Natural Resources, School of

 

Date of this Version

2011

Citation

Brown, M.B., J.G. Jorgensen, S.E. Steckler, M.J. Panella, W.R. Silcock and C.M. Thody. 2011. A review of Interior Least Tern and Piping Plover management, conservation, and recovery on the Lower Platte River, Nebraska. Joint report of the Tern and Plover Conservation Partnership and the Nongame Bird Program at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Lincoln, NE.

Abstract

SUMMARY

The Lower Platte River in eastern Nebraska provides many resources for wildlife and a variety of stakeholders. This river and its major tributaries contain important nesting habitat for two state and federally-listed bird species, the Interior Least Tern (endangered; Sternula antillarum athalassos) and the Northern Great Plains Piping Plover (threatened; Charadrius melodus). Both species nest on bare or sparsely-vegetated expanses of sand in natural and human-created habitat, which occur in and along river channels; the Lower Platte River system is critical for the survival and recovery of both species.

The Lower Platte River in eastern Nebraska provides many resources for wildlife and a variety of stakeholders. This river and its major tributaries contain important nesting habitat for two state and federally-listed bird species, the Interior Least Tern (endangered; Sternula antillarum athalassos) and the Northern Great Plains Piping Plover (threatened; Charadrius melodus). Both species nest on bare or sparsely-vegetated expanses of sand in natural and human-created habitat, which occur in and along river channels; the Lower Platte River system is critical for the survival and recovery of both species.

In contrast to other river systems in Nebraska, there is no programmatic agreement or framework that generates a comprehensive Interior Least Tern and Piping Plover policy on the Lower Platte River. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) and the Tern and Plover Conservation Partnership (TPCP), in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), are responsible for making and implementing management decisions in this region. Collectively, these decisions constitute a de facto tern and plover policy for the Lower Platte River. The fundamental challenge with regard to policy-making on the Lower Platte River is how to conserve terns and plovers while balancing the needs and concerns of stakeholders.

This document serves as a foundation for developing management strategies for Interior Least Terns and Piping Plovers on the Lower Platte River. To meet this end, we provide a summary of the area’s geographic and political setting. Next, we provide detailed species descriptions for Interior Least Tern and Piping Plovers, including their ecology, population trends, and reasons for both species’ declines. Finally, we describe current management activities by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and the Tern and Plover Conservation Partnership.

We hope that this document will facilitate meaningful discussion about the future of the Lower Platte River and the people and wildlife that depend on it.

INTRODUCTION

The Lower Platte River in Nebraska is an important resource for a variety of stakeholders. The river has been, and will continue to be, modified to meet the needs of these stakeholders. The modifications take two general forms, 1) use of the river’s water and 2) control of the annual hydrological variation in the river system. Examples of the first include water diversion for agricultural or industrial purposes and of the second include levee construction for flood control. Balancing the needs for natural resource use by people and conservation of imperiled species in the ecosystem presents a challenge for decision-makers, resource agencies, and stakeholders. Currently, the river retains the capacity to create and maintain habitat for wildlife that depend on the river. However, as demands on the river’s resources accumulate, the river system may reach a threshold beyond which the river will lose much of its natural function and become unable to create and maintain habitat for wildlife. This has occurred on the nearby Central Platte and Missouri rivers, and massive efforts are underway to restore the components of the former ecosystem so the wildlife and economies that rely on these rivers are able to survive.

The Lower Platte River differs from the Central Platte and Missouri Rivers in that there is no omnibus agreement in place that controls the management of the river. Management of the Missouri River is dictated by congressional mandate (e.g., Flood Control Act of 1944 and USFWS Biological Opinion of 2003) and is carried out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Management of the Central Platte River is influenced by local water use policy and by a three-state cooperative agreement (Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, http://www.platteriverprogram.org) that implements actions to provide habitat for imperiled wildlife.

The Lower Platte River system provides habitat for two state and federally-listed bird species, the Interior Least Tern (Sternula antillarum athalassos) and the Northern Great Plains Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus). Terns and plovers breed along the river during late spring and summer and spend the remainder of year in migration or on their wintering areas. Both species nest in aggregations on bare or sparsely-vegetated expanses of sand in natural and human-created habitat. Natural habitat consists of sandbars within the river channel, which are created and maintained by geomorphological processes. Human-created habitat occurs outside the river channel and is created by industrial or commercial activities (i.e., sand and gravel mining, dredging and construction). The Interior Least Tern is state and federally listed as endangered (50 Federal Register 21784–21792), and the Great Plains Piping Plover is state and federally listed as threatened (50 Federal Register 50726–50734). Federal listing is under authority of the Endangered Species Act (1973), and state listing is under authority of the Nebraska Nongame and Endangered Species Conservation Act (Revised Statutes of Nebraska 1943; Neb. Stat 37–903; Neb. Stat 37–804). Federal and state listing provides protections for the birds, chicks, eggs, and their habitat.