By Winston Ross
November 06, 2007
The state of Oregon releases a plan to protect the Snowy Plover. With populations continuing to rebound, limitations on vehicle use on beaches should help recovery continue.
Oregon officials on Monday introduced a plan that bans kite-flying and dogs on 32 miles of beaches in an effort to boost numbers of the rebounding Western snowy plover.
The state also proposed restricting three beaches where there aren’t plovers now, and will talk with private landowners on six other pieces of property in the hopes that they will agree to rope off more potential habitat for the tiny beach bird that weighs in at less than two ounces and has had a place on the federal endangered species list since 1993.
The plan drew immediate fire from all-terrain vehicle enthusiasts and the Pacific Legal Foundation, which sued the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service over the bird’s status on the Endangered Species List. Both groups argued that the plovers’ recent nesting success is proof that further restrictions are unneeded.
On the six beaches already occupied by plovers, visitors must walk around roped-off areas of dry sand to reach the wet parts of the beach, and vehicles are banned. The restrictions apply at Sutton and Baker beaches, near Florence, the Siltcoos Estuary/Dunes Overlook/Tahkenitch Estuary, to the south, Tenmile Estuary, Coos Bay’s North Spit, New River and the Bandon State Natural Area. The state Parks and Recreation Department’s new proposal would ban kite flying and dogs, even if they are leashed, on the wet sand areas of these beaches as well.
The reason for the dog-kite kibosh is that even dogs on leashes can break free from their owners or bark at the easily spooked shorebirds, said Chris Havel, spokesman for the state parks department. And kites mimic predators from above, Havel said, which can drive the birds away from their nests — which they prefer to build in open, sandy areas.
“Anything that moves a plover off its nest can reduce the chances of successful nesting,” Havel said. “Both of these things can tend to, over time, reduce the number of successful hatchlings each year. It’s a matter of better safe than sorry.”
But the proposed changes are sure to face criticism from beach users such as Wes Reeves of Salem, who rides all-terrain vehicles at the coast with his grandchildren and has attended meetings on the state’s plan.
“Everyone except for one person stood up against their plan,” Reeves said. “They went ahead and did it anyway.”
Reeves argues that the Western plover shouldn’t be protected because some studies have shown that it intermingles with inland populations. He also opposes putting restrictions on beaches that plovers don’t now occupy.
“Some of the beaches they’re closing I just went to with my wife and kids — because a plover may come back and nest there, when they don’t know for a fact the bird was there to start with,” he said. “They’re closing these beaches for a tiny little bird that’s abundant.”
Beaches aren’t actually closing, but the restrictions are part of a strategy that has been shown to work, Havel said. By poisoning the bird’s predators, such as crows, foxes and skunks, and creating new habitat by bulldozing beachgrass, plover numbers have rebounded from a low of 45 in 1993 to 125 in 2007. The target is 200 breeding birds. There have been declines in some of the years between 1993 and 2007, however, which is why Havel argued that it’s important to build on the recent success.
“We’ve got momentum now,” Havel said. “Especially careful management tends to produce results.”
Laura Todd, field supervisor with the Newport office of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, said the areas where there are restrictions are surrounded by beaches where dogs can run free and kites may fly unfettered, so they shouldn’t have much of an impact on tourists. “In every location, there’s an option for an adjacent, nearby site,” Todd said.
Biologist Dave Lauten has been monitoring the birds’ numbers on the Oregon Coast for 11 years for the Oregon Natural Heritage Information Center, an arm of Oregon State University’s Institute of Natural Resources. He hailed the plan as a good effort to cement protections for the fragile bird. On the south coast, visitors have been complying with the current rules, Lauten said.
“What I think is going to be a little tricky is on those sites in the north where they haven’t seen plovers in decades, and the intent is to make them plover-friendly,” Lauten said. “It’s one thing if plovers are already there; people can understand that a little easier.”
Havel said research has shown that plovers return to unoccupied sites if protections are in place. There were no birds at the Dunes Overlook until the government started managing the area, he said. If plovers don’t nest in any of the three northern sites within five years, and none of the sites run by other land owners are helping with recovery, the state will consider other territory.
For the next 60 days, the public may comment on the state’s plan. Parks officials will review the feedback and decide whether to make changes before issuing a final plan and impact statement. The process could take up to six months.
To review the plan, visit www.fws.gov/oregonfwo/index.asp. To comment, write Laura Todd, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Newport Field Office, 2127 SE OSU Drive, Newport, OR 97365-5258; fax (541) 867-4551.
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