Piping Plovers: A Lesson in Conservation
Ever hear of it? Nope. I hadn’t either, until this summer when my wife jumped at the opportunity to become a plover steward for the DNR at Muskegon State Park. At first glance this small endangered shore bird looks like a killdeer. Yes, a killdeer. Those birds that seem to nest in the worst possible locations in your yard or driveway and act like they have a broken wing when you get too close to their nest. And although the killdeer is a member of the plover family, the piping plover is much smaller and nests on the sandy shores that we as humans love just as much as they do. In 1984 there were only around 13 pairs of piping plovers in the Great Lakes region, and in 1986 this small shore bird received protection from the Endangered Species Act. Currently there are around 70 breeding pairs in the Great Lakes region. The Great Plains region and the Atlantic Coast region of piping plovers are listed as threatened, and the Great Lakes region is listed as endangered.
So what does this have to do with hunting, fishing, or anything else outdoors? At first, nothing in my mind. Then, as my wife’s program progressed, I realized it wasn’t so much about the piping plover itself, but the conservation of our natural resources and giving a voice to something that normally would be overlooked. Our girls begged to go to work with my wife everyday. Not because mom worked on the beach and they thought they could go swimming, but because they had developed an active interest in the conservation and protection of these birds. One of my favorite memories of this summer was seeing my oldest daughter, Tala, walking around with my wife’s presentation handing out stickers to people and talking to them about the piping plovers. At eight years old she was engaging with adults about an endangered species and informing them of how they can help protect them. Pretty powerful lesson for someone to be teaching as she is entering 3rd grade in the fall.
Now both my girls (and my wife), are active in both hunting and fishing, and this by no means has diminished their love of the sport. In fact it has only increased their passion. For example, my wife used a spotting scope for most of her work, and taught our girls how to use it when they were looking at the birds. Our girls will now take the spotting scope to our back deck and watch for the deer to come out into the field. They happily run to us with their scouting report once the evening rush of deer has entered the hay field. They smile ear to ear when they report out the number of bucks, does, and fawns that are in the field. And during our recent trip to Colorado, they were able to set up the scope and find a herd of elk at Rocky Mountain National Park. All these things make this upcoming hunting season even more exciting. But in the bigger scheme of things, my daughters have developed a passion for our natural resources, they aren’t afraid to educate the public on their importance, and they are doing their part to make the world around them a better place.
-Todd Sellon, Fall Obsession Field Staff