Social distancing has led many coastal residents to forego their regular gym visits or coffee gatherings in favor of soothing stroll on the beach, where keeping six feet away from others is simplicity itself.
As they stroll, beachgoers are urged to help recovery efforts of the threatened western snowy plover by staying on the wet sand at snowy plover beaches. During nesting season, which runs through March 15, beachgoers will see signs and ropes that identify sensitive plover nesting areas and list restrictions to protect the small shorebirds during this period.
Plover beaches remain open to foot and equestrian traffic on wet, packed sand throughout nesting season. All other recreation on plover beaches is off limits on both wet and dry sand, include walking your dog, even on a leash; driving a vehicle; riding a bicycle; camping; fires; and flying kites or drones.
“We’re making great strides in reversing the downward slide of this species,” said Cindy Burns, Siuslaw National Forest wildlife biologist. “But it takes all of us, so we urge people to do their part to understand nesting season rules and to share the beach this spring and summer.”
These small birds nest on open sand along Oregon’s beaches. Nests, and especially chicks, are well-camouflaged. During nesting season, human disturbances can flush adult plovers away from their nests as they attempt to defend their young from the perceived predator. Left alone too long, or too often, eggs or chicks can die from exposure, predators or people.
Recreation restrictions occur in designated plover management areas: small stretches of beach along the entire coastline where plovers are nesting or could potentially nest. These areas collectively comprise about 45 miles of Oregon’s 362 miles of shoreline.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service listed western snowy plovers as a threatened species in 1993, when officials counted only 55 breeding adults. Since then, the number of breeding adults has steadily increased, from 149 in 2009 to 423 in 2019.
Several land managers oversee beach activity for plover protection, primarily the US Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.
Habitat loss from invasive plants — as well as human disturbances, including litter and discarded food scraps that attract predators — had contributed to the birds’ decline. The saveoregondunes.org is working with land managers to develop and implement a restoration strategy as well as raise public awareness about the need to restore the dunes ecosystem for snowy plover, rare plants and animals, and the unique recreation opportunities offered at the Oregon Coast.