Each spring, hundreds of birders from Indiana and across the country gather for the Indiana Dunes Birding Festival, hosted by Indiana Audubon, to share the joy of birding and learn about ongoing conservation efforts to protect birds and the places they need. This year, Audubon Great Lakes was at the festival to raise awareness of the threats facing the Great Lakes Piping Plover, and the steps we can take to protect these charismatic shorebirds.
Protecting the Piping Plover is no small task since the bird's nest is in some of the favorite locations for humans and predatory animals: the Great Lakes beaches. At one time, fewer than 20 pairs made the area their summer home after decades of human development and disturbance made suitable nesting areas (wide, flat and cobbled beaches that offer plenty of space and opportunities to forage for insects at the shoreline ) increasingly difficult for Piping Plovers to find.
Attendees of the festival learned about the incredible comeback of the Great Lakes Piping Plover during a panel presentation presented by Audubon Great Lakes, the Great Lakes Piping Plover Recovery Effort, and Lake County Audubon Society. Panelists shared how scientists, conservationists and volunteers worked together to help bring back this vulnerable species.
During the presentaton, Dr. Francesca Cuthbert from the Dept. Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology, University of Minnesota and University of Michigan Biological Station shared that for Piping Plovers to reach the federal recovery goal and get removed from the Endangered Species list, many organizations, communities, and volunteers are working together to ensure as many eggs, chicks, and adults as possible, survive to contribute to the future population growth and sustainability.
Thanks to recovery efforts funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) and carried out by members and affiliates of the Great Lakes Piping Plover Conservation Team, the Great Lakes shoreline now hosts around 75 breeding pairs, which is about halfway to the federal recovery goal of 150 breeding pairs.
The festival was also an opportunity to remind attendees that in order to protect birds like the Piping Plover we must also address the ongoing threat from climate change. Audubon’s climate science tells us that two-thirds of birds species in North America, including Piping Plovers, are at-risk from a warming climate. Fortunately there is still time to protect the majority of these at-risk species but we have to act fast by implementing policy solutions to limit and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Not only do we know these policies, like expanding responsibly-sited renewable energy development and promoting natural climate solutions, will be effective in avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, we also know they’re popular in Indiana. Earlier this year, Audubon Great Lakes released results from polling conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, a prominent Republican polling firm, which looked at the views of Indiana voters. The polling found that nearly three-quarters of voters (74 percent) – including 63 percent of Republicans – favor expanding the use of renewable energy in the state.
The polling also found that 75 percent of Hoosiers, including an overwhelming majority of Republicans, Independents and Democrats, support net metering policies, which compensate homeowners with solar panels for their excess energy they put back onto the grid. In spite of its popularity, this policy is set to expire this July in Indiana and will be rolled back to a program that does not provide fair compensation for the extra energy that residents with rooftop solar panels generate.
Scientific studies tell us that if we don’t take immediate action to address climate change, then birds like the Piping Plover will continue to be at risk. Gatherings like the Indiana Dunes Birding Festival are an excellent opportunity to remind everyone that conservation and policy are inextricably linked when it comes to protecting birds like the Piping Plover. If you want to learn more about how you can take action to protect plovers and help address climate impacts, you can sign the pledge to protect Great Lakes Piping Plovers as well as sign up for Audubon’s Climate Action Network to receive updates on how you can help protect Piping Plovers and other birds that rely on the Great Lakes.