Conserve Wildlife Blog

From Plovers to Partners and Back Again – Coming Full Circle

August 23rd, 2011

New Staff Member Introduction

By Stephanie Egger, CWF Wildlife Biologist

New Jersey partners being honored at the Coastal America Award ceremony for the Lower Cape May Meadows restoration project (Stephanie Egger, second from the right).

 As a new staff member of the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey (CWF) a blog entry seemed like a good way to introduce myself.  So here goes.  “The wheel has come full circle,” meaning to go full circle, complete an entire cycle or to return to an original position, is an old adage thought to originate from Shakespeare in King Lear 5:3.  Apparently there is some truth to this expression.  I really didn’t see it coming though, especially not to my career, my passion, which has focused on endangered species, namely the piping plover, for the last five years.

I actually started working with piping plovers as a monitor for the Beach Nesting Bird Program in 2006.  Fresh out of grad school, looking to get my foot in the door, I came across an opening to manage piping plovers on the Jersey shore.  Perfect I thought!  I can work on my tan while I’m working!  Totally kidding!  I have to admit at that point in my life I had never even heard of the infamous piping plover (I know, I still can’t believe it myself).  How did I miss a bird that’s been protected under the Endangered Species Act since 1986 and nesting on the very same NJ beaches that I spent every summer vacationing since I was a toddler?  My previous two years were consumed researching northern diamondback terrapins for my Master’s degree, but this opportunity seemed to be calling me.  My then supervisor (CWF’s own Todd Pover, Beach Nesting Bird Program Manager), took a chance on me and little did I know it would set the stage for the next five years of my career and the beginning of that circle.

My job as a plover monitor did not last long, only a few short months, when I had to bid farewell to my life in the field with the birds as a new adventure began for me with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, New Jersey Field Office (USFWS).  As luck would have it, the job also focused on plovers.  Not so much on the ground, getting down and dirty with plovers, but managing the plovers by helping implement conservation measures to increase their survival and recovery, and minimize or eliminate adverse impacts of numerous beach related projects on the birds.  How does one begin to achieve this?  Partnering.

Partnering is absolutely crucial to managing plovers in NJ.  Many of our plovers nest on municipal beaches and are subject to a number of threats particularly human related disturbances (i.e., beach goers, dogs, beach raking and maintenance, off-road vehicles).  Therefore, my foremost role at the USFWS was to partner with municipalities and other land managers in collaboration with the State of NJ and CWF (ironically, Todd again) to abate threats to plovers and other beach dependent species.  While this may sound straightforward and even fun, it could be very difficult and daunting at times.  “Breaking” the long held practices of beach management that are not compatible with protecting plovers and other species can be “uncomfortable” for some and even take a political turn.

A few of our plans took 2-3 years to develop from start to finish as we hit bumps in the road during negotiations.  However, it makes the job MUCH easier and more enjoyable when working as a tag team approach.  Not to sound boastful, but in just five short years, Todd and I partnered with land managers to develop and implement over 20 site-specific endangered species management plans.  Our tireless efforts did not go without rewards.  In addition to witnessing our management plans being applied, we are now seeing our partnering efforts go above and beyond what we expected.  The management plans are now being incorporated into State Aid Agreements, permits, and referenced in future revised NJ Coastal Zone Management Rules.  We also saw a much improved relationship between the USFWS and various departments of the State.  To me that is the icing on the cake!  When agencies communicate and partner effectively, the work gets done and it gets done well!  It’s vital for agencies to deliver clear and consistent messages for protecting plovers and other listed species.

Sadly my term came to an end with the USFWS in July 2011, but the partnering efforts did not stop!  My career has now come full circle as I am back working with Todd and some of my old partners – but this time as a Wildlife Biologist for CWF.  We will continue our partnering efforts with land managers and other agencies, but in a new and innovative way.  Hopefully I’ll also get a chance to take on some new partnering responsibilities, or better yet, a second chance to “play” in the sand with the plovers!

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One Response to “From Plovers to Partners and Back Again – Coming Full Circle”

  1. steve mars says:

    well said Steph!! Best of luck as your services and commitment at the NJFO will be sorely missed. It is great that you still will be working in the area and have come full circle. Steve

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