For the fourth year in a row I have helped monitor populations of piping plovers throughout their nesting range in Maine as a wildlife biologist with Maine Audubon.

We work to protect these endangered shorebirds on Ogunquit, Moody, Wells, Drake’s Island, Goose Rocks, Fortune’s, Hills, Ferry State Park, Ocean Park, Old Orchard, Pine Point, Western, Scarborough State Park, Higgins, Ram Island Farm, Crescent State Park, Seawall, Popham State Park, Hunnewell, and Reid State Park. These adorable birds nest right on the beach, meaning the adults and their fledglings are in near-constant danger from beach-walkers, off-leash dogs, cats and other predators, and the elements as the Press Herald’s Gillian Graham reported in a May 30 article.

Despite the threats, piping plover populations are thriving, doing better than they have in decades. Last year was yet another record-breaking year for federally threatened and state endangered piping plovers in Maine. From a low of just eight pairs of birds in the state in the 1980s to a whopping 125 pairs on Maine beaches last summer, the return of the piping plover is an ongoing conservation success story.

Success is due in large part to the Endangered Species Act. The Endangered listing of the Atlantic Coast population of piping plovers in 1985 was an essential boost to the work of Maine Audubon and others to protect the species. For more than 35 years, the Piping Plover and Least Tern Recovery Project has been a cooperative effort, with Maine Audubon working in partnership with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, and local municipalities to protect and conserve these rare shorebirds.

Federal protection brought funding for efforts to identify and protect Piping Plover nests, and facilitated the communication and collaboration between municipalities, conservation groups, and local, state, and federal agencies to protect the species. This funding is crucial to continue the conservation efforts in place to protect piping plovers.

It’s been working, but without continued support of the Endangered Species Act other Maine species may not be so successful. Bat populations have dropped by more than 95% in Maine in just over a decade due to the insidious white-nose syndrome. Sea turtles, Atlantic Salmon, and marine mammals are at grave risk from a changing Gulf of Maine. We must ensure a strong Endangered Species Act to allow us to respond to new threats.

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Thankfully, Rep. Chellie Pingree from Maine’s 1st Congressional District can help. As chair of the Interior and Environment Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, Pingree may just be able to get the Endangered Species Act the funding it needs. President Biden requested an increase of $79 million in his appropriations request for fiscal year 2023, money that is badly needed to help increasingly stressed wildlife populations.

Additional funding would ideally be spread around the different program elements of the ESA. Increased funding for species listing would help move imperiled species out of limbo on the “candidate lists,” and encourage efficient determinations of their status by federal land managers.

Likewise, funding for recovery plans is in dire need of a boost. A species doesn’t magically become protected when it is listed under the ESA, but instead wildlife biologists and federal, state, and local agencies come together to develop a recovery plan. The species cannot begin to benefit from the Act until these plans are in place, and yet many species lack them. We are also seeking increases for other ESA programs, including planning, restoration, and conservation.

Representative Pingree can make these changes happen. She has been a champion for wildlife and the environment throughout her tenure in Congress, and I hope she can further cement her legacy by securing funding for America’s most successful and beloved environmental law.

— Special to the Press Herald


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