The U.S. Corps of Engineers this week came out with the next step in its plan to help threatened and endangered birds recover in number along the Missouri River. Corps spokesman Paul Johnston says the piping plover and least tern have been thriving. They’ve had a number of really good years, he says, surpassing goals set by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, but it’s important to have continued access to good habitat. Years of drought that caused big problems for farmers, power plants and other users along the river turned out to be good news for the birds, which nested in greater numbers on the extra miles of exposed sand. He says one example is at the big lakes behind Missouri-River dams upriver. Piping plovers have been very successful nesting on newly-bare sandbars on the reservoirs — areas exposed after the reservoirs dropped as much as 30 feet. “But as the drought recedes,” Johnston says, “that habitat’s going to be lost.” The sandbar habitat erodes away or grows vegetation, its natural progression. Reservoirs will refill too, and the habitat will be lost so the Corps wants to mechanically build some sandbar habitat. Johnston says a trial’s proved promising. Last year they built some habitat near Ponca, Nebraska, and it’s proved very successful in encouraging nesting, last year and again this year. The habitat is to be built along stretches of the river where there aren’t homes, boating marinas or other spots popular with humans, and the Corps plans to dredge up sand from the river’s bottom to build the new habitat.
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