would equate to one                   environmental review standards (BLM                   isolated Utah population subsequently


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                                                                                Federal Register / Vol. 76, No. 92 / Thursday, May 12, 2011 / Proposed Rules                                            27783

                                                       declined, and no birds have been found                  land use such as cessation of grazing.                Foote Creek Rim documented no
                                                       during surveys of the area since 2003                   Despite these concerns, to date, impacts              mountain plover mortalities attributable
                                                       (Maxfield 2010, pers. comm.). Decline of                of oil and gas development at levels                  to collisions over the 3 years the studies
                                                       the population occurred subsequent to                   typically seen in mountain plover                     were conducted. On breeding grounds,
                                                       oil and gas development, but no direct                  breeding habitat have not been shown to               mountain plover fly at low heights. In
                                                       tie was established. Severe drought and                 decrease mountain plover populations.                 a common courtship display, a male
                                                       cessation of sheep grazing that provided                   Coalbed methane extraction is a                    flies only to a height of approximately
                                                       mountain plover breeding habitat may                    process in which: (1) Wells are drilled               16 to 33 ft (5 to 10 m) (Knopf and
                                                       have been more significant to the                       into the coal seam; (2) the seam is                   Wunder 2006). The lowest point of rotor
                                                       apparent loss of this local population                  dewatered; and (3) the methane is then                sweep on the Foote Creek Rim site (57
                                                       (Maxfield 2010, pers. comm.).                           extracted from the seam, compressed,                  ft (17 m)) was above the typical heights
                                                          Carr (in review) provides the only                   and piped to market. In Wyoming, some                 flown by mountain plover during
                                                       targeted study of mountain plover                       water from coalbed methane operations                 courtship and breeding (Young et al.
                                                       response to oil and gas development.                    is used for surface or subsurface                     2007, p. 18). Research at the Judith Gap
                                                       The USGS study evaluated the effects of                 irrigation of agriculture fields and                  Wind Farm in Montana found no
                                                       oil and gas development on mountain                     rangeland. There is concern that plover               evidence of mountain plover
                                                       plover population density and nesting                   habitat, including prairie dog colonies,              displacement or fatalities (MacDonald
                                                       success in mixed desert shrublands in                   have been and could be lost to these                  2010). However, recently we became
                                                       Wyoming. Results suggested that the                     practices, thereby altering or eliminating            aware of two mountain plover
                                                       presence of wells, roads, and associated                important mountain plover habitat                     mortalities from searches of Wyoming
                                                       infrastructure at densities studied (up to              (Rogers 2010, pers. comm.). In the                    wind energy projects (Sweanor 2010,
                                                       8 wells per square mile (3 per square                   Powder River Basin, about 2,000 ac (800               pers. comm.). Because sources of
                                                       kilometer)) did not have detectable                     ha) of such irrigation is occurring and               mortality could not be confirmed for
                                                       negative effects on breeding mountain                   more than 7,000 ac (3,000 ha) is                      either carcass, we do not know whether
                                                       plover (Carr, in review). Carr (in review)              permitted (Fischer 2010, pers. comm.).                the birds were struck by rotor blades,
                                                       concluded that energy development at                    We have no information as to whether                  collided with towers, or died from other
                                                       low to moderate levels may be                           or not mountain plover have been                      causes. Rotor sweep was 126 ft (41 m)
                                                       compatible with nesting mountain                        displaced. While changes in habitat                   above the ground in both cases, well
                                                       plover, although the author suggested                   caused by this irrigation may alter                   above heights that breeding mountain
                                                       the need for additional studies of                      habitat and cause a local impact to                   plover are thought to regularly fly. At
                                                       potential effects of energy development                 mountain plover, we do not believe that               Glenrock Rolling Hills, one of the two
                                                       on chick survival and potential for                     the relatively small area involved                    sites reporting a mortality, no mountain
                                                       impacts at higher well densities.                       represents a threat to overall mountain               plover were observed prior to
                                                          Tolerance to disturbance from energy                 plover populations in this region.                    construction of the wind energy project,
                                                       development by mountain plover could                       Like oil and gas development, wind
                                                                                                                                                                     but nesting occurred after construction,
                                                       result in nesting or foraging in areas                  energy development presents a range of
                                                                                                                                                                     suggesting that nesting habitat may have
                                                       where continued human disturbance                       habitat changes and disturbance factors
                                                                                                                                                                     been created through project
                                                       and vehicular traffic could pose threats                that could affect the mountain plover. In
                                                                                                                                                                     disturbance (Sweanor 2010, pers.
                                                       to adults and chicks. Carr (in review)                  addition, there is concern that the
                                                                                                                                                                     comm.).
                                                       cautioned that human activities at well                 mountain plover’s use of areas may
                                                       sites might keep mountain plover from                   decline during and after construction                    Wind energy development could
                                                       their nests, subjecting eggs to possible                due to avoidance of wind turbines or                  present a greater potential issue for post-
                                                       overheating. In Oklahoma, mountain                      increased mortality attributable to                   breeding congregations of mountain
                                                       plover appeared unaffected by the                       collisions, primarily with moving rotor               plover, because hundreds of birds may
                                                       presence of roads (MacConnell et al.                    blades. Lock (2010) highlighted the                   flock in a single area. However, we have
                                                       2009, p. 33). Manning and White (2001,                  potential for wind energy projects to                 no information regarding behavior of
                                                       p. 226) indicated that vehicular traffic                displace breeding mountain plover, but                post-breeding flocks that could be
                                                       did not influence incubation or foraging                described the potential threat of                     applied to the potential threat of bird
                                                       behavior, and, while vehicular                          mortality from collisions as being of                 strikes from wind turbines. Little is
                                                       collisions with mountain plover might                   ‘‘low certainty.’’                                    known regarding their potential to strike
                                                       be a concern, no such mortalities were                     The most comprehensive study                       moving blades or stationary structures,
                                                       noted. Andres and Stone (2009, pp. 26,                  conducted on potential effects of wind                although based on mortality studies,
                                                       27) noted that mountain plover are                      power development on the mountain                     shorebirds (plovers, sandpipers, and
                                                       tolerant of vehicles, and while there is                plover came from the facility on Foote                similar species) do not seem to be at
                                                       potential that vehicles could kill adult                Creek Rim in Carbon County, Wyoming,                  great risk of colliding with turbines or
                                                       or juvenile birds, such mortality would                 where mountain plover were studied                    communication towers (Kerlinger 2011,
                                                       not likely have a population-level                      from 1994 (prior to construction)                     pers. comm.). Wind energy projects
                                                       impact. In addition, collisions with                    through 2007 (Young et al. 2007, entire).             have reportedly been constructed and
                                                       stationary structures such as power                     The authors suggested that mountain                   are proposed in South Texas
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                                                       lines have been discounted as not likely                plover habituated over time to the                    agricultural fields that may overlap with
                                                       a significant cause of mortality (Knopf                 presence of turbines, as evidenced by                 areas used by wintering mountain
                                                       and Wunder 2006; Andres and Stone                       nesting within 60 feet (ft) (20 meters                plover (Cobb 2010, pers. comm.). The
                                                       2009, p. 26).                                           (m)) of the base of a tower in one                    potential for mountain plover
                                                          Other impacts of energy development                  instance (Young et al. 2007, p. 18).                  displacement or collisions in Texas is
                                                       on the mountain plover and its habitat                     Wind towers, rotors, and associated                unknown. In California, wind energy
                                                       could occur. These include a potential                  meteorological towers pose an added                   development projects tend to be located
                                                       for increase in predators, increased                    risk that mountain plover may be struck               on mountain ridges where wind speeds
                                                       opportunity for spread of invasive                      by blades or fly into stationary                      are greater and, therefore, are less likely
                                                       plants, and potential changes in human                  structures. However, carcass searches at              to impact wintering mountain plover.


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                                                       27784                    Federal Register / Vol. 76, No. 92 / Thursday, May 12, 2011 / Proposed Rules

                                                       One exception is in Antelope Valley,                    of a 0.25-mi (0.40-km) buffer around                  Changes in Land Use in Mountain
                                                       Kern County (California), an area where                 occupied nests during the nesting                     Plover Wintering Range
                                                       mountain plover are known to winter.                    season, with restrictions on activities to               In our December 5, 2002, proposal to
                                                       Several wind energy projects have been                  protect nesting plover; and continued                 list the mountain plover (67 FR 72396),
                                                       permitted on a mosaic of desert and                     research and census activities targeting              we emphasized the potential impact to
                                                       agricultural lands. Overall, evidence                   the mountain plover on BLM-                           mountain plover populations from
                                                       available does not suggest that wind                    administered land in Wyoming (BLM                     changes to wintering habitat in
                                                       energy development is likely to displace                2005). A number of best management                    California, including changes stemming
                                                       mountain plover from breeding or                        practices were also provided, to be                   from human population growth,
                                                       wintering areas, or cause direct                        considered on a case-by-case basis, to                changes in agriculture, water
                                                       mortality through collisions to the                     help protect the mountain plover and                  availability, and burning restrictions. It
                                                       extent that it would pose a threat to the               expand suitable nesting habitat. While                now appears that the proportion of the
                                                       species.                                                these measures are not binding, and on-               rangewide population of mountain
                                                          Surface mining for coal and other                    the-ground conservation efforts likely                plover that winter in California is far
                                                       minerals can displace mountain plover                   vary by BLM field office, a proactive                 less than previously believed (see
                                                       within the footprint of the work for the                cooperative approach between the BLM                  Conservation Status and Local
                                                       duration of the active mining. Whether                  and the Service in Wyoming has                        Populations above). However, the
                                                       or not this would result in permanent                   heightened recognition of mountain                    importance of mountain plover
                                                       displacement is dependent on whether                    plover conservation on BLM-                           wintering habitat in California has been
                                                       and how restoration occurs. We have                     administered lands and provides a basis               a continued topic of investigation and
                                                       little site-specific data on impacts of                 for future cooperation to safeguard the
                                                       surface mining to nearby mountain                                                                             interest (Kopft and Rupert 1995;
                                                                                                               species.                                              Hunting et al. 2001; Wunder and Knopf
                                                       plover. Surveys over 28 years at Cloud                     Solar energy projects are likely to
                                                       Peak Energy’s Antelope Mine in                                                                                2003; Hunting and Edson 2008). Knopf
                                                                                                               displace mountain plover when situated                and Rupert (1995, p. 750) cited a high
                                                       Campbell and Converse Counties,                         in breeding or wintering habitat. Unlike
                                                       Wyoming, documented mountain                                                                                  overwinter survival rate of mountain
                                                                                                               oil and gas wells or wind turbines, solar             plover in California and their use of
                                                       plover’s use of the mine permit area and                collectors are placed so close together
                                                       adjacent lands (Green 2010). Mountain                                                                         agricultural fields, and concluded that
                                                                                                               that they effectively eliminate the ability           long-term population declines were
                                                       plover numbers declined as mining and                   of mountain plover to use the habitat.
                                                       the footprint of surface disturbance                                                                          likely attributable to processes on their
                                                                                                               Solar energy development potential is                 breeding grounds. Dinsmore et al.
                                                       progressed, but in general they showed
                                                                                                               greatest in southwestern States and                   (2010) concluded that adult survival in
                                                       tolerance to mining activities nearby
                                                                                                               California and, except for Colorado’s                 winter was high and suggested that
                                                       (Green 2010). In 2010, adult mountain
                                                                                                               San Luis Valley and Northern New                      conservation and management efforts be
                                                       plover and chicks were, for the first
                                                                                                               Mexico, occurs in areas used mostly by                directed toward chick survival on
                                                       time, seen using a reclaimed mine area
                                                                                                               wintering rather than breeding                        breeding grounds and habitat during
                                                       at the Antelope Mine (Green 2010).
                                                                                                               mountain plover. See Changes in Land                  migration. In contrast, Hunting and
                                                       Mountain plover can be directly affected
                                                                                                               Use in Mountain Plover Wintering                      Edson (2008, p. 184) attributed both past
                                                       by surface mining through temporary or
                                                                                                               Range below for a discussion of solar                 declines and potential future declines in
                                                       permanent loss of their habitat.
                                                       However, we do not believe that surface                 energy development.                                   rangewide plover populations to loss of
                                                       mining, currently or in the future, will                   In summary, potential effects to the               traditional wintering sites in California.
                                                       impact a significant amount of the                      mountain plover from energy and                       Andres and Stone (2009, pp. 21, 22)
                                                       mountain plover’s breeding range or                     mineral development are largely                       stated that effects to the mountain
                                                       represent a threat to the species.                      uncertain. Ground disturbance from oil                plover from changes to wintering habitat
                                                          The BLM considers the mountain                       and gas development and wind energy                   in California’s Central Valley were
                                                       plover, among other species, when                       development may, in some cases,                       unknown, but also expressed concerns
                                                       evaluating the impacts of energy                        enhance or create mountain plover                     regarding maintenance of quality
                                                       development on the environment. The                     habitat, but whether the net effect of                wintering habitat in the Imperial Valley,
                                                       BLM, through its Special Status Species                 such activity is beneficial or detrimental            where a majority of mountain plover in
                                                       program, has developed various                          has not been determined. The risk of                  California are now thought to winter.
                                                       management scenarios for the protection                 significant mortality through mountain                Below we address current trends and
                                                       of the mountain plover throughout its                   plover being struck by rotors of wind                 potential changes to the future extent
                                                       range. In 2005, the BLM analyzed the                    turbines appears low. Whether, or to                  and quality of mountain plover
                                                       potential effects to the mountain plover                what extent, construction of wind                     wintering habitat in California.
                                                       from management actions approved in                     energy projects displaces breeding or                    Concern continues to center on land
                                                       Resource Management Plans for the                       wintering mountain plover has not been                use trends, conversion of agricultural
                                                       various BLM field offices in Wyoming                    clearly established. Surface mining                   lands to other uses, and changes in
                                                       (BLM 2005). At the time, we concluded                   displaces mountain plover, at least until             agriculture (Andres and Stone 2009, pp.
                                                       that BLM’s proactive conservation                       an area is restored, and development of               22–24; Hunting and Edson 2008, p.
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                                                       measures should aid in protecting the                   solar fields likely results in habitat loss.          184). Due to population growth in
                                                       species from further decline (Kelly                     Overall, more information regarding                   California, more rural and agricultural
                                                       2007). The conservation measures                        possible impacts of energy and mineral                land is being urbanized. Between 1982
                                                       committed to by the BLM included                        development to mountain plover is                     and 2007, approximately 8 percent of
                                                       habitat screening (determining whether                  needed. However, the information                      California’s croplands, 11 percent of the
                                                       habitat might support the mountain                      currently available does not indicate                 State’s pasturelands, and 6 percent of
                                                       plover) and, as appropriate, subsequent                 that energy and mineral development                   State’s rangelands were lost (USDA
                                                       surveys for the possible presence of                    threatens the mountain plover now or is               2010). However, as of 2007, California
                                                       mountain plover prior to approval of                    likely to do so within the foreseeable                still supported approximately 9.5
                                                       ground-disturbing activities; designation               future.                                               million ac (3.8 million ha) of cropland,


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                                                                                Federal Register / Vol. 76, No. 92 / Thursday, May 12, 2011 / Proposed Rules                                             27785

