Walker Golder: Piping Plover Hero
North Carolina native Walker Golder traded his surf board for binoculars when he began protecting shorebirds. Stuck in the middle of a bitter fight over land use on Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Piping Plovers need every advocate they can get and Golder has become their champion.
"I grew up on the coast," said Walker Golder, Audubon North Carolina's Deputy State Director. "That's what really got me started; having the coast of North Carolina as my playground."
Though to Golder choosing a favorite bird is akin to choosing a favorite child, Piping Plovers have always held a particular sway. "You move through the nesting area very quickly but they were just funny in the way that they'd see you coming and they'd fly out in front of you and try to lead you away. When you got too close to their nest they'd do this broken wing display that really makes you think they are on their last breath. They're flopping on the ground and dragging their wings. The way they behave would almost make you laugh. It was to get you away from their nesting area."
The behavior may be cute, but keeping people away from their nests is a matter of life and death for Piping Plovers. Since 1986, Atlantic Coast Piping Plovers have been listed as a federally threatened species.
People vs. Plovers
Not everyone in North Carolina is as passionate about plovers as Golder. Clashes between conservation workers and interest groups protecting the rights of off-road vehicle drivers around Cape Hatteras National Seashore have made their way to Congress and into the courts.
"The controversy really stems from the desire of people to be on the beach for recreation and the need of Piping Plovers for habitat to forage, nest, and raise their chicks," said Golder who points to disturbance from people as the key reason for the birds' threatened status. "What happens when a nesting bird is disturbed for a long period of time is that their eggs or nest are exposed to temperature stress or they're exposed to predators and when that happens often the tiny little chicks developing in the eggs or the recently hatched chicks die. These birds historically probably occurred on barrier islands from North Carolina to Newfoundland but barrier islands are a popular place for people as well."
Working Hard and Keeping Hope
Saving Piping Plovers is an uphill battle but Golder is hopeful, "people are becoming more aware." He advocates for land management strategies that, "balance both recreational desires on beaches and the needs of birds that depend on those beach habitats for their very survival."