USACE and USFWS Strengthen Partnership in Protecting Endangered Piping Plover

In 2013 USACE started their, long-term, dredging project to improve navigation by placing clean dredged material in 3 open-water cells at Cat Island and is rebuilding a damaged historic island chain in Green Bay. The end goal is to turn over the completed project to Brown County for continued maintenance and habitat development.

This dredging helped reemerge beach sand which was the perfect home for the piping plover who started arriving in 2015, the first sighting in the Green Bay area in 75 years.

Wire cages protect the birds from predators while allowing birds to move in and out easily. (USACE photo by Emily Helton)
Wire cages protect the birds from predators while allowing birds to move in and out easily. (USACE photo by Emily Helton)

The piping plover is an endangered species in the Great Lakes region and a threatened species in the rest of the country. Currently, only 71 nesting pairs are reported in the U.S. with three of those pairs making Cat Island their home. This has changed the operation schedule for the dredging project.

USACE has worked with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS), and the nonprofit National Audubon Society, to ensure the birds have priority in the area from April to August while the birds are nesting, and the fledglings are growing.

Chicago District employees took the time to observe the plovers in their habitat to understand characteristics, benefits and threats of their unique environment, to continue to help protect and promote growth of the species.

Endangered piping plover watches over baby chicks. (USACE photo by Emily Helton)
Endangered piping plover watches over baby chicks. (USACE photo by Emily Helton)

“We are building a partnership among all agencies and working together to maintain Cat Island”, says Chicago District Regulatory Project Manager, Colin Smalley. “It’s about balancing what they are trying to accomplish with the needs of our agency.”

Jade Arneson, a biologist with USFWS, and Tom Prestby, from Audubon, explained the tracking of the birds and their ultimate goal.

“98% of the Great Lakes [piping plover] population is banded and tracked. Most of the breeding pairs are located in Michigan. The goal is to get 150 pairs in the region with 50 of those being outside Michigan”, says Prestby.

USACE Chicago employees use caution while observing the endangered piping plover on Cat Island. (USACE photo by Emily Helton)
USACE Chicago employees use caution while observing the endangered piping plover on Cat Island. (USACE photo by Emily Helton)

The birds are very well camouflaged but once they are found, GPS is used to track their nests. Wire cages are then placed to protect the nests from predators and better help see the location for observation.

At the time of the visit, USFWS received a message that another nest had been found on Longtail Point, nearby. They were immediately able to take steps to protect the nest and start monitoring the new location.

“To have another site in lower Green Bay, with habitat the birds have nested on, is huge and very exciting,” Arneson says. “Thank you for your partnership. Without you [USACE] we would not have this.”

USACE and USFWS, along with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, will continue to coordinate to meet Endangered Species Act (ESA) requirements and ensure continuation of the navigation mission while exploring dredging window options.

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