                                                       1.1 million ac (0.4 million ha) of                      plover is primarily in the Central Valley             wintering range, but the pattern of
                                                       pastureland, and 17.5 million ac (7.0                   (including the Sacramento and San                     development will depend on land use
                                                       million ha) of rangeland (USDA 2010).                   Joaquin valleys) and the Imperial                     planning goals, and potential
                                                          The dynamic, market-driven nature of                 Valley. The Carrizo Plain in San Luis                 development of high speed rail (Teitz et
                                                       agricultural production and changes in                  Obispo County is also recognized as an                al. 2005, pp. 45–67).
                                                       cultivation practices in California could               important wintering site. Other areas                    In the San Joaquin Valley counties
                                                       affect the availability and quality of                  where mountain plover are regularly                   (Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Merced,
                                                       wintering habitat for the mountain                      observed include the Panoche and                      San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Tulare),
                                                       plover. Another issue is the dependence                 Antelope valleys.                                     cropland declined by about 3 percent
                                                       of California agriculture on irrigation                                                                       from 1997 to 2007, to about 5.2 million
                                                       water, some of which is imported from                   The Central Valley (Sacramento Valley                 ac (2.1 million ha) (USDA 2010). Crop
                                                       other areas, and its future availability.               and San Joaquin Valley), Carrizo Plain,               fields in alfalfa and other hay, favored
                                                       Future changes in the availability of                   Panoche Valley, and Antelope Valley                   by mountain plover, were relatively
                                                       irrigation water might result from                         In the Central Valley, human                       stable and accounted for about one-third
                                                       competition with other water uses, the                  population growth over the last 20 years              of all cropland in the San Joaquin Valley
                                                       effects of global climate change (see                   has resulted in a declining trend in                  in 2007 (USDA 2010).
                                                       discussion under Factor E below), and                   agricultural area, with a smaller, but                   While relatively little agricultural
                                                       changes in the characteristics of                       corresponding, trend of conversion to                 land is being lost, conversion from
                                                       agricultural lands as a result of                       urban uses (California Department of                  annual agricultural crops to permanent
                                                       improved or more broadly implemented                    Conservation (CDC) 2010). The rate of                 crops that do not provide mountain
                                                       water conservation techniques.                          land conversion to urban uses in the                  plover with habitat is significant within
                                                          Development of energy projects,                      Central Valley increased beginning in                 the San Joaquin Valley. For example, in
                                                       especially solar energy, in mountain                    1990. With the exception of Solano                    the San Luis Unit of the Central Valley
                                                       plover wintering habitat is also a                      County, the human populations of                      Project (CVP), in Fresno, Kings, and
                                                       concern in California. California’s                     Central Valley counties within the                    Merced Counties, agricultural acreage
                                                       electric utility companies were required                wintering range of the mountain plover                has increasingly been converted to
                                                       by California statute (Chapter 464,                     all grew faster than the Statewide                    permanent crops of orchards or
                                                       Statutes of 2006) to use renewable                      average between 2000 and 2009 (U.S.                   vineyards. We estimate the percentage
                                                       energy to produce 20 percent of their                   Census Bureau 2010).                                  of land in permanent crops at
                                                       power by 2010. Governor                                    In the Sacramento Valley,                          somewhere between 16 percent and 24
                                                       Schwarzenegger’s Executive Order of                     urbanization in Yolo and Solano                       percent of the San Luis Unit, compared
                                                       November 2008 (#S–13–08) set a higher,                  Counties, the two principal counties                  with 10 percent in 2000. General field
                                                       more ambitious goal of 33 percent by                    supporting wintering mountain plover,                 observations and land value reports
                                                       2020 (California Energy Commission                      has not adversely impacted the                        (California Society of Farm Managers
                                                       2010). On April 12, 2011, Governor Jerry                mountain plover to date, because known                and Rural Appraisers 2009, pp. 31–64)
                                                       Brown signed Senate Bill 2X into law,                   wintering locations are located outside               suggest that this is a continuing trend,
                                                       requiring that 33 percent of the State’s                city planning boundaries. However,                    with new orchards displacing cotton
                                                       electric generation come from renewable                 continued population growth beyond                    and tomato crops in many areas of the
                                                       sources by 2020 (Los Angeles Times                      the current planning horizon could                    Central Valley. In Madera County, some
                                                       2011). A main source of renewable                       potentially threaten individual                       locations formerly utilized by wintering
                                                       power will be solar energy. A Statewide                 wintering localities that are close to                mountain plover have been converted
                                                       list of solar energy projects includes                  urban areas, particularly those in areas              from rangeland to annual crops or to
                                                       over 400 proposals (Brickley 2011, pers.                most proximate to Sacramento.                         permanent crops such as pistachio trees
                                                       comm.). Many large solar energy                            In the San Joaquin Valley, human                   (Woods 2009, pers. comm.).
                                                       projects are being proposed on BLM                      population growth has been                               Outside of the Central Valley, orchard
                                                       land, often in desert areas. The BLM,                   approximately 17 percent over the                     land in San Luis Obispo County, which
                                                       along with the Department of Energy                     period from 1997 through 2010. To date,               includes the Carrizo Plain, a known
                                                       (DOE), is currently in the process of                   most of the resulting urban growth has                mountain plover wintering area, rose
                                                       developing a Programmatic                               occurred adjacent to, and in the general              from 29,000 ac (12,000 ha) to 54,000 ac
                                                       Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS)                   vicinity of, the towns, such as Modesto,              (22,000 ha) from 2007 to 2009, to about
                                                       for solar energy development in six                     Fresno, and Bakersfield, that developed               18 percent of cropland in the county.
                                                       southwestern States, including                          along Highway 99 in the eastern portion               Conversion to orchard crops in the
                                                       California. The document assesses                       of the San Joaquin Valley (Teitz et al.               nearby Maricopa and Cuyama valleys
                                                       development of a new solar energy                       2005, p. 27). These urban areas are                   near the Carrizo Plain area have resulted
                                                       program for siting utility-scale solar                  located to the east and outside of the                in loss of wintering mountain plover
                                                       energy projects on BLM lands. Any                       mountain plover’s wintering range. To                 habitat (Sharum 2010). Overall,
                                                       program adopted will have implications                  date, urbanization in the western San                 conversion of annual cropping systems
                                                       for solar energy project siting in                      Joaquin Valley is restricted to the                   to permanent crops is expected to
                                                       mountain plover wintering habitat. A                    Interstate 5 corridor, which supports                 continue and poses an additional, but
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                                                       draft of the PEIS was made available for                few mountain plover. Therefore, we                    unquantified, source of habitat loss for
                                                       public comment December 17, 2010 (75                    expect it to have little effect on                    the mountain plover.
                                                       FR 78980). Mountain plover are not                      wintering mountain plover. Scenarios                     As a result of the large-scale irrigation
                                                       specifically addressed in the PEIS, but                 developed to gauge effects of future                  efforts in the western San Joaquin
                                                       potential impacts to wildlife and                       population growth and urbanization                    Valley, approximately 1,750,000 ac
                                                       appropriate mitigation measures are                     suggest that the San Joaquin Valley will              (710,000 ha) of agricultural lands with
                                                       provided (DOE 2010, pp. 5–73 to 5–96).                  experience significant urban growth                   shallow groundwater tables have
                                                          As described in Conservation Status                  within the next 35 years; increasing                  become impaired due to accumulated
                                                       and Local Populations above, the                        populations will result in scattered                  concentrations of naturally occurring
                                                       California winter range of the mountain                 urbanization within the plover’s                      toxic elements, including selenium.


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                                                       27786                    Federal Register / Vol. 76, No. 92 / Thursday, May 12, 2011 / Proposed Rules

                                                       With the passage of the Central Valley                  land trusts operate in the Central Valley             Water District has slated for land
                                                       Project Improvement Act (CVPIA) in                      to protect valley wildlife, farmland,                 retirement (Woody 2010). We expect
                                                       1992, Federal and State acquisition                     habitat, rivers, and native vegetation                that additional proposals for retired
                                                       programs enabled owners to stop                         (Great Valley Center 2005, pp. 30–31).                farmland are likely due to the general
                                                       farming, or ‘‘retire’’ their privately                  The Service does not have information                 perception that such lands have few
                                                       owned, drainage-impaired agricultural                   on the area of specific habitat types that            environmental issues.
                                                       lands as a strategy to reduce drainage                  have been protected within the range of                 The Maricopa Sun Solar Complex
                                                       problems and address selenium                           the mountain plover or whether these                  (approximately 9,000 ac (3,600 ha)) is
                                                       accumulations (Service 1998; USDI                       efforts have produced substantial                     proposed for agricultural lands in
                                                       2005). Lands targeted for retirement lie                benefits to the species.                              western Kern County near the edge of
                                                       primarily within the San Luis Unit of                      In the Sacramento Valley, we have                  the plover’s winter range. We do not
                                                       the CVP along the west side of the San                  found no planned solar energy                         know whether the mountain plover uses
                                                       Joaquin Valley where approximately                      development likely to threaten the                    the site. Development of the project
                                                       379,000 ac (152,000 ha) of agricultural                 mountain plover’s habitat. However, the               includes cancellation of a contract to
                                                       land have been identified as                            legislation cited above (Chapter 464,                 preserve agricultural land. The Draft
                                                       contributing to poor water quality. Of                  Statutes of 2006, and Governor                        Environmental Impact Report identifies
                                                       these lands, nearly 200,000 ac (80,000                  Schwarzenegger’s Executive Order of                   mountain plover as a potential winter
                                                       ha) have been proposed for land                         November 2008 (#S–13–08)) has                         migrant (Kern County Planning and
                                                       retirement (USBR 2007), and, to date,                   initiated a significant increase in the               Community Development Department
                                                       more than 100,000 ac (40,000 ha) of                     planning for solar development in and                 2010, pp. 1, 4.4–8).
                                                       agricultural land have been retired                     adjacent to the San Joaquin Valley. Solar               In the Carrizo Plain, San Luis Obispo
                                                       within the San Luis Unit. We have no                    developments proposed thus far vary                   County, two solar projects have been
                                                       estimate of what proportion of this area                greatly in size: small projects of 100 to             proposed, including the 4,000-ac (1,619-
                                                       may have supported acceptable                           200 ac (40 to 80 ha), to projects of                  ha) California Valley Solar Ranch
                                                       wintering habitat for the mountain                      potentially to 30,000 ac (12,000 ha) in               (CVSR) and the 4,500-ac (1,800-ha)
                                                       plover or the extent to which it was                    size. The Service does not have specific              Topaz Solar Farm. Both facilities would
                                                       used by the mountain plover.                            information on mountain plover use of                 be located approximately 6 miles north
                                                          A portion of the lands proposed for                  many of these sites, but we conclude                  of the Carrizo Plains National
                                                       retirement are expected to be used for                  that sites will be unsuitable for                     Monument, an important natural area
                                                       drainage reclamation; between 1,280                     mountain plover after development.                    for the plover, on a mixture of natural
                                                       and 3,300 ac (5,170 and 1,340 ha) of                       To date, small projects are proposed               lands, grazing lands, and cropped lands
                                                       existing irrigated cropland will be                     for scattered locations across the                    (Aspen Environmental Group 2010, pp.
                                                       converted to treatment facilities and                   southern San Joaquin Valley, while                    C3–2–C3–3, C6–4). Suitable foraging
                                                       evaporation basins, while 12,500 ac                     large projects have been proposed both                and roosting habitat for the mountain
                                                       (5,100 ha) of either existing or fallowed               within the San Joaquin Valley, and in                 plover occurs on sites under
                                                       cropland will be converted to reuse                     the Carrizo Plain and Panoche Valley                  consideration (Aspen Environmental
                                                       areas in which crops will be irrigated                  areas. The solar projects proposed on                 Group 2010, pp. C6–4–C6–5, C6–11).
                                                       with selenium-contaminated,                             the valley floor are typically situated on            Mountain plover have been observed on
                                                       agricultural drainwater in order to                     active or recently cultivated agricultural            the CVSR site but likely occur
                                                       reduce selenium loads in the                            lands and several larger projects have                sporadically and in low numbers
                                                       agricultural run-off (Service 2006).                    been proposed for lands that have been                (Boroski 2011, pers. comm.).
                                                       These areas might threaten some                         used for livestock grazing.                             The Panoche Valley, an area of about
                                                       mountain plover with selenium toxicity,                    The Service is currently aware of up               12,000 ac (5,000 ha) in San Benito
                                                       as described below in the discussion                    to six small solar projects, each                     County, receives annual use by
                                                       under Factor E. Numerous retired                        approximately 200 ac (80 ha) in size,                 wintering mountain plovers. A solar
                                                       parcels are characterized by dense                      which are expected within the                         project is currently proposed on 3,200
                                                       weedy growth (Cypher et al. 2007, p. 28;                mountain plover’s general wintering                   ac (1,300 ha) of potential mountain
                                                       Service 2006), and are not expected to                  range in the southern San Joaquin                     plover wintering habitat, or about one-
                                                       provide suitable habitat for the plover.                Valley. The projects will be constructed              third of the potential mountain plover
                                                       Substantial retired acreage has been                    by Pacific Gas and Electric, a major                  habitat present in the Panoche Valley.
                                                       converted to permanent crops utilizing                  California utility company. In the San                Proposed mitigation would preserve and
                                                       alternate sources of water. Other retired               Joaquin Valley, the solar projects                    manage other nearby habitat.
                                                       lands that support grazing or farming                   proposed on the valley floor are                        The Antelope Valley, an area of
                                                       may remain suitable for wintering                       typically situated on active or recently              approximately 900,000 ac (360,000 ha)
                                                       mountain plover.                                        cultivated agricultural lands and several             in Los Angeles and Kern Counties,
                                                          Due to the historical importance of                  larger projects have been proposed for                supports wintering mountain plover
                                                       agriculture in the Central Valley, the                  lands that have been used for livestock               annually, with numbers estimated in the
                                                       valley has the highest percentage of                    grazing. The Service concludes that sites             low 100s using crop fields and
                                                       privately owned land in the State. Only                 will be unsuitable for mountain plover                grasslands (eBird 2010). How much of
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                                                       4 percent of Sacramento Valley land and                 after development.                                    the valley’s area is mountain plover
                                                       7 percent of San Joaquin Valley land is                    Several large proposals are located                habitat is unclear. The valley is
                                                       public open space. In the Central Valley,               within the mountain plover’s general                  primarily privately owned land, and its
                                                       a variety of conservation and restoration               wintering range. A large 32,000-ac                    proximity to human population centers
                                                       projects have been implemented to                       (13,000-ha) park, the Westlands Solar                 has generated high interest in renewable
                                                       protect natural resources, although 57                  Park, has been proposed for western                   energy (solar and wind) development
                                                       percent of such conservation projects                   Fresno and Kings Counties, with an                    that could reduce mountain plover
                                                       report a focus on riparian habitat                      initial phase of approximately 10,000 ac              wintering habitat.
                                                       enhancement (Great Valley Center 2005,                  (4,000 ha). It will be constructed on                   Solar energy projects currently
                                                       p. 30). Twenty-three local and regional                 agricultural land that the Westlands                  planned in the San Joaquin Valley, the


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                                                                                Federal Register / Vol. 76, No. 92 / Thursday, May 12, 2011 / Proposed Rules                                           27787

