Reader Participation Day: Are We Overreaching With Wildlife Management in National Parks?

How far should efforts go to save species from possible extinction? USFWS photo of piping plover.

How far should national park managers go when it comes to wildlife management issues? That's a controversial issue in some circles, as evidenced by the concern being raised over a proposal at Cape Cod National Seashore to poison some crows that have developed a knack for preying on piping plovers, a threatened species along the Atlantic Seaboard under the Endangered Species Act.

The issue, which is addressed in more detail elsewhere in today's content on the Traveler, of actively managing a species has generated controversy elsewhere in the National Park System. At Cape Hatteras National Seashore efforts to protect both piping plovers and sea turtles from humans is an incredibly hot issue. At Rocky Mountain National Park there are conflicting views over how best to manage that park's burgeoning elk herds. At Wind Cave National Park, which recently decided to use open and closed gates to make elk vulnerable to hunters outside the park in an effort to reduce the overall population, officials looked at a variety of options -- including bringing wolves into the park -- to manage the elk before settling on the gate approach.

Now, the Endangered Species Act requires the National Park Service and other federal agencies to do what they can to reverse population declines in listed species. But do you think these efforts at times go too far...or, perhaps, not far enough?

Comments

Oh boy...I get to be the first to venture into another hot topic. I have to say that sometimes not enough is done and other times we do go too far. As I said in my comment about the crows, I'm torn about that because they are a natural predator but are showing up in larger numbers due to increase human activity. I do have a problem with preventing natural predation even on endangered species. I feel we're going to be selecting for stupid animals that will eventually lose their prey instincts (i.e. deer in Shenandoah) But I do feel we should close the areas where the animals are nesting to protect them.

And of course at times I feel we haven't done enough. The red wolf in the southeast is a case where I feel more needs to be done. We haven't done enough to bring back the grizzley. It's a lot harder when it comes to the predators that people needlessly fear and that's something I think we need to concentrate more on. When it comes to saving species we tend to focus more on the cute, cuddly ones that everyone wants to save and ignore the predators and the 'ugly' species like snails.

And sometimes I'm a pessimist and feel like all our efforts are for nothing. The Florida panther will never reach sustainable numbers because it has nowhere to go. Land is running out down there and the few that exist are inbreeding again because they have no room to disperese and create new territories.

For the sake of discussion, only, should management decisions involving threatened and endangered species be focused primarily on landscapes that offer species the best chance to rebound? As noted in the Cape Cod Seashore story on crows, Cape Cod seems much more productive for plovers than, for instance, Cape Hatteras, as does Cape Lookout. So should efforts be directed to Cape Cod and Cape Lookout and be ended at Cape Hatteras?

Crows are really smart and have learned to associate the predator exclosures we put up to protect the piping plover nests with a place to get a good meal. At PRNWR, we have had crows kill adult plovers as well as eat eggs. Some nesting sites in Massachusetts have given up using predator exclosures because of the crows. Despite this, I don't think poisoning the crows is a good idea, especially on Cape Cod with a slow-acting poison. The proposed crow poison can take up to 72 hours to kill them. Enough people remember gulls dying in the streets in 1997 when the USFWS poisoned gulls to protect piping plovers and least terns at Monomoy. That was such a public relations disaster that they had to resort to shooting the gulls instead.

I'm still torn. though. I love the piping plover. I work hard to keep people away from the nests and to educate people about them. I want to protect the piping plover but I don't necessarily think killing crows is a good idea. Will it even work in the long term? You can't totally wipe out crows, or gulls, or foxes, or skunks, or any of the other natural predators. Even if crows stop eating the eggs, the remaining crows will probably still kill adults and chicks.

We ought to be addressing the human-caused threats to endangered species and leave the natural predators alone as much as we can. Why are crow populations increasing? Is there a human cause that we can address? How about not leaving so much garbage around? That would help with both crows and gulls.

The National Park Service should concentrate on keeping people, dogs, and off-road vehicles away from plover nesting sites.

I love crows. Never met a plover. Crows rule. New species come and go, we are not in charge of that. Make reasonable effort to keep crows away with whirlygigs etc., then let nature take its course.

Believe that we have the right to poison wildlife for ANY reason here on Cape Cod is pure stupidity. No, insanity. Nature works. Let it.

Stop the poisoning now. We have better things to do with our time, money and energy. PLEASE.

Dave

What do you mean in the question “should efforts … be ended at Cape Hatteras?” If it means ending protection from human disturbance of the nesting grounds, the Park Service does not have a choice. Under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act all Federal agencies are to use their existing authorities to conserve threatened and endangered species and, in consultation with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, to ensure that their actions do not jeopardize listed species. If piping plovers show up at Cape Hatteras, the Park Service does not have the option of ignoring the Endangered Species Act and the birds must be protected. Furthermore, allowing a species to be extirpated from an area, say the outer banks of North Carolina, reduces genetic variability in the species and increases the possibility of extinction. Piping plovers should be given the chance to breed over their entire historic range even if this means park visitors are inconvenienced by not being allowed to drive their vehicles on beaches where the birds are nesting.

Kurt,

Plovers in similar habitat north and south are more productive. By what logic should any threatened unique species in its historical range in a National Park not be protected? In addition the question that must be answered is: Why are Piping Plovers less productive in CAHA than Cape Cod National Seashore, Assateague Island National Seashore or Cape Lookout National Seashore?

I believe they are less successful in Cape Hatteras is because the weather there varies combined with substantial overwash and prevailing winds. I have been to all of these locations and by far Cape Hatteras has the least inviting beaches for a bird that nests in such a shallow divot in the sand. I have been the first out on the beach in the morning in Cape Hatteras and even the tire tracks from the previous day are missing. Not to mention the ghost crabs are highly concentrated there and are known to eat plovers.