– The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reminds residents that many sandbars with active piping plover and interior least tern nests are closed for recreational use during the nesting season which runs from mid-May through August in order to protect chicks and increase populations.
With current water levels higher than normal, sandbars are limited along sections of the Missouri River. The endangered interior least tern and threatened piping plover use sandbars on the Missouri River between the Fort Randall Dam in South Dakota and Ponca State Park, Nebraska, to lay their eggs and hatch chicks. Nesting also occurs on the upper Missouri, primarily river sandbars and reservoir shorelines between Ft. Peck Dam in Montana and Oahe Dam in South Dakota. “The Corps is controlling vegetation growth on sandbars and in the future may create sandbars as existing ones erode to maintain nesting and conserve these bird populations. This is required so the Corps can continue to operate the Missouri River mainstem reservoir system to meet its authorized purposes which provide many benefits to people in the Missouri River basin,” said Senior Program Manager Mark Harberg, Missouri River Recovery Program.
Closed sandbars are marked with signs warning the public to keep out of the area; some signs, however, have been vandalized. Sandbars that do not have signs posted may also have active nests, but nesting activity is limited and the sandbar is open for public use. Anyone using unposted sandbars should be alert for nests and eggs as well as signs that may be difficult to see due to vandalism. The Corps urges people who spot a nest or a closure sign to move to a different sandbar. People using unposted sandbars should make sure to leave no trace of their presence and remove all garbage so that predators such as gulls and crows are not lured to the sandbars.
Tern and plover nests are small, shallow depressions in the sand, and the buff-colored eggs are camouflaged to make it difficult for predators to see them. It is very easy to overlook a nest and injure the eggs or chicks, so it is vital to avoid closed sandbars until nesting season ends. It is important to protect these birds so the benefits of operating the Missouri River mainstem reservoir system can continue.
“Taking” threatened and endangered species may result in civil or criminal penalties. Under the Endangered Species Act, “take” means to harass, harm, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect a threatened or endangered species. Activities such as driving all-terrain vehicles on sandbars can harass birds and cause them to abandon their nests and lead to the deaths of the unhatched chicks.
The Corps works with the USFWS and state agencies to protect these birds in accordance with the ESA. Each year, these agencies coordinate to determine the appropriate level of restrictions based on the birds’ and the public’s use of sandbars. Please report violations to Nebraska Game and Parks at (800) 742-7627 or South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks at (888) 683-7224.