                                                       adjacent Carrizo Plain, and the Panoche                 declined recently as well but that                    fallowing, given the extreme contention
                                                       and Antelope valleys are likely, over                   numbers fluctuate over time. It is not                and difficulty in negotiating the 2003
                                                       time, to reduce existing mountain                       known whether these short-term                        settlement. If the stay does not remain
                                                       plover wintering habitat. A variety of                  declines are indicative of future trends.             in place, the IID may halt fallowing, as
                                                       siting considerations, including                           The continued success of agricultural              it has been strongly opposed to
                                                       presence of other wildlife species of                   habitats used by the mountain plover in               fallowing as a conservation measure (IID
                                                       concern, and potential mitigation                       the Imperial Valley depends on a                      2010c, p. 1). If the fallowing program
                                                       requirements, will dictate the extent to                reliable water supply. The Imperial                   remains in place, it could continue as an
                                                       which mountain plover are affected.                     Valley depends on Colorado River water                immediate, but relatively insignificant,
                                                       The Sacramento Valley and Imperial                      to irrigate its crops, but there has been             threat to mountain plover habitat, as it
                                                       Valley lands used by the mountain                       increasing pressure for more water to be              would only affect a small portion of
                                                       plover are less likely to be developed for              diverted to urban areas. In 2003, the                 agricultural fields, with no definitive
                                                       solar projects. We know of no solar                     State of California and water agencies                data indicating if (or how much)
                                                       projects are currently planned for                      across the State signed the                           fallowing will occur on those croplands
                                                       agricultural lands known to support                     Quantification Settlement Agreement                   that mountain plover frequent.
                                                       mountain plover in the Imperial Valley,                 (QSA) to dictate distribution of water                   The yield from alfalfa crops is related
                                                       discussed below.                                        from the Colorado River. The settlement               to the amount of irrigation the land
                                                          As future solar projects are proposed                allocated 370,000 acre-feet (ac-ft) (456              receives (Hanson et al. 2007, p. 1).
                                                       and implemented, we conclude that                       million cubic meters (cu-m)) of water to              Alfalfa could thus be more significantly
                                                       they will cause some continued loss of                  urban areas in Southern California and                impacted by water use restrictions. In
                                                       mountain plover wintering habitat in                    Tribal areas (IID 2010a, p. 2). Most of               California, revenue for alfalfa is
                                                       California. While cumulative impacts of                 the 370,000 ac-ft (456 million cu-m) will             expected to decrease slightly by 2050,
                                                       these projects, and other factors such as               come from improvements in on-farm                     decreasing 11 percent Statewide (Howitt
                                                       urbanization and changes in agriculture,                water efficiency and improved irrigation              et al. 2008, p. 11). These statistics take
                                                       are likely to reduce the total area of                  technology (IID 2010a, p. 2; Delfino                  water use into consideration (California
                                                       wintering habitat available, substantial                2006, p. 161).                                        Department of Finance 2007, p. 5). In
                                                       acreage of appropriate wintering habitat                   Under the QSA, Imperial County must                contrast, Bermudagrass is drought-
                                                       will persist in the Central Valley,                     also fallow agricultural land, some of                tolerant, and one study showed little
                                                       Carrizo Plain, Panoche Valley, and                      which will be transferred to the San                  decrease in crop yield under drought
                                                       Antelope Valley.                                        Diego Water Authority, and some of                    conditions (Kneebone 1966, p. 96;
                                                                                                               which will go to mitigation to restore                George et al. 1992, pp. 23–24).
                                                       The Imperial Valley                                     the Salton Sea (IID 2010a, p. 1). The area               Yield and acreage of bermudagrass
                                                         As of 2009, about 381,000 ac (154,000                 of land fallowed depends on the                       could be affected by restrictions on
                                                       ha) of field crops existed in the Imperial              intensity of water use, not farm size (IID            burning in the Imperial Valley due to
                                                       Valley (Imperial Irrigation District (IID)              2010b, p. 1). Fallowing will be                       pollution concerns. To comply with
                                                       2009a). The Imperial County has                         conducted on a sliding scale. The                     California’s air pollution restrictions
                                                       witnessed a decline in annual area used                 program began in 2003 with lands                      (California Code of Regulations 2001,
                                                       for agricultural purposes from 1984                     fallowed that had been irrigated by                   pp. 80100–80170), the Imperial County
                                                       through 2008 of about 21,000 ac (8,000                  under 10,000 ac-ft (1.2 million cu-m) of              Air Pollution Control District (ICAPCD)
                                                       ha) or 4 percent (CDC 2010), while the                  water, and peaked in 2010 to lands                    has set forth rules and regulations
                                                       county saw an increase in area used for                 fallowed that had been irrigated by over              (ICAPCD 2010b, pp. 701.1–702.1)
                                                       urban areas in the same period of about                 80,000 ac-ft (9.9 million cu-m) of water.             governing implementation of a smoke
                                                       6,000 ac (2,400 ha) or 29 percent (CDC                  The program will slowly decline before                management program (ICAPCD 2010a,
                                                       2010). Urban expansion has accounted                    agricultural fallowing ends in 2017 (IID              pp. 1–37) for agricultural burning. These
                                                       for only a relatively small portion of the              2009b). The area of land fallowed in                  rules and regulations allow for
                                                       4 percent decline in agricultural lands                 2009–2010 was about 10,500 ac (4,300                  agricultural burning after the ICAPCD
                                                       over a period of 24 years. At this rate,                ha) or about 2 percent of agricultural                has analyzed several factors: (1)
                                                       conversion of agricultural lands to                     land in the valley. Overall, lands                    Quantitative and qualitative analysis of
                                                       urban lands in Imperial County has a                    fallowed will reduce the area of crop                 meteorological conditions; (2) current
                                                       modest impact.                                          fields in the Imperial Valley but we                  smoke complaints; (3) source/receptor
                                                         Habitat in the Imperial Valley                        have no specific information as to extent             consideration; and (4) current air quality
                                                       believed most important for mountain                    to which those fields fallowed provide                levels (ICAPCD 2010b, p. 8). The
                                                       plover includes alfalfa fields, especially              wintering habitat to the mountain                     number of burn days permissible in the
                                                       those harvested then grazed by sheep,                   plover.                                               areas of Imperial County has declined
                                                       and bermudagrass fields burned                             The future of the QSA is in question.              (California Air Resources Board 2010)
                                                       following harvest (Wunder and Knopf                     On January 13, 2010, the Superior Court               since 2003, but the amount of
                                                       2002, pp. 75–76). Both alfalfa and                      of California found that funding                      bermudagrass acreage burned in the
                                                       bermudagrass acreages have declined in                  provisions of the QSA were                            same period (2003 to 2009) shows little
                                                       recent years (2005–2009) (IID 2009a).                   unconstitutional, and officially                      trend and averages about 18,000 ac
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                                                       However, in 2009, these crops occupied                  invalidated the QSA on January 19,                    (7,000 ha) (Lancero, pers. comm.;
                                                       195,000 ac (79,000 ha) or approximately                 2010 (QSA Coordinated Cases, Case No.:                Cavazos 2010, pers. comm.). Any
                                                       51 percent of total field crop acreage in               JC4353). IID asked for, and received, a               concern that current burning restrictions
                                                       the Imperial Valley (IID 2009a). Area                   stay that temporarily allowed the terms               limit bermudagrass cultivation appears
                                                       devoted to all hay (including alfalfa and               of the QSA to remain in effect (Case No.:             unsupported by these data.
                                                       bermudagrass), 233,000 ac (90,000 ha),                  JC4353). As of April 2011, a ruling was                  Future trends in alfalfa and
                                                       was the same in Imperial County in both                 anticipated before the end of the year                Bermudagrass may largely determine
                                                       1997 and the 2007 (USDA 2010). Data                     (Imperial Valley Press 2011, p. 1). It is             the extent and quality of mountain
                                                       available also suggest the number of                    unclear what effect the cancellation of               plover wintering habitat available in the
                                                       sheep in the Imperial Valley have                       the QSA will have on water use and                    Imperial Valley. While no predictions of


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                                                       future area devoted to these two crops                  elsewhere in different years.                            Other than potential impacts from
                                                       is available, we do not have any                        Cumulatively, the potential changes in                wind energy development described in
                                                       information that would lead us to                       land uses in California described above               Energy and Mineral Development above,
                                                       conclude that their occurrence will                     will likely result in a reduction of                  we have no information regarding
                                                       significantly decline. Therefore, we                    mountain plover wintering habitat in                  threats to wintering mountain plover
                                                       anticipate that in the future substantial               the State. However, given the available               from habitat changes in Texas.
                                                       areas of alfalfa and Bermudagrass fields                agricultural acreage cited above, it is not              Outside of the trends in wintering
                                                       will remain available to support                        apparent that even a reduction in                     areas in Mexico described in Threats to
                                                       wintering mountain plover in the                        California wintering habitat                          Prairie Dogs and Associated Loss of
                                                       Imperial Valley.                                        substantially larger than that which we               Habitat above, we have little
                                                          Currently, there is no habitat                       anticipate would significantly affect                 information regarding threats to the
                                                       conservation plan (HCP) implemented                     California’s ability to support mountain              mountain plover from wintering habitat
                                                       in the Imperial County. The Imperial                    plover numbers currently wintering in                 changes in Mexico. Based on their
                                                       Irrigation District is currently working                the State. We conclude that any likely                wintering habitat preferences in the
                                                       on an HCP, but they have not yet                        reduction of mountain plover wintering                United States, significant numbers of
                                                       finalized the plan or been issued a                     habitat in California will not threaten               mountain plover may winter in
                                                       section 10(a)(1)(b) permit under the Act                the mountain plover plover’s ability to               agricultural areas in Mexico. Possible
                                                       (Roberts 2010, pers. comm.); however,                   maintain a wintering population in                    areas of concentration and the types of
                                                       in the current draft of the HCP,                        California or threaten the species range              agriculture utilized remain
                                                       mountain plover is a covered species.                   wide in the foreseeable future.                       undocumented.
                                                          Individually, urbanization, water
                                                       restrictions, and trends in agriculture do              Wintering Outside of California                       Summary of Factor A
                                                       not appear to pose significant threats to                                                                        The mountain plover occupies a wide
                                                                                                                  Elsewhere, in the Phoenix area,
                                                       the acreage or quality of wintering                                                                           geographic range across the breeding,
                                                                                                               Maricopa County, and some other
                                                       habitat available or to the mountain                                                                          migration, and wintering seasons. The
                                                                                                               wintering sites in southern Arizona,
                                                       plover’s use of the Imperial Valley.                                                                          extensive and diverse habitats it utilizes
                                                                                                               mountain plover have been displaced by
                                                       However, in the foreseeable future, their                                                                     are subject to a number of changes that
                                                                                                               growth of human populations (Gardner
                                                       combined effects, along with climate                                                                          represent potential threats.
                                                                                                               2010; Robertson 2010, pers. comm.).
                                                       change, could appreciably reduce                                                                                 Black-tailed prairie dogs create
                                                                                                               Declines are likely to occur in the
                                                       habitat available to mountain plover and                                                                      favorable breeding habitat for the
                                                                                                               Tucson area, Pinal County, and perhaps
                                                       potentially affect the nature or extent of                                                                    mountain plover in States including
                                                                                                               in Yuma County as well, due to
                                                       wintering mountain plover use of the                                                                          Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming.
                                                                                                               increased human populations and, more
                                                       Imperial Valley.                                                                                              Black-tailed prairie dog numbers have
                                                          Mountain plover winter over a large                  directly, due to an accompanying
                                                                                                                                                                     increased by a factor of six since 1981
                                                       range and in diverse habitats. In our                   reduction in agriculture. Wintering
                                                                                                                                                                     in States where they are present, and
                                                       February 16, 1999, proposed rule to list                mountain plover populations in Cochise
                                                                                                                                                                     associated mountain plover habitat has
                                                       the species we cited sources suggesting                 County, where there is less urban
                                                                                                                                                                     likewise increased. We do not anticipate
                                                       that most mountain plover, an estimated                 development and where the amount of
                                                                                                                                                                     loss of black-tailed prairie dog numbers
                                                       7,000 of a rangewide population of                      cropland increased from 1997 to 2007
                                                                                                                                                                     or the mountain plover habitat they
                                                       8,000 to 10,000 birds, wintered in                      (USDA 2010), will likely remain more
                                                                                                                                                                     maintain in the foreseeable future.
                                                       California (64 FR 7587). However, we                    stable. Solar energy development is                      Current conversion of prairie and
                                                       now believe that less than half of the                  occurring in areas of southern Arizona,               grasslands to other land uses within
                                                       rangewide population, estimated at over                 but the extent to which projects may                  mountain plover breeding habitat
                                                       20,000 birds, winter in California (see                 overlap mountain plover wintering                     appears negligible when viewed from a
                                                       Population Size and Trends above). As                   habitat has not yet been determined.                  rangewide perspective. Formerly
                                                       of 2007, over 18 million ac (7 million                     Both increases in human population                 expressed concerns regarding human
                                                       ha) in California (about 18 percent of the              and expansion of agriculture are                      development in South Park, Colorado,
                                                       State) supported cropland, pastureland,                 occurring in areas of southern Arizona                where a high density of mountain
                                                       or rangeland (USDA 2010). While only                    (Council for Agricultural Science and                 plover breeds, now seem unfounded.
                                                       a portion of this area provides habitat                 Technology 2009, pp. 8–12). Rather than                  Cattle grazing generally benefits
                                                       for the mountain plover in any given                    the total area urbanized, the extent and              mountain plover breeding habitat, but
                                                       winter, the total includes 1.7 million ac               nature of future agriculture that is                  some range management practices do
                                                       (0.7 million ha) of alfalfa, Bemudagrass,               present in southern Arizona and                       not create favorable conditions for
                                                       and other hay crops that the mountain                   available for mountain plover use will                mountain plover breeding. Specific
                                                       plover utilizes, including 230,000 ac                   likely dictate the future value of this               range management to benefit mountain
                                                       (90,000 ha) in Imperial County alone.                   area to wintering mountain plover.                    plover could be employed, but overall
                                                       The total also includes 1.1 million ac                  However, water resources are limited,                 we expect current cattle grazing to
                                                       (0.4 million ha) of pastureland, often                  and urban uses may compete with                       continue relatively unchanged in the
                                                       used by mountain plover. To exploit                     agriculture for available water. Southern             foreseeable future.
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                                                       these and other wintering habitats,                     Arizona is thought to winter a relatively                Suggestions that cropland use by
                                                       mountain plover are able to move long                   small portion of the rangewide                        breeding mountain plover may be
                                                       distances and use various sites as                      mountain plover population. We believe                detrimental to populations have not
                                                       conditions become favorable within a                    that any net future decreases in                      been substantiated.
                                                       given winter (Knopf and Wunder 2006).                   agricultural lands in southern Arizona                   Energy and mineral development
                                                       Mountain plover appear annually at                      will be limited and that these potential              alters landscapes, and some activities
                                                       some favored wintering sites, but site                  future decreases in agricultural lands in             can adversely impact mountain plover
                                                       fidelity by individual birds appears low.               southern Arizona will not markedly                    habitat, at least locally and temporally.
                                                       Birds may also alternate between                        affect the ability of the area to support             The mountain plover often benefits from
                                                       wintering areas in California and                       these wintering mountain plover.                      ground disturbance and may tolerate or


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                                                                                Federal Register / Vol. 76, No. 92 / Thursday, May 12, 2011 / Proposed Rules                                           27789

