Digging in to Help Endangered Plovers Gain Ground

Habitat Restoration Near Barnegat Inlet

Photo by Jack Reynolds.

On the calendar of wildlife work on the north end of Long Beach Island, 2019 could be called the Year of the Plover. A federal/state project to prepare habitat for the endangered piping plover will get underway in January near the jetty at Barnegat Lighthouse State Park in Barnegat Light.

“An exact start date is not set yet, but at this time it is expected to be early to mid-January,” said Todd Pover, senior wildlife biologist with Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey. “Any work completed will need to be done by March 1, per the state permit, based on the time when piping plovers start to return to the area to breed. The first phase of the project that is being done this winter, in the area directly adjacent to the inlet jetty, involves clearing of some of the vegetation and re-grading of the dunes to be more suitable for piping plovers.”

Gaining ground that would attract the beach-nesting birds is the goal. In recent years, including changes blown in by Superstorm Sandy, a vast area at the north end was better nesting habitat than it is now. Piping plovers prefer land that is more sparsely vegetated, with less-mature dunes, for laying and incubating eggs.

In their instinctive quest to find the best place to nest, the plovers have taken over some populated beach areas farther south, consequently competing with humans. Wildlife agencies fenced off the plots, but that was not optimum for the species, not to mention for beachgoers, rescue vehicles and public works efforts.

“The goal of this project is to mimic the type of highly suitable habitats piping plovers prefer,” Pover said, referring to acreage near Barnegat Inlet that will be re-created. “At the Barnegat Light site, the inlet area also experiences less active recreational use, fewer borough vehicles, and other activities that can be detrimental to piping plover nesting and their ability to raise young. If plovers were to choose the vastly improved habitat along the inlet, as hoped, it could benefit the borough and birds alike.

“Furthermore, they prefer alternative foraging (feeding) sites to optimize chick production – not just oceanfront feeding, but access to bayside feeding or ephemeral pools. This type of habitat is lacking in New Jersey. Instead we typically have highly stabilized and artificial beach systems,” Pover elaborated.

Officials said an exact project cost cannot be determined at this point, “as the partners are moving forward in phases to build what they can as funding becomes available,” Pover said.

“But to date, $50,000 in hard funds has been used for planning and pre-construction costs; $150,000 is being provided by the U.S. Army Corps (of Engineers) for this winter’s portion of the project (such as re-grading and clearing); and $225,000 from the state for next winter’s work: additional clearing and grading, and building of the foraging pond.”

Heading up the overall project are Rutgers University, the State University of New Jersey, and Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey. Both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife – Endangered and Nongame Species Program are partners in work and funding. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service holds the permit for the project.

For this coming first phase of construction, the Army Corps of Engineers is providing funding and technical support.

The exact location of this winter’s work is still being decided, but generally it will be along the inlet, Pover said in a SandPaper interview this week.

“The work will generally be conducted in the area directly along the inlet, from a little past the end of the concrete pad walkway of the jetty to the oceanfront,” he said. “The final work sequence for this year’s work is still to be determined, but work in the project area will be from the oceanfront working back toward the lighthouse, with the extent of progress being determined as time and budget allows. The area just beyond the concrete pad will eventually have a shallow pond for piping plover foraging, but that is not slated to be built until next winter.”

Three pairs of piping plovers nested in Barnegat Light in 2018 (down from five in 2017) and produced five fledglings , a productivity of 1.67 chicks fledged per pair.

Atlantic Coast piping plovers are on the state endangered species list and are listed as threatened on the federal list.

— Maria Scandale

Reposted from The Sandpaper