Shorebirds have experienced population losses for decades, as every birder knows. Unfortunately, studies are never done on their environmental issues prior to affecting them, but red flags shoot up when nestling and fledgling survival rates plummet and adult health fails due to stress factors. Human disturbance is and always has been problematic in nesting areas for all species. When we are in critical stages, it isn’t easy to turn back the clock and start over again. These species losses are never recovered when unique and sensitive habitats are destroyed.
Piping Plovers, Northern Aplomado Falcon, and Red Knot in their Boca Chica, Texas, wintering habitat have taken a big hit surrounding the Spacex facility. Their federally threatened populations have fallen by more than half over the past five years due to testing and launching rockets with fire, rocket debris, and construction activities. In that posted and protected area, there is much disregard as Spacex operations are littering the habitat.
Prior to 2014, writer had visited that area and the losses of Eastern Meadowlark, Snowy Plover, Harris’s Hawk, Common Nighthawk, and others that are buried in the tarmac and surrounded areas are more than daunting. State Highway 4 was once a thriving conservation area. The species mentioned are now birds that are listed as species of conservation concern.
Birders were guaranteed to find the rarer white morph Reddish Egret, Crested Caracara, and White-tailed Hawk, just as examples off the top of the head. Most times, very little is seen if at all.
The ecological importance of that area must be cared for so the natural resources are mitigated and minimized, but instead they are not.
It doesn’t end for endangered and threatened birds in that area. Sensitive habitat for additional wildlife like Hawksbill, Ridley, Loggerhead, Kemp’s, and Leatherback sea turtles, as well as the Ocelot and the Gulf coast Jaguarundi are listed as Aquatic Resources of National Importance by the EPA. Additionally, the region is home for mid-valley riparian woodland, wind-tidal flats, and mid-delta thorn forest.
This is also vital habitat shared by migratory birds in the spring and fall to successfully rest and refuel in order to continue their important journeys to breed and return south in the winter. The Texas coast is also a vital area for the winter habitat of the Whooping Crane where writer has helped to do research for their food needs for specialized diets. It is necessary that these coastal areas remain free from pollutants that will affect the same health and safety of the birds that took half a century to bring back from near extinction.
As much as we all want to explore and utilize space for our own needs, we must take into consideration that the FAA has proceeded with unauthorized construction without the necessary Programmatic Environmental Assessment that does not completely address alternatives for public comment, wildlife concerns, habitat needs, nor environmental requirements.
What are we doing?
Deb Hirt is a wild bird rehabilitator and professional photographer living in Stillwater.