                                                       benefit from certain development                          We conclude that the best information               will become a threat to the species in
                                                       activities. Mountain plover collisions                  available indicates that the mountain                 the foreseeable future. We conclude that
                                                       with wind turbines are likely to occur                  plover is not now, or in the foreseeable              the best scientific and commercial
                                                       infrequently. Overall, oil and gas                      future, threatened by the present or                  information available indicates that the
                                                       extraction, wind power projects, and                    threatened destruction, modification, or              mountain plover is not now, nor in the
                                                       mineral extraction have not been shown                  curtailment of its habitat or range to the            foreseeable future, threatened by
                                                       to have significant adverse impacts to                  extent that listing under the Act as an               overutilization for commercial,
                                                       the mountain plover.                                    endangered or threatened species is                   recreational, scientific, or educational
                                                          Wintering mountain plover are wide-                  warranted at this time.                               purposes.
                                                       ranging, and seek out a variety of                      Factor B. Overutilization for                         Factor C. Disease or Predation
                                                       grassland, rangeland, crop field, and                   Commercial, Recreational, Scientific, or
                                                       semi-desert landscapes, from the Gulf                   Educational Purposes                                  Disease
                                                       Coast to the Pacific Ocean, to meet their                                                                       We are not aware of any diseases or
                                                       needs. Habitat in California and across                    Mountain plover were historically
                                                                                                               hunted for human consumption on the                   parasites that pose a threat to the
                                                       the mountain plover’s wintering range is                                                                      mountain plover at this time. West Nile
                                                       dynamic, based on yearly weather                        Great Plains (Knopf and Wunder 2006).
                                                                                                               Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act                   virus, which has been documented to
                                                       patterns, grazing levels, crops present,                                                                      cause deaths in many bird species, has
                                                       and timing of planting or harvest.                      (MBTA) (16 U.S.C. 703–712), mountain
                                                                                                               plover are not legally hunted in the                  not been found in mountain plover
                                                       Currently available wintering habitat                                                                         (Andres and Stone 2009, p. 29). Since
                                                                                                               United States, Canada, or Mexico,
                                                       can not be easily quantified, nor can its                                                                     2007, 4,888 dead birds have been
                                                                                                               although Andres and Stone (2009, p. 27)
                                                       projected quantity and quality in the                                                                         identified throughout California as
                                                                                                               note that some illegal shooting may
                                                       foreseeable future be easily predicted. A                                                                     deaths attributed to the West Nile virus
                                                                                                               occur in some areas of Mexico. The
                                                       future net loss of wintering habitat in                                                                       (California Department of Public Health
                                                                                                               extent or significance of any such
                                                       California appears likely, based on solar                                                                     (CDPH) 2010). Within this time span,
                                                                                                               activity is unknown, but, because we
                                                       development projects and other factors                                                                        West Nile virus has been reported from
                                                                                                               have no information that such illegal
                                                       described above, but given the expanse                                                                        a number of Central Valley counties, but
                                                                                                               hunting activity is widespread, we
                                                       of wintering habitat currently present, it                                                                    to date no mountain plover deaths have
                                                                                                               believe it is unlikely to be a significant
                                                       is not apparent that this will have any                                                                       been attributed to the virus (CDPH
                                                                                                               threat to the mountain plover’s
                                                       affect on the number of wintering                                                                             2010). Over the same time period, there
                                                                                                               continued existence.
                                                       mountain plover California will                            Birders (bird watchers) may seek out               have been no bird deaths associated
                                                       support.                                                mountain plover for viewing. This                     with West Nile virus in Imperial
                                                          Dinsmore et al. (2010) assessed factors              activity is most likely to occur on a few             County.
                                                       affecting population growth in the                      publicized sites and often takes place                  Dreitz et al. (2010) investigated causes
                                                       mountain plover in order to target                      from, on, or near roadways. Mountain                  of mortality in mountain plover chicks
                                                       conservation and management efforts.                    plover are relatively tolerant of                     and reported preliminary analysis of
                                                       They cited mountain plover adult                        disturbance and often ignore humans in                blood samples from chicks in Colorado
                                                       survival as high in winter and suggested                vehicles. If approached on foot they                  and Montana. Blood parasitism was low
                                                       conservation efforts should target                      quickly retreat (Knopf and Wunder                     in Colorado, and none was detected in
                                                       increased chick survival on breeding                    2006). We believe that observation by                 Montana.
                                                       grounds. This is consistent with Knopf                  birders does not represent a threat to the              The Intergovernmental Panel on
                                                       and Rupert (1995, p. 750), who                          mountain plover because it is limited in              Climate Change (IPCC) (2007, p. 51)
                                                       concluded that past declines in the                     extent and most birders attempt to                    suggests that the distribution of some
                                                       mountain plover were attributable to                    minimize disturbance to birds as they                 disease vectors may change as a result
                                                       events taking place on the breeding                     pursue their activities.                              of climate change. However, we have no
                                                       grounds not during winter. We believe                      Most research conducted on mountain                information to suggest any specific
                                                       that rather than changes in wintering                   plover relies on passive sampling (e.g.,              disease may become problematic to the
                                                       habitat, future changes on the mountain                 point counts) rather than active                      mountain plover as a result of climate
                                                       plover’s breeding grounds that influence                handling. Passive sampling is not likely              change.
                                                       reproductive success will dictate                       to substantially affect the mountain
                                                       rangewide mountain plover numbers                                                                             Predation
                                                                                                               plover. The studies that involve
                                                       and population trends. The quantity and                 handling of adults, chicks, and eggs may                The list of predators on mountain
                                                       quality of breeding habitat, and the                    impact individuals, but these studies are             plover, their nests, and young is
                                                       ability of the mountain plover to                       small enough in scale that they are not               extensive, and includes the American
                                                       successfully reproduce will depend                      likely to affect populations as a whole.              badger (Taxidea taxus), skunks
                                                       largely on future human land uses,                      Knopf and Wunder (2006) cautioned                     (Spilogale spp. and Mephitis spp.),
                                                       rangeland and cropland management                       mountain plover eggs could become                     ground squirrels, swift fox (Vulpes
                                                       practices, the potential effects of energy              overheated if exposed to direct sun on                velox), coyote (Canis latrans), bullsnake
                                                       development, and the abundance and                      hot days. However, we do not have any                 (Pituophis catenifer), Swainson’s hawk
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                                                       distribution of prairie dogs. We have no                information to indicate that this has                 (Buteo swainsoni), prairie falcon (Falco
                                                       credible evidence to show that future                   caused decreased nest success in areas                mexicanus), common raven (Corvus
                                                       changes in the extent and quality of                    where research occurs.                                corax), great-horned owl (Bubo
                                                       mountain plover rangewide wintering                                                                           virginianus), burrowing owl (Athene
                                                       habitat, of the magnitude likely to occur,              Summary of Factor B                                   cunicularia), and loggerhead shrike
                                                       would significantly influence their total                 We do not have any evidence of risks                (Lanius ludovicianus) (Smith and
                                                       population or population trend, or that                 to mountain plover from overutilization               Keinath 2004, p. 20; Andres and Stone
                                                       they endanger the species now or would                  for commercial, recreational, scientific,             2009, p. 28).
                                                       be likely to endanger the species in the                or educational purposes, and we have                    Survival rates of adult mountain
                                                       foreseeable future.                                     no reason to believe that that this factor            plover are thought to be quite high on


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                                                       27790                    Federal Register / Vol. 76, No. 92 / Thursday, May 12, 2011 / Proposed Rules

                                                       both breeding and wintering grounds,                    in a prairie landscape fragmented by                  maintain a conserved wildlife
                                                       and it is unlikely that predation of adult              crop fields and found little relationship             population. In addition to the five
                                                       mountain plover constitutes a                           between nest predation and distance to                factors that section 4(a)(1) of the Act
                                                       significant concern to mountain plover                  habitat edges. The authors concluded                  directs the Service to consider, section
                                                       populations overall (Smith and Keinath                  that predators of mountain plover in the              4(b)(1)(A) of the Act requires the Service
                                                       2006, p. 19). Emphasis has been largely                 shortgrass prairie apparently do not                  to take into account, ‘‘those efforts, if
                                                       placed on predation of nests and chicks                 hunt selectively along anthropogenic                  any, being made by any State or foreign
                                                       (Kopf and Wunder 2006; Andres and                       (human-created) edges. Roads may serve                nation, or any political subdivision of a
                                                       Stone 2009, p. 28; Dreitz et al. 2010,                  as travel routes for predators (Pitman et             State or foreign nation, to protect such
                                                       entire). Survival of nests to hatching is               al. 2005, p. 1267), and natural gas                   species. * * *’’ We consider these
                                                       similar to or greater than that found in                development has been shown to                         efforts when developing our threat
                                                       other ground-nesting prairie shorebirds                 increase the occupancy of the common                  analyses under all five factors and in
                                                       in the Great Plains, and nest success                   raven, a potential predator of mountain               particular under Factor D. Therefore,
                                                       does not appear to be a limiting factor                 plover nests and chicks, in sage brush                under Factor D we consider not only
                                                       to population growth of the species                     habitat (Bui et al. 2010, pp. 73–74).                 laws and regulations, but other
                                                       (Dinsmore et al. 2010). Survival of                     Increases in roads and structures                     mechanisms that are part of a regulatory
                                                       chicks from hatching to fledging has                    associated with energy development                    process such as management plans and
                                                       been highlighted as a potentially                       could result in increased predation on                agreements, conservation practices, and
                                                       important life stage that could be                      mountain plover nests or chicks.                      so forth.
                                                       targeted for management to support the                  However, Carr (in review) found no                       In analyzing whether the existing
                                                       conservation and expansion of                           relationship between mountain plover                  regulatory mechanisms are inadequate,
                                                       mountain plover populations, for                        nest success and road or well density.                the Service reviews relevant Federal,
                                                       example, from habitat improvements                        While predation accounts for a major                State, and Tribal laws, plans,
                                                       that may reduce predation rate                          portion of chick mortality, we have no                regulations, Memoranda of
                                                       (Dinsmore et al. 2010).                                 information that would lead us to                     Understandings (MOUs), Cooperative
                                                          Knopf (2008, p. 50) cited the swift fox              conclude that predation on mountain                   Agreements, and other such
                                                       as the major predator on eggs and the                   plover chicks differs from levels                     mechanisms that influence
                                                       primary predator on chicks on the PNG                   experienced by other upland nesting                   conservation. We give strongest weight
                                                       in Colorado, and suggested that reduced                 shorebirds or that, across the range of               to statutes and their implementing
                                                       predator control and subsequent                         the mountain plover, it is a current or               regulations, and management direction
                                                       increase in predators was a contributing                future threat to the survival of the                  that stems from those laws and
                                                       factor in the dramatic decline in                       species.                                              regulations. An example would be the
                                                       mountain plover the area experienced.                                                                         terms and conditions attached to a
                                                                                                               Summary of Factor C
                                                       Thirteen-lined ground squirrels                                                                               grazing permit that describe how a
                                                       (Spermophilus tridecemlineatus) have                       We do not find evidence that disease               permittee will manage livestock on a
                                                       been the greatest source of nest                        is currently impacting the mountain                   BLM allotment. They are non-
                                                       predation in South Park, Colorado                       plover, nor do we have information to                 discretionary and enforceable, and are
                                                       (Wunder 2010b, pers. comm.). Chick                      indicate that disease outbreaks will                  considered a regulatory mechanism
                                                       monitoring in Colorado in 2010                          increase in the future. While the level of            under this analysis. Other examples
                                                       confirmed 38 mortalities, including 13                  predation on mountain plover nests and                include State governmental actions
                                                       from avian predation (most on less than                 chicks is high, it is not inconsistent with           enforced under a State statute or
                                                       16-day old chicks by burrowing owls)                    that found in other ground-nesting bird               constitution, or Federal action under
                                                       and 8 by mammalian predators                            species. Fragmentation of habitats,                   statute. Some other agreements (MOUs
                                                       including swift fox and American                        including that associated with energy                 and others) are more voluntary in
                                                       badger (Dreitz et al. 2010, pp. 3–4).                   development, could increase predation,                nature; in those cases we analyze the
                                                       Predation by unknown species was                        but evidence to date does not suggest                 specific facts for that mechanism to
                                                       suspected in some other deaths (Dreitz                  any increase is occurring. We do not                  determine the extent to which it can be
                                                       et al. 2010, pp. 3–4). Similar research in              have information at this time to indicate             relied on in the future. We consider all
                                                       Montana in 2010 implicated black-                       that predation is impacting the                       pertinent information, including the
                                                       billed magpies (Pica hudsonia) as a                     mountain plover at a level that threatens             efforts and conservation practices of
                                                       possible cause of disappearances of                     the species. We conclude that the best                State governments, whether or not these
                                                       chicks whose fate was not confirmed.                    scientific and commercial information                 are enforceable by law. Regulatory
                                                          Knopf and Wunder (2006) suggested                    available indicates that the mountain                 mechanisms, if they exist, may preclude
                                                       mountain plover nest visits by                          plover is not now, or in the foreseeable              the need for listing if such mechanisms
                                                       researchers could lead to predation by                  future, threatened by disease or                      are judged to adequately address the
                                                       ravens (Corvus spp.). Similarly, nest                   predation to the extent that listing under            threat to the species such that listing is
                                                       marking to avoid nest destruction                       the Act as an endangered or threatened                not warranted.
                                                       during agricultural operations may alert                species is warranted at this time.                       Conversely, threats on the landscape
                                                       predators to nest locations.                                                                                  are not ameliorated when not addressed
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                                                          We do not believe that natural levels                Factor D. The Inadequacy of Existing                  by existing applicable regulatory
                                                       of predation present a threat to the                    Regulatory Mechanisms                                 mechanisms, or when the existing
                                                       mountain plover, although the risk                        Under this factor, we examine                       mechanisms are not adequate (or not
                                                       could be increased through human                        whether existing regulatory mechanisms                adequately implemented or enforced).
                                                       development and habitat fragmentation.                  are inadequate to address the threats to              We cannot predict when or how State
                                                       This may result where predators                         the mountain plover discussed in                      and Federal laws, regulations, and
                                                       concentrate their foraging activities and               Factors A, B, C and E. The Service                    policies will change; however, most
                                                       movements along habitat edges.                          considers regulatory mechanisms to                    Federal land use plans are valid for at
                                                       However, Mettenbrink et al. (2006, p.                   mean all mechanisms that are related to               least 20 years. In this section, we review
                                                       195) looked at mountain plover nesting                  a comprehensive regime designed to                    actions undertaken by State and Federal


