Western Snowy Plover and Climate Change

The image to the left is by Becky Bowen from the SOS website.

I am in training as a Snowy Plover Monitor for California State Parks. It is one of the reasons that I was included in the recent Western Snowy Plover Breeding Window Survey

This post will concern itself with the effects of climate change on the Snowy Plover. It will be mostly a copy and paste article.

Mendocino Coast beaches support a fair number of Snowy Plovers during the Winter. According to the information I have, there is a mix of both Western and Interior Snowy Plovers. The Interior birds are not listed as threatened but just had their ranking as a California Bird Species of Special Concern raised due to climate change. A link to that report is on a past posting of mine and can be found here.

In May 2012, the USFWS revised the Critical Habitat designation for the Western Snowy Plover along coastal California, Washington, and Oregon.

 “In summary, this revision increases critical habitat from 12,150 acres to 24,527 acres of coastal beach-dune ecosystem habitat along the Pacific Coast essential to the survival and recovery of the snowy plover.” This change came about because of a lawsuit. The revision published in the Federal Register on June 19, 2012 is very detailed in describing current climate change science and it’s effects on not only the Snowy Plover but also our coastline. You can also replace the words, Snowy Plover, with any shorebird that spends any time here in Mendocino.

Climate Change

“Our analyses under the Act include consideration of ongoing and projected changes in climate. The terms ‘‘climate” and ‘‘climate change” are defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).”

“Sea level rise and hydrological changes associated with climate change are having and will continue to have significant effects on Pacific Coast WSP and its habitat over the next several decades. Sea level rise is a result of two phenomena: Thermal expansion (increased sea water temperatures) and global ice melt (Cayan et al. 2006, p. 5).”

“Recent observations and models (including the models we used to evaluate Pacific Coast WSP habitat) indicate that those projections were conservative and ignored some critical factors, such as melting of the Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets (Heberger et al. 2009, p. 6). Heberger et al. (2009, p. 8) have updated the sea level rise projections for California to 3.3–4.6 ft (1.0–1.4 m) by 2100, while Vermeer and Rahmstorf (2009, p. 21530) calculate the sea level rise globally at 2.4–6.2 ft (0.57–1.9 m); in both cases, recent estimates were more than twice earlier projections. Combined with California’s normal dramatic tidal fluctuations and coincidental storms, the severity of the latter increasing with more frequent El Nino Southern Oscillations due to increasing surface water temperature (Cayan et al. 2006, p. 17), the effects of sea level rise are expected to reach farther inland than previously anticipated (Cayan et al. 2006, pp. 48– 49; Cayan et al. 2009, p. 40). Similar effects are expected to occur along the Oregon and Washington coastlines (Galbraith et al. 2002, pp. 173–183; Huppert et al. 2009, pp. 285–309; Ruggiero et al. 2010, 211–262). For the Pacific Coast WSP and other shorebird habitat, Galbraith et al. (2002, pp. 173–183) in a study of sites in Washington (Willapa Bay) and California (Humboldt Bay and San Francisco Bay) projected losses of intertidal habitat could range between 20 and 70 percent of the existing habitat. In addition, sea-level rise may result in coastal areas to lose their ability to continue to support the current number of shorebirds. Areas with steep topography (Northern California to Washington State) or seawalls (Southern California) with limited beach habitat are expected to have the most severe losses (Galbraith et al. 2002, pp. 173–183).”

“Additionally sea-level rise would cause: (1) Inundation of low-lying areas by high tides; (2) flooding of coastal areas during major storm events, especially near river mouths; (3) acceleration of erosion of coastal bluffs; and (4) a shift in beach profiles, move the position of the mean high water line landward (Huppert et al. 2009, p. 285).”

Predation and human disturbances are addressed in the comments section but that’s not the subject of this post. The full revision in the Federal Register can be found here

Other resources for the Western Snowy Plover’s recovery plan can be found here





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