Snowy Plover Protection
What’s happening at the State Beaches? I’ve been coming here with my dog and kites for years.
The Pacific coast population of western snowy plovers has been in decline for several years, due to a loss of habitat and disturbances due to development, recreation, and other human pressures. In 1993, the population of western snowy plovers was listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) under the federal Endangered Species Act. The western snowy plover is listed as a "species of special concern" by the State of California. The San Luis Obispo Coast District of California State Parks has been carrying out monitoring, public education, and enforcement of regulations for several years in an effort to promote recovery of the plover population.
In 2007, USFWS released a recovery plan, outlining measures to be undertaken to promote recovery of the species. The plan identified 62 locations in California with specific goals for breeding bird numbers. Forty-four of those locations included some State Park property.
In March 2002, the California Department of Parks and Recreation issued management guidelines for the entire State Parks system, to be used along with the USFWS recovery plan. The measures undertaken are a result of those guidelines.
These measures will also help protect other shorebirds as well as marine mammals that use the beach.
State Parks will strictly enforce regulations prohibiting dogs on State Beaches. Rangers will also enforce all regulations banning horses, camping, motorized vehicles, fireworks, and fires on beaches. Bans on removing natural features such as driftwood will also be enforced. State Parks also requests cooperation from beach goers to refrain from flying kites near nesting areas, as hovering kites resemble predators such as hawks, and may cause nest abandonment.
The new rules do not prohibit leashed dogs in State Park campgrounds, picnic areas, parking areas or roads. Dogs on-leash are also allowed in Morro Bay State Park (with the exception of Cerro Cabrillo and Morro Bay Golf Course), Spooner's Cove in Montana de Oro State Park, Estero Bluffs State Park bluff trail beginning at the Cayucos access area northward to the San Geronimo Creek access area, and other beaches not operated by the California Department of Parks and Recreation.
Are dogs and beach users being singled out?
Many measures are being undertaken to help the recovery of the snowy plovers and to help protect the beach ecosystem. Protection measures being carried out by State Parks include increased monitoring of wintering populations of snowy plovers, erecting temporary informational and warning signs near nest sites during the breeding season, fencing or roping off nesting areas, removing nonnative vegetation that threatens the beach habitat, and educating beach goers to the sensitive nature of the area. State Parks is also taking measures to reduce trash in beach areas, which attracts predators that may prey on the birds and eggs.
My dog could never catch one of these birds. Besides, it’s well behaved. Why can’t I take it on the beach? What if I put it on a leash?
Dogs don’t have to catch plovers or other birds to harm them. Plovers often flush from nests at just the sight of a dog, regardless if it is on a leash or not. Dogs that are near to or chasing snowy plovers can frighten adult plovers into abandoning nests or chicks. A frightened snowy plover may crush its own eggs while running off a nest, or may lose its chicks. Also, birds have very small reserves of energy. The amount of energy that a bird expends fleeing from dogs, instead of gathering food, can actually be enough to kill the bird.
The federal Endangered Species Act makes it a crime "to harass, harm, pursue" a threatened species without special exemption. "Harm" is defined to include significant habitat modification or degradation which actually kills or injures wildlife by significantly impairing essential behavioral patterns, including breeding, feeding or sheltering. Harassment is defined as an intentional or neglectful action that creates the likelihood of injury to wildlife by annoying it to such an extent as to significantly disrupt normal behavior patterns which include, but are not limited to, breeding, feeding, or sheltering. In other words, if a beach goer brings a dog onto the beach, and the dog disrupts the feeding of a bird, leading to the bird’s injury, then it is a violation of the law.
I don’t see any birds here.
Different beaches are used at different times of the year by plovers. For example, one beach may be used as a wintering area, while another is used for nesting. Furthermore, these measures are being undertaken in an effort for recovery of the species. Many local beaches were historically important locations for the plovers, but have not had plovers in recent years. In order to increase the chances for long-term survival of the species, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service draft recovery plan aims to promote a good distribution of the population, so as not to "place all the eggs in one basket" and leave the entire population vulnerable to localized disturbances. California State Parks is focusing our efforts on areas identified by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife service as recovery habitat.
Additionally, snowy plovers have very good camouflage. Nests and eggs blend in so well that you often cannot see them unless directly on top of them.
What’s wrong with flying my kite or playing catch?
Objects such as hovering kites or Frisbees resemble predators such as hawks, and may cause nest abandonment. Or, the continual presence of kites can lead some plovers to learn to "tune them out," and to therefore not be aware of natural predators, making them an unnaturally easy target. Therefore, you may be asked to move your activities to another part of the beach to avoid impacts on shorebirds.
Why can’t the snowy plover adapt to us?
While animals are usually well adapted to survive in their habitats, natural changes to conditions in habitats take place very slowly. While some animals, such as raccoons and skunks, have been able to adapt well to the human presence, most animals are only able to make such adaptations over long periods of time.
It’s just one tiny bird. What’s the big deal?
In addition to the western snowy plover, numerous shorebirds use the beach for feeding. Dogs and kites can cause harm to them as well. Marine mammals such as seals, sea lions, and otters often use the beach to rest, and can be harmed or stressed by dogs.
Dogs are animals too. Why can’t they go on the beach as well?
Beach areas are vital ecosystems. While western snowy plovers and other shorebirds can survive and nest only in certain areas, domesticated dogs are not part of the natural beach ecosystem. Remember that there are many places where you can take your dog, but only one place—the beach—where snowy plovers can breed.
I pay my taxes. This is a public beach. Why can’t I do what I want here?
The California Department of Parks and Recreation is entrusted by the people of California with protecting and managing the natural resources contained within the State Park system. State Parks are charged with enforcing the Public Resource Code, the California Code of Regulations, and other laws. Just as a citizen cannot take a public-owned municipal bus for a joyride, citizens who use State Parks need to conform to laws and regulations.
Why can’t I take driftwood and shells home with me?
Plovers will often use bits of shells, driftwood, and other natural features to make their nests. These features are part of the natural habitat and need to remain at the beach.
My vet told me that I should take my dog in the ocean for health reasons. Why can’t my dog just go for a swim in the water? Do these birds swim?
While nests are usually located at the upper end of a beach, adults and chicks will range from the edge of the dunes all the way down to the waterline.
Where CAN I take my dog?
Dogs on-leash are allowed at Morro Bay State Park (with the exception of Cerro Cabrillo and Morro Bay Golf Course), Spooner's Cove in Montana de Oro State Park, Estero Bluffs State Park bluff trail beginning at the Cayucos access area northward to the San Geronimo Creek access area, and beaches that are not managed by the California Department of Parks and Recreation.
Leashed dogs are allowed in State Park campgrounds, picnic areas, parking areas and roads.
The City of Morro Bay manages several areas which allow dogs, such as Cloisters Park, Del Mar Park, Morro Rock Beach, and Tidelands Park.