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                                                       entities designed to reduce or remove                   of the Code of Federal Regulations                    for monitoring and evaluating the plan
                                                       threats to mountain plover and its                      (CFR); and subpart 4180 (Fundamentals                 to determine effectiveness and the need
                                                       habitat.                                                of Rangeland Health and Standards and                 for amendment or revision (43 CFR
                                                                                                               Guidelines for Grazing Administration)                1601.0–5(n)). The RMPs provide a
                                                       Federal Laws and Regulations
                                                                                                               of Title 43 of the CFR.                               framework and programmatic guidance
                                                          The mountain plover is covered under                    Mountain plover have been                          for activity plans, which are site-specific
                                                       the provisions of the Migratory Bird                    designated as a BLM Sensitive Species                 plans written to implement decisions
                                                       Treaty Act (MBTA), which provides                       in Colorado (BLM 2000a), California                   made in an RMP. Examples include
                                                       regulatory protection for mountain                      (BLM 2006), and Wyoming (BLM                          Allotment Management Plans that
                                                       plover by prohibiting actions causing                   2010a). The management guidance                       address livestock grazing, oil and gas
                                                       direct mortality and destruction of                     afforded sensitive species under BLM                  field development, travel management
                                                       nests. In addition, the mountain plover                 Manual 6840—Special Status Species                    (motorized and mechanized road and
                                                       is listed as a Bird of Conservation                     Management (BLM 2008, entire) states                  trail use), and wildlife habitat
                                                       Concern by the Service in all 12 Bird                   that ‘‘Bureau sensitive species will be               management. Activity plan decisions
                                                       Conservation Regions encompassing the                   managed consistent with species and                   normally require additional planning
                                                       species’ breeding and wintering ranges.                 habitat management objectives in land                 and National Environmental Policy Act
                                                       Birds of Conservation Concern represent                 use and implementation plans to                       (NEPA; 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) analysis.
                                                       the highest conservation priorities                     promote their conservation and to                     If an RMP contains specific direction
                                                       under the MBTA for the Service’s                        minimize the likelihood and need for                  regarding mountain plover habitat,
                                                       Migratory Bird Program (Service 2008,                   listing under the [Act]’’ (BLM 2008, p.               conservation, or management, it
                                                       p. iii). The goals of the Service’s                     05V). The BLM Manual 6840 further                     represents an enforceable regulatory
                                                       Migratory Bird Program include the                      requires that Resource Management                     mechanism to ensure that the species
                                                       protection, restoration, and management                 Plans (RMPs) should address sensitive                 and its habitats are considered during
                                                       of migratory bird populations to ensure                 species, and that implementation                      permitting and other decision-making
                                                       long-term ecological sustainability                     ‘‘should consider all site-specific                   on BLM lands.
                                                       (Service 2011). The Service’s goal is to                methods and procedures needed to                         The BLM has regulatory authority for
                                                       prevent or remove the need for                          bring species and their habitats to the               oil and gas leasing on Federal lands and
                                                       additional bird listings under the Act by               condition under which management                      on private lands with a severed Federal
                                                       implementing proactive management                       under the Bureau sensitive species                    mineral estate, as provided at subpart
                                                       and conservation actions. The list is to                policies would no longer be necessary’’               3100 (Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing;
                                                       be used to develop research, monitoring,                (BLM 2008, p. 2A1). See our discussion                General) of Title 43 of the CFR, and they
                                                       and conservation actions to stimulate                   above under Factor A, Energy and                      are authorized to require stipulations as
                                                       coordinated and collaborative proactive                 Mineral Development, for more on                      a condition of issuing a lease. They can
                                                       conservation actions among Federal,                     measures the BLM has taken in                         condition ‘‘Application for Permit to
                                                       State, Tribal, and private partners                     Wyoming to conserve the mountain                      Drill’’ authorizations, conducted under a
                                                       (Service 2008, p. iii). However, the                    plover as a sensitive species.                        lease that does not contain specific
                                                       designation as a Bird of Conservation                      The BLM in Montana has designated                  mountain plover conservation
                                                       Concern does not in and of itself                       a Mountain Plover Area of Critical                    stipulations, but utilization of
                                                       provide any extra protections for the                   Environmental Concern (ACEC), which                   conditions is discretionary, and we are
                                                       mountain plover or its habitat.                         contains 24,730 ac (9,892 ha) of habitat              uncertain as to how this authority is
                                                          The BLM and the USFS are the                         suitable for breeding mountain plover                 applied.
                                                       primary Federal agencies that manage                    (BLM 2000b, p.1). Management                             Management of National Forest
                                                       lands that provide breeding or wintering                prescriptions apply within the ACEC to                System lands is guided principally by
                                                       habitat for the mountain plover. The                    protect breeding mountain plover                      the National Forest Management Act
                                                       BLM’s lands and USFS-managed                            during its nesting period. All                        (NFMA) (16 U.S.C. 1600–1614, August
                                                       National Grasslands provide important                   construction activity and surface                     17, 1974, as amended). The NFMA
                                                       breeding habitat in Montana, Wyoming,                   disturbance are prohibited from April 1               specifies that all National Forests must
                                                       Colorado, and New Mexico. The BLM’s                     to July 31, road construction is                      have a Land and Resource Management
                                                       lands in California and southern                        minimized within the ACEC, and                        Plan (LRMP) (16 U.S.C. 1604) to guide
                                                       Arizona may provide habitat for                         seasonal restrictions also apply to off-              and set standards for all natural
                                                       wintering mountain plover.                              highway travel (BLM 2000b, pp. 8–9).                  resource management activities on each
                                                          The Federal Land Policy and                          While the ACEC is a focus of BLM’s                    National Forest or National Grassland.
                                                       Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) (43                      efforts to conserve the mountain plover,              The NFMA requires USFS to
                                                       U.S.C. 1701 et seq.) is the primary                     the area covers only a small fraction of              incorporate standards and guidelines
                                                       Federal law governing most land uses                    all mountain plover habitat in Montana.               into LRMPs (16 U.S.C. 1604(c)). The
                                                       on BLM-administered lands. Section                         As a designated sensitive species                  USFS conducts NEPA analyses on its
                                                       102(a)(8) of FLPMA (43 U.S.C.                           under BLM Manual 6840, mountain                       LRMPs, which include provisions to
                                                       1701(a)(8)) specifically recognizes                     plover conservation must be addressed                 manage plant and animal communities
                                                       wildlife and fish resources as being                    in the development and implementation                 for diversity, based on the suitability
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                                                       among the uses for which these lands                    of RMPs on BLM lands. RMPs are the                    and capability of the specific land area
                                                       are to be managed. Regulations pursuant                 basis for all actions and authorizations              in order to meet overall multiple-use
                                                       to FLPMA and the Mineral Leasing Act                    involving BLM-administered lands and                  objectives. The USFS planning process
                                                       (30 U.S.C. 181 et seq.) that address                    resources. They establish allowable                   is similar to that of the BLM. The
                                                       wildlife habitat protection on BLM-                     resource uses, resource condition goals               mountain plover is a USFS sensitive
                                                       administered land include 43 CFR                        and objectives to be attained, program                species in Region 2, which includes all
                                                       3162.3–1 (Drilling applications and                     constraints and general management                    of Colorado and portions of Wyoming
                                                       plans) and 43 CFR 3162.5–1                              practices needed to attain the goals and              and Nebraska.
                                                       (Environmental obligations); subpart                    objectives, general implementation                       The USFS policy provides direction
                                                       4120 (Grazing Management) of Title 43                   sequences, and intervals and standards                to analyze potential impacts of proposed


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                                                       management activities to sensitive                      provides a good non-regulatory                        inadequacy of existing regulatory
                                                       species in a biological evaluation. The                 mechanism for Federal biologists in                   mechanisms in Canada.
                                                       LRMPs for grassland units within USFS                   Colorado and Wyoming to evaluate the
                                                       Region 2 (PNG, Nebraska National                        effects of their proposed actions, it does            Mexico
                                                       Forest, and Thunder Basin National                      not require that projects ultimately have                In 2001, Mexico established a list of
                                                       Grassland in Wyoming) contain                           no effect on mountain plover. However,                species classified as endangered,
                                                       management direction for the mountain                   this screening tool provides for                      threatened, under special protection, or
                                                       plover (USFS 2001). Some examples of                    advanced notice of actions and
                                                                                                                                                                     probably extinct in the wild
                                                       the LRMP standards (required measures)                  facilitates coordination between the
                                                                                                                                                                     (Commission for Environmental
                                                       for the three areas include: (1)                        multi-state agency team.
                                                                                                                                                                     Cooperation (CEC) 2011). The mountain
                                                       Prohibiting development of new                             The Federal laws, regulations, and
                                                       facilities within 0.25 mi (0.40 km) of                                                                        plover was listed as threatened (Andres
                                                                                                               actions cited above are designed to
                                                       known mountain plover nests or nesting                                                                        and Stone 2009, p. 14). Under the
                                                                                                               reduce or remove threats to the
                                                       areas; (2) limiting vehicle speeds in                                                                         General Wildlife Law, the use of at-risk
                                                                                                               mountain plover and its habitat. There
                                                       occupied mountain plover habitat to 25                  is no information available to indicate               species may be authorized only for the
                                                       miles per hour (mph) (40 kilometers per                 that the species is threatened by the                 collection and capture for restoration,
                                                       hour (kph)) on resource roads and 35                    inadequacy of existing Federal laws and               repopulation, and reintroduction
                                                       mph (56 kph) on local roads; (3)                        regulations.                                          activities (CEC 2011). However,
                                                       designing vegetation management                                                                               regulatory powers and wildlife
                                                       projects in suitable mountain plover                    State and International Laws and                      management prerogatives reside largely
                                                       habitat to maintain or improve                          Regulations                                           with the Federal government with States
                                                       mountain plover habitat; and (4)                          The Nebraska Game and Parks                         taking a more minor role. Shifting
                                                       maintaining occupied nesting and                        Commission lists the mountain plover                  Federal agency responsibility and lack
                                                       brooding habitat on black-tailed prairie                as ‘‘threatened.’’ But, this regulatory               of agency funding results in inadequate
                                                       dog colonies by limiting new oil and gas                mechanism likely protects relatively few              protection and management of wildlife
                                                       development to one well per 80 ac (32                   individuals (see Conservation Status                  resources (Valdez et al. 2006, p. 277).
                                                       ha) within occupied habitat.                            and Local Populations above). While                   Although regulatory mechanisms in
                                                       Cumulatively, structure and facility                    some States, such as Colorado, have                   Mexico appear to be minimal or are not
                                                       development will not occur on more                      specific management plans that address                adequately enforced, Mexico constitutes
                                                       than 2 percent of the occupied                          mountain plover conservation, and all                 a small portion of the overall species’
                                                       mountain plover nesting habitat in each                 States within the range of the species                breeding range. Mountain plover appear
                                                       prairie dog colony on the Thunder Basin                 include it within their State Wildlife                to winter in significant numbers in
                                                       National Grasslands (USFS 2001). As                     Conservation Strategies (see                          Mexico, but at that time of year, they are
                                                       described above in the discussion under                 Conservation Status and Local                         highly mobile and less vulnerable to
                                                       Factor A, the PNG has been conducting                   Populations above), there is no                       human activity than when nesting, and
                                                       prescribed burning for many years to                    rangewide or intrastate coordinated                   they therefore may require few
                                                       improve breeding habitat for mountain                   management effort and no requirement
                                                       plover (Knopf 2008, pp. 25–26).                                                                               regulatory protections. There is no
                                                                                                               to implement specific management
                                                       Numerous research projects on                                                                                 information available to indicate that
                                                                                                               actions. However, there is no
                                                       mountain plover have also been                                                                                the species is threatened by the
                                                                                                               information available to indicate that
                                                       conducted on the PNG and the adjacent                                                                         inadequacy of existing regulatory
                                                                                                               the species is threatened by the
                                                       USDA Research Area (Augustine 2010a,                    inadequacy of existing State regulatory               mechanisms in Mexico.
                                                       pers. comm.; Augustine 2010b, pers.                     mechanisms.                                           Summary
                                                       comm.).
                                                                                                               Canada                                                  While mountain plover conservation
                                                          In Colorado and Wyoming, a multi-
                                                       agency team, consisting of biologists                      The mountain plover has been listed                has been addressed in some State,
                                                       from the Service, BLM, USFS, and                        as endangered in Canada since 1987.                   Federal, and international plans, laws,
                                                       National Park Service, developed a non-                 Knapton et al. (2006, p. i) noted that                regulations, and policies, none of these
                                                       regulatory screening tool to allow for                  listing was in part due to a perceived                have applicability throughout the range
                                                       proactive and consistent management                     decline from 1980 to 1986. The Species                of the mountain plover sufficient to
                                                       and conservation of the mountain                        At Risk Act (SARA), passed December                   provide effective population-level
                                                       plover on public lands and to provide                   12, 2002, is a commitment by the                      conservation. However, we have found
                                                       a tool for streamlining agency review                   Canadian government to prevent the                    in the analysis of the other four factors
                                                       and implementation of activities (BLM                   extinction of wildlife and provide the                (A, B, C, and E) that there are no
                                                       2004). The screening tool allows agency                 necessary actions for the recovery of                 activities that currently rise to the level
                                                       personnel to evaluate the impacts of                    species deemed endangered. These at-                  of a significant threat to the mountain
                                                       projects (such as energy development,                   risk wildlife species are provided with               plover. Therefore, we conclude that the
                                                       rangeland management, and recreation)                   legal protection under SARA, and their                best scientific and commercial
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                                                       that would occur within or adjacent to                  biological diversity is thereby conserved             information available indicates that the
                                                       mountain plover habitat to determine                    (Environment Canada 2010). As noted
                                                                                                                                                                     mountain plover is not now, and is not
                                                       whether the project would result in an                  in the Background section above, the
                                                                                                                                                                     expected to become within the
                                                       impact to the species at the local or                   mountain plover population in Canada
                                                                                                                                                                     foreseeable future, threatened by the
                                                       rangewide scale. Use of the screening                   is very small, and efforts there to
                                                       tool would not stop any projects from                   improve habitat will not likely have a                inadequacy of existing regulatory
                                                       occurring, but rather would alert agency                significant impact on this species’                   mechanisms to the extent that listing
                                                       personnel to possible project impacts so                conservation rangewide. There is no                   under the Act as an endangered or
                                                       that the project could be modified if                   information available to indicate that                threatened species is warranted at this
                                                       possible. While the screening tool                      the species is threatened by the                      time.


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                                                       Factor E. Other Natural or Manmade         ranged from 0.74 to 0.96 yearly                                    males than females) range wide and
                                                       Factors Affecting the Species’ Continued (Dinsmore 2008, p. 50). Based on this                                whether this might adversely affect
                                                       Existence                                  study, a mountain plover returning to its                          reproductive potential. Knopf (2003,
                                                                                                  breeding ground would likely return                                pers. comm.) speculated that a slightly
                                                       Genetic Diversity
                                                                                                  multiple additional years. Dinsmore et                             unbalanced sex ratio in California might
                                                          The loss of local populations may       al. (2010) characterized the mountain                              result from slightly higher overall
                                                       impact a species because local             plover as typical of relatively long-lived                         mortality in females or from differential
                                                       populations may possess unique genetic bird species, documented to live over 10                               wintering, with females wintering
                                                       characteristics that are important to the  years, where repeated reproductive                                 further south, in Mexico. Rangewide sex
                                                       species’ genetic diversity and its ability attempts throughout life are less                                  ratios for mountain plover are still
                                                       to adapt to future environmental           important to population growth than                                unknown (Knopf and Wunder 2006) and
                                                       changes. However, for mountain plover, adult survival. On the basis of our                                    we have no evidence that relative
                                                       genetic studies using nuclear              review of the best available information,                          number of males and females in
                                                       microsatellites have concluded that        we now believe that a short average                                mountain plover populations represents
                                                       mountain plover across sampled             lifespan and resulting limited                                     a threat to the species.
                                                       breeding locations in Colorado and         reproductive opportunities, as suggested
                                                       Montana comprise a single, relatively                                                                         Exposure to Pesticides
                                                                                                  in our 2002 proposal, do not constitute
                                                       homogenous gene pool (Oyler-McCance a threat to the mountain plover.                                             Potential exposure of mountain plover
                                                       2005, p. 359; Oyler-McCance et al. 2008,      In our February 16, 1999 (64 FR                                 to pesticides and agrochemicals on
                                                       pp. 496–497). These results suggest that 7587), and December 5, 2002 (67 FR                                   wintering areas in California, and
                                                       there is sufficient gene flow among        72396), proposals to list the mountain                             resulting impacts to mountain plover
                                                       breeding areas to offset reported adult    plover as a threatened species, we                                 health and reproduction, have been
                                                       fidelity to breeding areas and genetic     considered the plover to have high                                 cited as a potential threat (Knopf and
                                                       effects of small populations (genetic      fidelity to breeding sites. In patchy                              Wunder 2006). Exposure of mountain
                                                       drift, loss of genetic diversity) (Oyler-  habitat, when nesting habitat is                                   plover to direct pesticide application is
                                                       McCance et al. 2005, p. 360; Oyler-        destroyed or unavailable, it may be                                likely minimized because most
                                                       McCance et al. 2008, pp. 496–497).         difficult for the mountain plover to find                          pesticide application occurs on growing
                                                       While this seems unusual for a species     a new place to breed, thus resulting in                            crops, and less frequently on harvested
                                                       with relatively high reported site         the decline of populations. Dispersal                              and fallow fields, or grazed pastures that
                                                       fidelity, it suggests pair formation in    ability may be important to the use of                             mountain plover frequent.
                                                       mixed winter flocks from different         available habitat and conservation of the                             The organochlorine agricultural
                                                       breeding areas. Widespread mixing of       mountain plover given the patchiness of                            pesticide DDT, and its byproduct DDE,
                                                       mountain plover populations in winter      desirable breeding habitat. Altered or                             can cause thinning of eggshells and
                                                       has been documented (Wunder 2007, p. fragmented landscapes may force                                          decreased reproductive success in birds
                                                       118). From a genetic perspective, this     mountain plover to disperse greater                                (Longcore et al. 1971, pp. 486, 489).
                                                       information suggests that no single        distances. For example, in Montana,                                DDT has not been in use in California
                                                       breeding population requires special       where the mountain plover is highly                                since the 1970s, and in many cases, DDE
                                                       conservation or protection (Oyler-         dependent on black-tailed prairie dog                              levels that remain in the environment
                                                       McCance et al. 2005, p. 360). However,     colonies for breeding habitat, sylvatic                            will decrease slowly over several
                                                       not all populations have received          plague outbreaks often make previously                             decades (Thomas et al. 2008, pp. 55,
                                                       genetic analysis, including potentially    used breeding habitat undesirable. As                              65). Organochloride levels in mountain
                                                       non-migratory breeding populations in      discussed above, Skrade and Dinsmore                               plover collected from three California
                                                       Mexico. We conclude that there is no       (2010, pp. 671–672) demonstrated the                               counties (Imperial, San Luis Obispo,
                                                       known restriction of gene flow within      mountain plover’s ability to disperse at                           and Tulare) in 1991–1992 ranged from
                                                       the species, and that the loss of any      least locally to exploit favorable                                 1.0 to 10.0 parts per million (ppm) (dry
                                                       given local population will not            breeding habitats nearby, and in at least                          weight); although these levels are
                                                       substantially impact the genetic           one instance, an adult mountain plover                             considered high for an upland bird, no
                                                       diversity of the mountain plover or the    returned to breed at a site about 25 mi                            subsequent issues with bird behavior or
                                                       species’ ability to adapt to future        (40 km) from a site where it was banded                            eggshell thickness in mountain plover
                                                       stressors.                                 during the previous season. We                                     were noted (Knopf and Wunder 2006).
                                                                                                  conclude that while the mountain                                   Levels of DDE of 43 ppm (wet weight)
                                                       Longevity, Site Fidelity, and Sex Ratio                                                                       were found in eggs collected from
                                                                                                  plover generally exhibits fidelity to
                                                          In our December 5, 2002, proposed       breeding sites, it is capable, at least                            abandoned mountain plover nests in
                                                       listing rule (67 FR 72396), we stated,     locally, of seeking out and exploiting                             Park County, Colorado, in 2001 (Knopf
                                                       ‘‘* * * that because the average lifespan new habitat through both juvenile                                   and Wunder 2006). No effects on eggs,
                                                       of a mountain plover is less than 2        dispersal and through adult birds                                  chicks, or adult mountain plover were
                                                       years, and breeding does not occur until returning to different breeding sites in                             established.
                                                       1 year of age, an individual mountain      subsequent years. On a local scale                                    Historically, soils in the Imperial
                                                       plover will likely have only one           (several mi/km), loss or fragmentation of                          Valley are known to be high in DDE
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                                                       breeding season to contribute to           breeding habitat is unlikely to have an                            (California Department of Food and
                                                       population recruitment.’’ Previous study inordinate effect on mountain plover                                 Agriculture (CDFA) 1985, p. 27). Studies
                                                       results underestimated adult survival      survival and reproduction (i.e., effects                           have shown unchanging levels of the
                                                       and, more importantly, our proposed        are likely to be proportional to, but not                          chemical in the past decades; this
                                                       rule erroneously concluded that average in excess of the amount of habitat loss).                             suggests a persistent, local source of the
                                                       lifespan reflected typical adult survival.    Previously, concern arose as to                                 chemical (Gervais and Catlin 2004, pp.
                                                       In the best available estimate of adult    whether a preponderance of male                                    509–510). The Imperial Valley is the
                                                       mountain plover survival, the annual       mountain plover among those birds                                  suspected source for high DDE
                                                       survival rate of adult mountain plover of handled by researchers in California                                concentrations and decreased
                                                       both sexes in Phillips County, Montana, suggested a skewed sex ratio (more                                    reproductive success in white-faced


