OGDEN, Utah – A Weber State University faculty member within the Department of Zoology has received funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to coordinate and implement a monthlong survey of a highly imperiled migratory bird at the Great Salt Lake.
The survey, which started May 7 and will conclude in early June, will combine the efforts of WSU faculty and students, as well as officials from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Antelope Island State Park, US Magnesium, Kennecott Utah Copper, the Tracy Aviary and local area bird watchers. Approximately 25 people are working to estimate the number of snowy plover breeding along the Great Salt Lake shoreline.
"This is being done at sites all over the interior of the United States and Mexico," said John Cavitt, director of undergraduate research at WSU and associate zoology professor. "There has been a lot of concern that the snowy plover population may be declining."
According to the U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan, the North American snowy plover population is highly imperiled, while the coastal population is designated as threatened by the Endangered Species Act. It is estimated that 50 percent of the interior population lives along the Great Salt Lake shoreline, Cavitt said.
"By the end of this survey we'll have a pretty good idea of how many snowy plovers there are, and whether or not they'll be able to maintain their population," Cavitt said.
Researchers will visit more than 300 potential sites looking for snowy plovers along the Great Salt Lake shore. Many of the sites are difficult to reach, requiring surveyors to use airboats and ATVs to get there. "We'll be working from sunrise to sunset to get this done in the time we have," Cavitt said.
The project also includes collaboration with the University of Nayarit in Mexico, which is in close proximity to where many Great Salt Lake snowy plovers spend the winter months. Two students from Nayarit are in Utah this summer to participate in the survey and other shorebird research projects with WSU.
Cavitt said that working on research projects enhances students' education. "These students are learning techniques that are valuable for their future careers and give them a leg up on graduate school," he said.
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