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, March 15 – Sep. 15. Beachgoers will see signs and ropes that identify sensitive plover nesting areas and list restrictions to protect the small shorebirds during this period. EDITOR’S NOTE: There are multiple snowy plover nesting sites along Tillamook County beaches at Nehalem Bay State Park (Nehalem Spit), Sitka Sedge State Park (Netarts Spit), BayOcean Spit, and Sandlake.
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 40 miles of Oregon’s 362 miles of shoreline.
“Visitors will have access to hundreds of miles of beaches that have no seasonal restrictions,” said Laurel Hillmann, Ocean Shore Specialist for Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD). “By planning your trip, you can enjoy the coast and help keep these special birds safe.”
Detailed maps can be found on the Oregon State Parks website (oregon.gov/plovers) and on the Siuslaw National Forest website (go.usa.gov/xEh2h). Visitors to the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area (ODNRA) can review go.usa.gov/xdwYQ to identify unrestricted recreation areas and information on riding motor vehicles on the sand.
New plover activity at Sand Lake
Winter storms and high tides have pushed plover to the north side of Sand Lake in Tillamook County. Visitors to Sand Lake Recreation Area may see roped off areas near the lake’s inlet to protect nests, and may encounter plovers on the beach. Formal restrictions are not yet in place here, but beachgoers are encouraged to protect these birds by limiting recreation activities to wet sand areas, avoiding nesting areas and keeping dogs on leash.
Background on plover protections
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed western snowy plovers as a threatened species in 1993, when officials counted only 55 breeding adults. Since, the numbers of breeding adults have steadily increased, from 149 in 2009 to 549 in 2020.
Several land managers oversee beach activity for plover protection, primarily the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and OPRD.
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 Oregon Dunes Restoration Collaborative, 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 here.