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                                                       ibises (Plegadis chihi) (Yates et al. 2010,             organophosphorus and carbamate                        (CDFA 2007, p. 79). The limited area
                                                       p. 159). Levels of DDE in resident                      insecticides, and found that they varied              and quality of mountain plover habitat
                                                       burrowing owls are suspected to act as                  widely between mountain plover                        treated, coupled with the species’ large
                                                       a stressor, but reproductive effects have               collected in California from the Central              wintering range in California, led the
                                                       not been documented (Gervais and                        Valley where pesticide use is                         CDFA to determine that the curly top
                                                       Anthony 2003, p. 1259).                                 widespread and from the Carrizo Plain                 treatment program would not be likely
                                                          Service biologists recently collected                where there is minimal pesticide use,                 to significantly impact the mountain
                                                       and analyzed mountain plover eggs,                      but no differences were observed in                   plover (CDFA 2007, p. 80). On public
                                                       soils, and soil invertebrates from                      mountain plover body condition.                       lands managed by the BLM, prescribed
                                                       breeding areas in Colorado, Wyoming,                       The Central Valley is one of the                   usage avoids malathion spraying on
                                                       and Montana, and soils and soil                         State’s primary growing regions for                   wintering mountain plover areas when
                                                       invertebrates from wintering areas in the               alfalfa. Sixty percent of the State’s hay             the plover is present (BLM 2002, p. 1).
                                                       Imperial Valley (Zeeman 2011, pers.                     crop is grown here, with over 600,000                    Chemical exposure in Mexico where
                                                       comm.). Chemical analyses of eggs                       ac (240,000 ha) planted to alfalfa within             regulations and enforcement may be less
                                                       showed measurable, and in some cases                    the Central Valley (Godfrey 2002, p. 4).              stringent could be of concern (Andres
                                                       high, levels of persistent organic                      Insecticides used on alfalfa pests                    and Stone 2009, p. 30). DDE levels in
                                                       pollutants, most notably DDE. Much                      include chlorpyrifos, malathion, and                  mountain plover eggs reported by
                                                       lower concentrations of polychlorinated                 pyrethroids. Insecticide applications in              Zeeman (2011, pers. comm.) may have
                                                       biphenyls (PPBs), hexachlorobenzene,                    alfalfa usually occur once insects reach              resulted from exposure in Mexico,
                                                       tetrachlorobenzenes, alpha chlordane,                   damaging levels, typically in March or                where DDT is still used. While we
                                                       oxychlordane (chlordane metabolite),                    later in the growing season (Godfrey                  believe that crop fields in Mexico have
                                                       heptachlor epoxide, and dieldrin were                   2002, pp. 4–10), suggesting that                      potential to support large numbers of
                                                       found. Contaminants detected in                         exposure of wintering mountain plover                 wintering mountain plover, significant
                                                       mountain plover eggs were also detected                 to treatments would be limited, if any.               mountain plover use of crop fields in
                                                       in soil and invertebrate samples from                   Because early spring insecticide                      Mexico has not been reported (Macias-
                                                       fields in Imperial Valley, but no                       treatments in alfalfa have been found to              Duarte and Punjabi 2010, pp. 3, 7), nor
                                                       measurable levels were found in soil                    largely eliminate nontarget insect                    have specific issues regarding pesticide
                                                       and invertebrates at the breeding                       species complexes (Godfrey 2002, pp.                  use and impact to mountain plover been
                                                       grounds.                                                4–6), an unknown but potential residual               identified. While changing agricultural
                                                          The upper concentrations of DDE                      effect to mountain plover prey                        practices regarding pesticide application
                                                       detected, 50 ppm (wet weight) in two                    availability may exist in specific areas              or evolution of new chemicals for use in
                                                       eggs, was within the range of values                    the following winter. If present, such an             the United States or Mexico could prove
                                                       (which can range from as low as 3 ppm                   effect could locally reduce desirability              a future threat, we have no basis for
                                                       in sensitive species to 30 ppm in less                  of certain alfalfa fields to wintering                predicting the potential of such an
                                                       sensitive species) associated with                      mountain plover, but would not have a                 occurrence.
                                                       eggshell thinning and reproductive                      rangewide impact to the species.                         We have no evidence that pesticides
                                                       impairments in wild birds (Blus 1996).                     Malathion, a broad-spectrum                        are significantly impacting mountain
                                                       Conspicuous signs of impacts associated                 organophosphate insecticide, has been                 plover populations either locally or
                                                       with DDE exposure, such as eggshell                     used to control the beet leaf-hopper                  rangewide. However, given the
                                                       cracking and embryo malformation,                       (Circulifer tenellus) in rangeland habitat,           information summarized above,
                                                       were not detected in mountain plover                    fallow fields, oil fields, and cultivated             additional evaluation of any possible
                                                       (Zeeman 2011, pers. comm.). Based on                    areas on both public and private lands                effects to mountain plover from former
                                                       concentrations found in eggs, DDE from                  in the San Joaquin Valley (BLM 2002,                  and ongoing pesticide use within the
                                                       wintering areas, including the Imperial                 pp. 1–2; CDFA 2007, p. 8; CDFA 2008,                  mountain plover’s range appears
                                                       Valley, could potentially affect                        pp. 1–4). The beet leaf-hopper is a                   prudent.
                                                       mountain plover (Zeeman 2011, pers.                     vector for curly top virus, which
                                                                                                                                                                     Selenium Toxicity
                                                       comm.). The potential for the other                     negatively affects crops. In the western
                                                       contaminants detected in eggs, both                     and southern portions of the San                         Within the western San Joaquin
                                                       individually or in combination, to affect               Joaquin Valley, aerial spraying may                   Valley, selenium is present in the soil
                                                       the mountain plover is being evaluated                  occur fall through spring, and may                    and has the potential to occur in ponded
                                                       by the Service (Zeeman 2011, pers.                      include treatment of approximately                    irrigation water in fields and drainages.
                                                       comm.). The results cited above suggest                 200,000 ac (80,000 ha) in years with                  Irrigation with drainwater used to flood
                                                       that exposure varies by individual and                  high beet leaf-hopper populations.                    wetlands has resulted in biological
                                                       that few mountain plover have DDE                       Treatment usually results in a target                 accumulation of selenium sufficient to
                                                       levels that raise a concern. In addition,               population decline of over 90 percent                 harm reproduction of shorebirds and
                                                       no effects of DDE to adult mountain                     (CDFA 2008, pp. 1–4). Potential impacts               other wildlife (Ohlendorf et al. 1987,
                                                       plover, their eggs, or chicks have been                 to the mountain plover from the control               pp. 169–171, 174–181). Potential effects
                                                       established. At this time, we believe that              treatments could result from both direct              of selenium poisoning on birds can
                                                       if an effect occurs, it would probably be               exposure and indirectly from the                      include gross embryo deformities,
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                                                       localized, and would affect individual                  reduction of insect prey (CDFA 2007, p.               winter stress syndrome, depressed
                                                       birds or eggs and not have an effect at                 79).                                                  resistance to disease due to depressed
                                                       a population or species level.                             Although beet leaf-hopper control is               immune system function, reduced
                                                          Certain organophosphate insecticides                 potentially immense in scale, in the 10               reproductive success, reduced juvenile
                                                       are still used to control insect pests on               years up to 2002, an average of only                  growth and survival rates, mass wasting,
                                                       crops in California’s Central Valley                    about 4,400 ac (1,800 ha) per year were               loss of feathers (alopecia), embryo
                                                       within the range of the mountain plover.                treated in the bird’s wintering range                 death, altered enzyme function, and
                                                       Iko et al. (2003, p. 119) measured                      within the San Joaquin Valley, primarily              mortality (Ohlendorf 1996, pp. 131–139;
                                                       cholinesterase levels in mountain                       in sloped terrain that is not thought to              O’Toole and Raisbeck 1998, pp. 361–
                                                       plover, a measure of exposure to                        be desired by the mountain plover                     380). Species exposed to multiple


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                                                       stressors can become more vulnerable to                 limited cases malathion) are used more                population trends. However, climate
                                                       exposure to selenium.                                   sparingly, and as a secondary treatment.              change could potentially impact the
                                                          Because the mountain plover is an                       Control on private lands can be                    species. According to the IPCC (2007, p.
                                                       upland bird feeding primarily on                        undertaken by State or local government               6), ‘‘warming of the climate system is
                                                       terrestrial insects, its habits may limit               agencies, or private landowners without               unequivocal, as is now evident from
                                                       its exposure to selenium. Still, selenium               participation or oversight by APHIS.                  observations of increases in global
                                                       bioaccumulation in the food chain                       Treatment on private lands likely varies              average air and ocean temperatures,
                                                       could create a contaminant hazard for                   depending on resources available and                  widespread melting of snow and ice,
                                                       mountain plover feeding on insects in                   the economic implications of                          and rising global average sea level.’’
                                                       alkaline flats, grazed pastures, and                    infestations. Where treatment occurs, it              Average Northern Hemisphere
                                                       plowed fields in this area. Specific                    likely has the similar goal of reducing               temperatures during the second half of
                                                       exposure of the mountain plover to                      insect densities to acceptable levels.                the 20th century were very likely higher
                                                       selenium, or any adverse effects of such                Grasshopper and cricket control can                   than during any other 50-year period in
                                                       exposure have not been documented.                      have an impact on mountain plover                     the last 500 years and likely the highest
                                                          In summary, it has been documented                   prey and could, in some years and at                  in at least the past 1,300 years (IPCC
                                                       that mountain plover have been exposed                  some locations, adversely affect                      2007, p. 30). It is very likely that over
                                                       to various levels of potentially harmful                mountain plover breeding. However,                    the past 50 years cold days, cold nights,
                                                       pesticides and chemical toxins in                       since the scope and impact of these                   and frosts have become less frequent
                                                                                                               control efforts appear minimal relative               over most land areas, and hot days and
                                                       various portions of its range. However,
                                                                                                               to the mountain plover breeding range,                hot nights have become more frequent
                                                       we have no information to indicate that
                                                                                                               we conclude that grasshopper and                      (IPCC 2007, p. 6). It is likely that heat
                                                       the mountain plover is responding
                                                                                                               Morman cricket control does not                       waves have become more frequent over
                                                       negatively to this exposure or that it is
                                                                                                               represent a significant threat to                     most land areas, and the frequency of
                                                       likely to respond negatively in the
                                                                                                               rangewide mountain plover                             heavy precipitation events has increased
                                                       future. Exposure levels that elicit
                                                                                                               populations.                                          over most areas (IPCC 2007, p. 30).
                                                       negative responses in other bird species
                                                                                                                                                                        Changes in the global climate system
                                                       do not appear to elicit a similar negative              Weather
                                                                                                                                                                     during the 21st century are likely to be
                                                       response in mountain plover. Therefore,                   Annual weather variation influences                 larger than those observed during the
                                                       we do not believe that mountain plover                  mountain plover habitat and breeding                  20th century (IPCC 2007, p. 19). For the
                                                       are threatened by exposure to pesticides                success. Inclement weather may hinder                 next 2 decades, a warming of about 0.2
                                                       and chemical toxins.                                    egg laying (Knopf and Wunder 2006).                   degrees Celsius (°C) (0.4 degrees
                                                       Grasshopper and Cricket Control                         Cold, rain, and hail can result in loss of            Fahrenheit (°F)) per decade is projected
                                                                                                               nests and decreased chick survival.                   (IPCC 2007, p. 19). Afterward,
                                                          Efforts to control grasshoppers and                  Dreitz et al. (2010, pp. 3–4) identified              temperature projections increasingly
                                                       Mormon crickets, especially Federal                     weather as a significant cause of chick               depend on specific emission scenarios
                                                       control programs on BLM lands, have                     mortality. Mammalian predators of                     (IPCC 2007, p. 19). Various emissions
                                                       been cited as potentially detrimental to                mountain plover eggs and chicks are                   scenarios suggest that by the end of the
                                                       breeding mountain plover.                               scent-driven, and wet conditions                      21st century, average global
                                                       Grasshoppers occur throughout the                       enhance predation (Knopf and Wunder                   temperatures are expected to increase
                                                       breeding range of the mountain plover                   2006; Wunder 2007, p. 121).                           0.6 to 4.0 °C (1.1 to 7.2 °F), with the
                                                       and can reach population levels                           Wunder (2007, pp. 119–121)                          greatest warming expected over land
                                                       considered to be a threat to agriculture.               presented evidence that recruitment                   and at most high northern latitudes
                                                       The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health                      may be linked to regional patterns of                 (IPCC 2007, p. 46).
                                                       Inspection Service (APHIS) conducts                     weather, with highest recruitment                        The IPCC (2007, p. 48) predicts that
                                                       rangeland grasshopper and Mormon                        coming from breeding areas with low                   the resiliency of many ecosystems is
                                                       cricket control, including areas                        precipitation and a subsequent 1- to 2-               likely to be exceeded this century by an
                                                       occupied by breeding mountain plover.                   year lag observed in increased                        unprecedented combination of climate
                                                       Logically, a significant reduction in                   populations of adults (Wunder 2007, pp.               change associated disturbances (e.g.,
                                                       these mountain plover foods could                       119–121). Productivity may be                         flooding, drought, wildfire, and insects),
                                                       affect mountain plover fecundity and                    influenced by drought cycles, with dry                and other global drivers. Current climate
                                                       survival. However, efforts to control                   years reducing predation from mammals                 change predictions for terrestrial areas
                                                       grasshoppers and Mormon crickets on                     and suppressing vegetative growth, thus               in the Northern Hemisphere indicate
                                                       Federal lands are generally limited to                  providing increased accessibility to                  intense precipitation events, warmer air
                                                       suppressing populations in years and                    insects. Annual survival of mountain                  temperatures, and increased summer
                                                       areas where infestations occur, and do                  plover in Montana proved higher during                continental winds (Field et al. 1999, pp.
                                                       not have the goal of eradication, but                   periods of drought, although prolonged                5–10; Cayan et al. 2005, pp. 6–28). With
                                                       rather the goal of reducing densities to                drought eventually decreases abundance                medium confidence, IPCC predicts that
                                                       levels that limit economic impacts (BLM                 of insect foods (Dinsmore 2008, p. 52).               approximately 20 to 30 percent of plant
                                                       2010b). Numbers of these insects                        Weather variation affects mountain                    and animal species assessed so far are
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                                                       present after treatment may remain                      plover productivity across its breeding               likely to be at an increased risk of
                                                       greater than those present in a normal                  range, but we have no evidence that                   extinction if increases in global average
                                                       year. The BLM currently is pursuing a                   normal weather fluctuations represent a               temperature exceed 1.5 to 2.5 °C (3 to
                                                       strategy of ‘‘reduced area and agent                    threat to the mountain plover.                        5 °F).
                                                       treatments,’’ with the majority of                                                                               The mountain plover is primarily a
                                                       treatments through aerial spraying of a                 Climate Change                                        species of grasslands and semi-desert.
                                                       pesticide (diflubenzuron, a chiton                         There is no information available on               Grasslands in the Great Plains of the
                                                       inhibitor) with limited impacts to non-                 the direct relationship between the                   United States and southern Canada are
                                                       target species (BLM 2010b). Broad                       environmental changes associated with                 predicted to get warmer and drier with
                                                       spectrum insecticides (carbaryl and in                  climate change and mountain plover                    climate change (North American Bird


