OMAHA, Neb. – 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. The closures are necessary in order to protect nests and chicks and increase populations of these threatened and endangered birds.
With current water levels higher than normal, nesting habitat is limited along sections of the Missouri River. The endangered interior least tern and threatened piping plover lay their eggs and rear chicks on sandbars and reservoir shoreline on the Missouri River between Ft. Peck Dam in Montana and Ponca State Park in Nebraska.
Higher-than-average releases from all Missouri River System projects will continue over the next several months leaving less available habitat for the birds. The Corps will be placing signs on sandbars to restrict access and to protect the birds from pedestrians and off-road vehicles during the nesting season. Closed sandbars are marked with signs warning the public to keep out of the area.
Sandbars that do not have signs posted may also have active nests, but nesting activity is limited and the sandbars are 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. People should also keep any pets from wandering onto closed 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 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 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. In North Dakota, please call USFWS at (701) 400-8433.