Absent as a Pennsylvania breeding bird since the mid-1950s, two pairs of federally endangered Great Lakes piping plovers returned this year to nest in the Gull Point Natural Area at Presque Isle State Park in Erie County.

The two nests point to piping plovers recolonizing Lake Erie, as well as a positive response to ongoing specialized habitat management and improved environmental health within the Great Lakes ecosystem. The last recorded piping plover nest in the Erie basin was in 1977 at Long Point on Lake Erie’s north shore in Ontario.

One of the rarest birds in the Great Lakes region, the piping plover is slightly larger than a sparrow and found in three geographically separated populations: Atlantic Coast and Northern Great Plains (protected as threatened) and the Great Lakes (protected as endangered). The world piping plover population numbers a little over 4,000 pairs.

At one time, Pennsylvania likely hosted up to 15 pairs at Presque Isle State Park — the only suitable breeding habitat in the state.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protected the Great Lakes piping plover as a federally endangered species in 1986. The Northern Great Plains and Atlantic Coast piping plovers were protected as federally threatened species the same year.

New appointment to combat CWD

The Pennsylvania Game Commission has created a new executive-level position to direct its ongoing and intensifying efforts to limit the spread of chronic wasting disease in wild white-tailed deer and neutralize its threat to wild elk.

Wayne A. Laroche, who has served as the agency’s Bureau of Wildlife Management director for the past two years, will be appointed Aug. 1 to Special Assistant for CWD Response, a new position. In his new capacity, Laroche will lead the game commission’s efforts to slow CWD’s spread and minimize its impacts on whitetails and elk.

Efforts will begin immediately to hire a new director for the Bureau of Wildlife Management, which is responsible for managing the state’s 480 species of wild birds and mammals, including 60 game animals and furbearers.

On July 13, the game commission announced a free-ranging whitetail buck in Bell Township, Clearfield County, had tested positive for CWD. It was found in Disease Management Area 3, which includes parts of Clearfield, Indiana and Jefferson counties. It marked the first time the disease was documented in free-ranging deer in an area of the state where it previously had been detected in only captive deer.

CWD also exists among wild deer in the area of southcentral Pennsylvania defined as Disease Management Area 2. Twenty-five free-ranging deer tested positive for CWD during 2016. And an additional four CWD-positive deer have been detected since, raising to 51 the total of CWD-positives detected within the DMA 2 since 2012.

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