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                                                       Conservation Initiative 2010, p.18).                    1925–2010 (WRCC 2010b). Projected                     believe it is less likely to be threatened
                                                       Southwestern grasslands are expected to                 change in precipitation values for the                by climate change impacting grassland,
                                                       become drier because of declining                       Imperial Valley was also obtained                     or any one of its favored breeding
                                                       precipitation and higher temperatures,                  through the Climate Wizard in which an                habitats, than is suggested by its
                                                       especially the Chihuahuan Desert                        average of all models was used to                     classification as a breeding obligate to a
                                                       grasslands of the southwestern United                   display percent change in precipitation.              single habitat type. The mountain
                                                       States and northern Mexico, which are                   These data indicate a 1.1 percent                     plover was not considered sensitive to
                                                       critical wintering areas for many                       increase in precipitation for the 2050s               potential climate change impacts based
                                                       grassland birds, including the mountain                 and an increase of 0.3 percent by the                 on the other four traits (its migratory
                                                       plover (North American Bird                             2080s (TNC 2007).                                     habits, dispersal ability, niche
                                                       Conservation Initiative 2010, p.18). In                    Change in plant phenology (timing of               specificity, and reproductive potential)
                                                       northern grasslands, additional                         life cycle events such as vegetative                  (Sauer 2010b, pers. comm.). In general,
                                                       precipitation is expected, but they will                growth and reproduction) may be one of                the mountain plover seems to possess
                                                       still become drier because warmer                       the earliest observed responses to rapid              characteristics that would allow it to
                                                       temperatures will cause increased                       global climate change and could                       adapt to changing environmental and
                                                       evaporation (North American Bird                        potentially have serious consequences                 climate conditions. See the North
                                                       Conservation Initiative 2010, p. 18).                   both for plants and animals that depend               American Bird Conservation Initiative
                                                       Variability in precipitation is also                    on periodically available resources                   (2010, p. 28) for definitions of these
                                                       expected to increase; droughts, flooding,               (Moza and Batnegar 2005, p. 243). A                   traits.
                                                       and extreme storms (such as hailstorms)                 change in the timing of availability of                  Specific information on mountain
                                                       are all expected to become more                         insects that mountain plover and their                plover suggests that the species might be
                                                       common (North American Bird                             chicks rely on as a food source could                 adapted to drought, and that climate
                                                       Conservation Initiative 2010, p.18).                    occur as a result in changes in plant                 change predictions of the Great Plains
                                                       Increased atmospheric carbon dioxide                    phenology.                                            becoming warmer and drier might
                                                       will probably contribute to invasions of                   Because they are often highly                      benefit the species (Dinsmore 2008, p.
                                                       woody shrubs into grasslands (North                     competitive, invasive plant species are               52). Andres and Stone (2009, p. 31)
                                                       American Bird Conservation Initiative                   altering the plant composition of                     predicted increased summer
                                                       2010, p. 18), which could make certain                  ecosystems and changing their structure               temperatures and decreased
                                                       habitats unusable for the mountain                      and function over large landscape areas.              precipitation could benefit mountain
                                                       plover.                                                 Addition of fine fuels from these species             plover breeding. Recruitment of juvenile
                                                                                                               often increases fire frequency, which                 mountain plover into the population
                                                          Climate Wizard (TNC 2007) predicts                   can lead to increased dominance by                    appears linked to regional patterns of
                                                       an average temperature increase of                      invasive species and further habitat                  precipitation, with highest recruitment
                                                       approximately 4 to 6 °F by the 2050s for                degradation. Climate change is                        coming from areas with lowest
                                                       the majority of mountain plover                         exacerbating these changes by altering                precipitation every year, and a
                                                       breeding and wintering habitat within                   the amount and seasonal distribution of               subsequent increase in populations of
                                                       the United States. Precipitation is                     precipitation and seasonal temperature                adults observed from the same areas
                                                       projected to decline slightly in the                    patterns in ways that often favor the                 after a 1- to 2-year lag (Wunder 2007,
                                                       southwest portion of the range, and to                  invasive species (Tausch 2008). This                  pp. 119–121). Annual survival of
                                                       increase by 10 to 15 percent in the more                could potentially result in changes in                mountain plover in Montana proved
                                                       northern portions of the range in the                   the amount of ground cover in mountain                higher during periods of drought,
                                                       same time period. However, as stated                    plover habitat, which could discourage                despite potential reduction in insect
                                                       above, warmer temperatures and                          mountain plover nesting. Nonnative                    foods (Dinsmore 2008, p. 52). Peterson
                                                       evaporation may offset any gains in                     wildlife species that could compete                   (2003, pp. 291–292) concluded that
                                                       precipitation. By the 2080s,                            with the mountain plover for resources                there have been subtle shifts northward
                                                       temperatures are predicted to increase                  or prey on the species could potentially              in ranges of grassland birds, including
                                                       by as much as 7.5 °F within the species’                move into their habitats.                             mountain plover, potentially due to
                                                       breeding range, and precipitation to                       Although the mountain plover was                   climate change.
                                                       decline from 2050s levels throughout                    not included in ‘‘The State of the                       Climate change predictions are based
                                                       the range (TNC 2007). Weather data in                   Birds—2010 Report on Climate Change’’                 on models with assumptions, and there
                                                       the Imperial Valley recorded by the                     (North American Bird Conservation                     are uncertainties regarding the
                                                       Desert Research Institute of the Western                Initiative), it was assessed using the                magnitude of associated climate change
                                                       Regional Climate Center (WRCC)                          sensitivity traits analysis used in that              parameters, such as the amount and
                                                       between 1927 and 2010 show an                           report (Sauer 2010b, pers. comm.). The                timing of precipitation and seasonal
                                                       increasing trend in average temperature                 threat of climate change impacts to the               temperature changes. There is also
                                                       during the months of September                          plover was considered low, as it was                  uncertainty as to the magnitude of
                                                       through March, when mountain plover                     only considered sensitive to one of the               effects of predicted climate parameters.
                                                       are present in the area (WRCC 2010a,                    five main traits (it was considered a                 The mountain plover, along with its
                                                       Figure 1). Projected temperature change                 breeding obligate to a single habitat                 habitat, will likely be affected in some
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                                                       for the Imperial Valley was obtained                    type) (Sauer 2010b, pers. comm.).                     manner by climate change. A shift in the
                                                       through the Climate Wizard, in which                    Species that occupy only a single                     species’ geographic range may occur
                                                       an average of all models was used to                    habitat for breeding are vulnerable                   due to an increase in temperature and
                                                       display change in temperature. These                    should climate change reduce or                       drought, although climate change would
                                                       data indicate a 3.9 °F increase in                      eliminate that habitat. While the                     likely not pose as great a risk to
                                                       temperature for the 2050s and a 5.7 °F                  mountain plover has been often                        mountain plover habitat as it may to
                                                       increase for the 2080s (TNC 2007). The                  described as a grassland obligate (i.e., is           species in polar, coastal, or montane
                                                       WRCC also documented in Imperial,                       dependent on grasslands for breeding),                ecosystems. Nonnative and invasive
                                                       California, a slight increasing trend in                it also breeds in agricultural fields, and            species, both plants and animals, could
                                                       average precipitation (inches) from                     in semi-desert habitat. As such, we                   move into plover habitat as a result of


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                                                       changes in temperature or precipitation                 destruction of mountain plover nests,                 potential to work in concert to
                                                       patterns and degrade nesting habitat or                 general awareness of MBTA protections                 synergistically produce threats to the
                                                       compete with the mountain plover for                    and of efforts to protect nesting birds,              mountain plover above those which we
                                                       resources. A change in the timing of                    their nests, and their eggs may help                  have analyzed. We conclude that, at this
                                                       availability of insects that mountain                   limit human disturbance to nesting                    time, there are no identifiable
                                                       plover and their chicks rely on as a food               mountain plover.                                      cumulative impacts likely to threaten
                                                       source could occur as a result of                          Andres and Stone (2009, p. 27)                     the existence of the mountain plover in
                                                       changes in plant phenology. There is no                 suggested population-level effects from               the foreseeable future.
                                                       information available to suggest that any               human disturbance were unlikely. We
                                                                                                               conclude that while human-caused                      Summary of Factor E
                                                       of these factors are impacting mountain
                                                       plover now or that they will likely                     disturbance may impact mountain                          We conclude that the best scientific
                                                       impact the species in the foreseeable                   plover, such impacts are generally of                 and commercial information available
                                                       future.                                                 limited scope, and human disturbance                  indicates that the mountain plover is
                                                          Based on all the potential climate                   is not likely a significant threat to the             not now, or likely in the future,
                                                       change factors, a shift in range of the                 species.                                              threatened by genetic stochasticity, its
                                                       species could be possible, but there is                                                                       typical lifespan, its site fidelity,
                                                                                                               Cumulative Impacts                                    exposure to pesticides, selenium
                                                       no information available to suggest that
                                                       a net loss in occupied breeding habitat                    Some of the threats discussed in this              toxicity, grasshopper and cricket
                                                       or a significant impact to the status of                finding could work in concert with one                control, weather, climate change, or
                                                       the species will result. Although                       another to cumulatively create                        human disturbance, or cumulative
                                                       currently difficult to quantify, changes                situations that potentially impact the                impacts of potential threats such that
                                                       in climate, including higher                            mountain plover beyond the scope of                   the species is in danger of extinction or
                                                       temperatures, increasing stochastic                     each individual threat. For example, as               likely to become so within the
                                                       precipitation events, high winds, and                   discussed under Factor C, habitat                     foreseeable future.
                                                       increasing soil dryness, will likely lead               fragmentation, including energy
                                                                                                               development that both alters habitat and              Finding
                                                       to a loss of agricultural production in
                                                       the Imperial Valley; however, wintering                 provides structure on which predators                    As required by the Act, we considered
                                                       habitat seems adequate to support the                   could perch, could lead to increase in                the five factors in assessing whether the
                                                       species. The species is adaptable to a                  predation on the mountain plover. We                  mountain plover is endangered or
                                                       wide array of climes, as evidenced by a                 have no data to determine if, or to what              threatened throughout all, or a
                                                       geographic range that includes 12                       extent, such a scenario is likely to occur.           significant portion of its range. We have
                                                       States, Canada, and Mexico. Based on                    We conclude, at this time, that it does               carefully examined the best scientific
                                                       the best available information on                       not present a threat to the future                    and commercial information available
                                                       climate change projections modeled                      existence of the mountain plover.                     regarding the status and past and
                                                       over the next 40 to 70 years, we do not                    Similarly, under Factor A, we alluded              present and future threats faced by the
                                                       consider climate change to be a                         to the potential that in the Imperial                 mountain plover. We reviewed
                                                       significant threat to the mountain plover               Valley and other areas of California,                 information in our files, other available
                                                       at this time.                                           human development, solar                              published and unpublished
                                                                                                               development, changing agricultural                    information, and information provided
                                                       Human Disturbance                                       practices, water availability, and climate            by interested parties following our
                                                          Knopf and Wunder (2006) stated that                  change could interact to heighten                     February 16, 1999, and December 5,
                                                       mountain plover on nests are extremely                  potential loss of mountain plover                     2002, proposals to list the mountain
                                                       tolerant of human disturbance from                      wintering habitat. In the future,                     plover (64 FR 7587 and 67 FR 72396,
                                                       vehicles, tractors, and aircraft, but                   warming climate may necessitate use of                respectively), and following our June 29,
                                                       quickly moved away when approached                      more irrigation water for crops at the                2010, document (75 FR 37353) vacating
                                                       by a human on foot. While adult                         same time that water availability                     our September 9, 2003, withdrawal (68
                                                       mountain plover would not likely be                     decreases due to expansion of human                   FR 53083) and reinstating our 2002
                                                       affected by humans on foot, eggs left                   population and related water demand.                  proposal. We also consulted with
                                                       unprotected for a period of time could                  In our best judgment, agriculture in the              Federal and State land managers.
                                                       become overheated if exposed to direct                  Imperial Valley, and in other areas of                   There have been historical impacts to
                                                       sun on hot days.                                        California that support the mountain                  the mountain plover, in particular the
                                                          It seems likely that heavy                           plover, are likely to be affected by some             loss of much of the native prairie
                                                       construction activities nearby could                    variation of the above scenario.                      ecosystem, including bison, prairie dog
                                                       impact nesting mountain plover. Such                    However, specific changes in agriculture              colonies, other native grazers, and
                                                       activities are limited in scope across                  are uncertain. Seasonal change in timing              wildfires that produced extensive
                                                       mountain plover breeding habitat at any                 of crops, potential change toward those               mountain plover habitat on the Great
                                                       one time. In addition, timing                           crops needing less water, and changes                 Plains. However, past concerns
                                                       stipulations that restrict construction                 in irrigation practices may or may not                regarding continuing and future loss of
                                                       related to oil and gas development,                     detract from available wintering habitat              breeding habitat provided by black-
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                                                       wind-power development, and some                        for mountain plover. While                            tailed prairie dog colonies appears
                                                       other activities in the vicinity of                     cumulatively, these factors will likely               unfounded. Conversion to agriculture
                                                       mountain plover during the nesting                      reduce the total area of wintering habitat            remains insignificant across the
                                                       season exist for some Federal lands                     available, we believe that sufficient area            mountain plover’s breeding range.
                                                       (Knopf and Wunder 2006).                                of appropriate agricultural habitat will              Human development and resultant
                                                          Mountain plover are only one of a                    persist to support wintering mountain                 impact to mountain plover breeding
                                                       number of breeding bird species found                   plover.                                               habitat in South Park, Colorado, has not
                                                       in the habitats and locations where they                   We have not identified other likely                occurred as previously anticipated, and
                                                       nest. While prohibitions under the                      scenarios where the potential threats                 is not expected to do so in the
                                                       MBTA govern direct mortality and the                    discussed in the five factors above have              foreseeable future. Little evidence has


