The piping plover is a small, sand-colored, migratory shorebird that is listed as threatened or endangered throughout its range. In Montana, plovers nest on sparsely vegetated sand and gravel bars along the Missouri River as well as along the edges of alkali wetlands and sloughs in the northeastern part of the state.
Mountain Plover Monitoring
A statewide survey for mountain plovers was implemented in 2011 to assess population status and geographic distribution in the face of ESA listing. Prairie dog colonies were selected (using stratified random sampling) for surveys. In Montana, mountain plovers (Knowles et al. 1982) and burrowing owls (Montana Prairie Dog Working Group 2002) are highly associated with prairie dog colonies. Visual surveys for mountain plovers followed the USFWS guidelines in May and June. The methodology was visually based and timed to optimize the likelihood of correctly determining positive occurrence of these species where they were present. A stratified random approach to monitoring plovers across Montana was designed and implemented to achieve a statistically defensible survey.
Plovers were detected on only 18 surveys in 2011 and only 7 surveys in 2012 even though methods and sampling were refined in attempts to improve detection rates between the survey years. The 2012 survey locations were generally in more suitable habitat and surveyors had more flexibility in selecting the exact survey location. FWP determined that implementing a third year of monitoring, even with further improved techniques, would not meet the original project objectives:
- estimating occupancy rates and detection probabilities across the state in known and predicted mountain plover habitat,
- estimating landscape and habitat covariates associated with mountain plover occupancy,
- estimating density of mountain plovers in core and, if possible, predicted habitat across the state,
- estimating trends in occupancy by habitat across the state, and
- estimating trends in abundance/density in core areas.
FWP determined that the cost of meeting these objectives was too prohibitive at the time but may be prioritized within budgets if conservation concerns for mountain plovers increase. FWP decided not to implement a third year of mountain plover monitoring in 2013.