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                                                       surfaced to suggest that the mountain                      We estimate the current rangewide                  drive the species towards being
                                                       plover’s substantial use of cultivated                  mountain plover breeding population to                endangered in the foreseeable future;
                                                       lands for breeding is problematic. The                  be over 20,000 birds. This is more than               therefore, the species does not meet the
                                                       potential for future energy development                 double the estimate of 8,000 to 10,000                definition of threatened. Therefore, we
                                                       to adversely affect mountain plover and                 mountain plover that we cited in our                  find that listing the mountain plover as
                                                       their habitat on their breeding or                      December 5, 2002, proposal to list the                an endangered or threatened species is
                                                       wintering ranges is not fully known and                 mountain plover as a threatened species               not warranted throughout all or a
                                                       requires continued research. However,                   (67 FR 72396). While we have no                       significant portion of its range at this
                                                       studies to date do not lead us to                       evidence that an actual population                    time (see the Significant Portion of the
                                                       conclude that these activities currently                increase has occurred, a larger known                 Range discussion below). As such, we
                                                       pose substantial threats to the mountain                population provides added security                    withdraw our December 5, 2002,
                                                       plover or will in the foreseeable future.               from current and future potential                     proposed rule (67 FR 72396) to list the
                                                       Climate change may impact the                           influences and threats.                               mountain plover as a threatened
                                                       mountain plover, positively or                             Based on our review of the best                    species.
                                                       negatively, in ways not yet envisioned.                 available scientific and commercial
                                                          In the past, we were concerned that                                                                        Distinct Vertebrate Population
                                                                                                               information pertaining to the five                    Segments/Significant Portion of the
                                                       mountain plover life span was short                     factors, we find that the threats, alone or
                                                       compared to other plovers and that this,                                                                      Range
                                                                                                               cumulatively, are not of sufficient
                                                       in combination with high breeding site                  imminence, severity, or magnitude to                    After assessing whether the species is
                                                       fidelity, presented a threat to breeding                                                                      endangered or threatened throughout its
                                                                                                               indicate that the mountain plover is in
                                                       populations. Contrary to our previous                                                                         range, we next consider whether a
                                                                                                               danger of extinction, or likely to become
                                                       belief, the mountain plover is now                                                                            distinct vertebrate population segment
                                                                                                               endangered within the foreseeable
                                                       considered a relatively long-lived                                                                            (DPS) or whether any significant portion
                                                                                                               future, throughout all or a significant
                                                       species. Site fidelity and ability to seek                                                                    of the mountain plover range meets the
                                                                                                               portion of it range. The mountain plover
                                                       out alternative sites for breeding does                                                                       definition of endangered or is likely to
                                                                                                               has experienced historical losses of
                                                       not appear to be a concern. Based on                                                                          become endangered in the foreseeable
                                                                                                               native habitat resulting in a significant
                                                       new information regarding life span, site                                                                     future (threatened).
                                                                                                               decline in the rangewide population.
                                                       fidelity, and dispersal, we no longer
                                                                                                               However, BBS survey results suggest                   Distinct Vertebrate Population Segment
                                                       believe that these aspects of the
                                                       mountain plover’s life history represent                that the recent (1999 through 2009) rate
                                                                                                                                                                        Under the Service’s Policy Regarding
                                                       any threat to the species. Lastly, recent               of decline has moderated (see
                                                                                                                                                                     the Recognition of Distinct Vertebrate
                                                       information confirms that some                          Population Size and Trends above). We
                                                                                                                                                                     Population Segments Under the
                                                       mountain plover are exposed to                          have no evidence that potential threats
                                                                                                                                                                     Endangered Species Act (61 FR 4722,
                                                       pesticides, but no evidence of impacts                  (as discussed in Factors A, B, C, D, and
                                                                                                                                                                     February 7, 1996), three elements are
                                                       to individuals, local populations, or                   E) are acting on the species or its habitat
                                                                                                                                                                     considered in the decision concerning
                                                       rangewide impacts to the species have                   in a way that would reverse this positive
                                                                                                                                                                     the establishment and classification of a
                                                       been demonstrated.                                      trend or result in an increased rate of
                                                                                                                                                                     possible DPS. These are applied
                                                          The current status of the mountain                   population decline within the
                                                                                                                                                                     similarly for additions to or removal
                                                       plover does not suggest that future                     foreseeable future. The currently
                                                                                                                                                                     from the Federal List of Endangered and
                                                       habitat changes, or the combination of                  estimated rangewide mountain plover
                                                                                                                                                                     Threatened Wildlife. These elements
                                                       climate change and habitat changes will                 population, more than 20,000 breeding
                                                                                                                                                                     include:
                                                       result in significant population-level                  birds, is more than double that                          (1) The discreteness of a population in
                                                       impacts in the foreseeable future. Their                estimated in 2002, providing the species              relation to the remainder of the species
                                                       geographically widespread breeding and                  with added security should increased                  to which it belongs;
                                                       wintering locations, and ability to use a               threats to its wellbeing arise. As stated                (2) The significance of the population
                                                       variety of habitats, contribute to their                above, the mountain plover’s                          segment to the species to which it
                                                       security. During breeding, they utilize                 geographically widespread breeding and                belongs; and
                                                       short- and mixed-grass prairie, prairie                 wintering ranges, and ability to exploit                 (3) The population segment’s
                                                       dog colonies, agricultural lands, and                   a variety of habitats, contribute to its              conservation status in relation to the
                                                       semi-desert (Dinsmore 2003, pp. 14–17).                 security. According to the Act, the term              Act’s standards for listing, delisting, or
                                                       The variety of habitats in which they                   ‘‘endangered species’’ means any species              reclassification (i.e., is the population
                                                       successfully breed suggests that threats                which is in danger of extinction                      segment endangered or threatened).
                                                       affecting one habitat type would not                    throughout all or a significant portion of
                                                       greatly increase the mountain plover’s                  its range; the term ‘‘threatened species’’            Discreteness
                                                       vulnerability to extinction. Mountain                   means any species which is likely to                    Under the DPS policy a population
                                                       plover have proven to be adaptable to                   become an endangered species within                   segment of a vertebrate taxon may be
                                                       many human activities, such as using                    the foreseeable future throughout all or              considered discrete if it satisfies either
                                                       crop fields for breeding and wintering,                 a significant portion of its range. We                one of the following conditions:
                                                       and benefitting from some cattle grazing                conclude that the mountain plover does                  (1) It is markedly separated from other
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                                                       practices. Over time, the extent of                     not meet the definition of endangered,                populations of the same taxon as a
                                                       wintering habitat in California is likely               because there is an apparent trend                    consequence of physical, physiological,
                                                       to decline, but wintering mountain                      toward stability of the species’                      ecological, or behavioral factors.
                                                       plover exploit a variety of grassland,                  rangewide population, it remains                      Quantitative measures of genetic or
                                                       rangeland, crop fields, and semi-desert                 widespread over both its breeding and                 morphological discontinuity may
                                                       landscapes from the Gulf Coast to the                   wintering ranges, and it can exploit a                provide evidence of this separation.
                                                       Pacific Ocean. We conclude that any                     variety of habitats including areas of                  (2) It is delimited by international
                                                       foreseeable future declines in wintering                human disturbance. In addition, we                    governmental boundaries within which
                                                       habitat, in California or elsewhere, are                have found no threats acting on the                   differences in control of exploitation,
                                                       unlikely to imperil the mountain plover.                mountain plover in a way that would                   management of habitat, conservation


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                                                                                Federal Register / Vol. 76, No. 92 / Thursday, May 12, 2011 / Proposed Rules                                                 27799

                                                       status, or regulatory mechanisms exist                  mechanisms). Therefore, we do not                     threats applies only to portions of the
                                                       that are significant in light of section                believe that international boundaries                 range that are unimportant to the
                                                       4(a)(1)(D) of the Act.                                  provide evidence of discrete mountain                 viability of the species, such portions
                                                          We do not consider any population                    plover populations.                                   will not warrant further consideration.
                                                       segment of mountain plover to be                          We determine, based on a review of                     We next address whether any portions
                                                       markedly separated from other                           the best available information, that no               of the mountain plover’s range warrant
                                                       populations of the same taxon as a                      mountain plover population segments                   further consideration. On the basis of
                                                       consequence of physical, physiological,                 meet the discreteness conditions of the               our review, we found no geographic
                                                       ecological, or behavioral factors.                      1996 DPS policy. Therefore, no                        concentration of threats on breeding or
                                                       Mountain plover are naturally                           mountain plover population segment                    wintering habitat such that the
                                                       distributed across a large landscape in a               qualifies as a DPS under our policy, and              subspecies may be in danger of
                                                       discontinuous fashion. Available                        no DPS is a listable entity under the Act.            extinction in that portion. Although the
                                                       breeding and wintering habitats exist in                  The DPS policy is clear that                        mountain plover’s wintering habitat in
                                                       a constantly shifting mosaic of suitable                significance is analyzed only when a                  California is likely to decrease in the
                                                       habitat throughout the western Great                    population segment has been identified                future because of changes in land use
                                                       Plains and Rocky Mountain States from                   as discrete. Because we found that no                 and agriculture, we have determined
                                                       Canada to Mexico. As an avian species,                  mountain plover populations meet the                  that the likely extent of change will not
                                                       mountain plover are able to move long                   discreteness element and, therefore, do               result in a significant threat to the
                                                       distances during migration, and to                      not qualify as a DPS under the Service’s              species’ ability to maintain a wintering
                                                       return to different geographical areas for              DPS policy, we will not conduct an                    population in California. Similarly, we
                                                       breeding or wintering.                                  evaluation of significance.                           found that there is no area within the
                                                          Although there is some evidence that                                                                       breeding range of the mountain plover
                                                                                                               Significant Portion of the Range
                                                       mountain plover exhibit some site                                                                             where the potential threat of changes to
                                                       fidelity to their breeding areas (Graul                    The Act defines an endangered
                                                                                                                                                                     habitat are concentrated or may be
                                                       1973, p. 71; Skrade and Dinsmore 2010,                  species as one ‘‘in danger of extinction
                                                                                                                                                                     substantially greater than in other
                                                       p. 672), other studies have shown that                  throughout all or a significant portion of
                                                                                                                                                                     portions of the range. The factors
                                                       the species can disperse over relatively                its range,’’ and a threatened species as
                                                                                                                                                                     affecting the species are essentially
                                                       long distances (Knopf and Wunder                        one ‘‘likely to become an endangered
                                                                                                                                                                     uniform throughout its range, indicating
                                                       2006; Bly 2010b, pers. comm.). There                    species within the foreseeable future
                                                                                                               throughout all or a significant portion of            that no portion of the mountain plover’s
                                                       are no known barriers to movement                                                                             range warrants further consideration of
                                                       throughout the geographic range of the                  its range.’’ The term ‘‘significant portion
                                                                                                               of its range’’ is not defined by the                  possible endangered or threatened
                                                       species. Wunder (2007, p. 118)                                                                                status.
                                                       concluded that there is widespread                      statute. For the purposes of this finding,
                                                                                                               a significant portion of a species’ range                We request that you submit any new
                                                       mixing of mountain plover populations                                                                         information concerning the status of, or
                                                       in winter and that birds may use                        is an area that is important to the
                                                                                                               conservation of the species because it                threats to, the mountain plover to our
                                                       alternate wintering sites in different                                                                        Colorado Ecological Services Office (see
                                                       years. A genetic study using nuclear                    contributes meaningfully to the
                                                                                                                                                                     ADDRESSES) whenever it becomes
                                                       microsatellites concluded that mountain                 representation, resiliency, or
                                                                                                               redundancy of the species. The                        available. New information will help us
                                                       plover across sampled breeding                                                                                monitor the mountain plover and
                                                       locations in Colorado and Montana                       contribution must be at a level such that
                                                                                                               its loss would result in a significant                encourage its conservation. If an
                                                       comprised a single, relatively
                                                                                                               decrease in the viability of the species.             emergency situation develops for the
                                                       homogenous gene pool (Oyler-McCance
                                                                                                                  If an analysis of whether a species is             mountain plover or any other species,
                                                       et al. 2008, pp. 496–497). Results
                                                                                                               endangered or threatened in a                         we will act to provide immediate
                                                       suggested that there was sufficient gene
                                                                                                               significant portion of its range is                   protection.
                                                       flow among breeding areas to offset
                                                       genetic effects of small populations and                appropriate, we engage in a systematic                References Cited
                                                       reported adult fidelity to breeding areas               process that begins with identifying any
                                                                                                               portions of the range of the species that                A complete list of references cited is
                                                       (Oyler-McCance et al. 2008, pp. 496–                                                                          available on the Internet at http://
                                                       497).                                                   warrant further consideration. The range
                                                                                                               of a species can theoretically be divided             www.regulations.gov and upon request
                                                          The mountain plover spans
                                                                                                               into portions in an infinite number of                from the Colorado Ecological Services
                                                       international boundaries between the
                                                                                                               ways. However, there is no purpose in                 Office (see ADDRESSES).
                                                       United States, Canada, and Mexico;
                                                       however, the vast majority of occupied                  analyzing portions of the range that are              Authors
                                                       breeding habitat occurs in the United                   not reasonably likely to be significant                 The primary authors of this document
                                                       States with few breeding records in                     and endangered or threatened. To                      are the staff members of the Colorado
                                                       Canada and Mexico. Mexico likely                        identify only those portions that warrant             Ecological Services Office (see
                                                       winters a substantial number of                         further consideration, we determine                   ADDRESSES).
                                                       mountain plover that breed in the                       whether there is substantial information
                                                       United States. The known relative                       indicating that (i) the portions may be               Authority
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                                                       distribution of mountain plover between                 significant and (ii) the species may be in              The authority for this section is
                                                       the three countries has remained fairly                 danger of extinction there or likely to               section 4 of the Endangered Species Act
                                                       constant in recent years. Additionally,                 become so within the foreseeable future.              of 1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et
                                                       we are not aware of any differences in                  In practice, a key part of this analysis is           seq.).
                                                       control of exploitation, management of                  whether the threats are geographically
                                                       habitat, conservation status, or                        concentrated in some way. If the threats                Dated: April 29, 2011.
                                                       regulatory mechanisms that exist in                     to the species are essentially uniform                Rowan W. Gould,
                                                       Canada or Mexico that are significant in                throughout its range, no portion is likely            Acting Director, Fish and Wildlife Service.
                                                       light of section 4(a)(1)(D) of the Act (the             to warrant further consideration.                     [FR Doc. 2011–11056 Filed 5–11–11; 8:45 am]
                                                       inadequacy of existing regulatory                       Moreover, if any concentration of                     BILLING CODE 4310–55–P




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