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Seasonal recreation changes take effect March 15 in snowy plover areas

March 5, 2014

Visitors to three north coast beaches designated as snowy plover management areas will be making some changes to aid in the recovery of the western snowy plover, a small shorebird native to the Oregon coast. The bird is protected under state law and under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The three areas are the Clatsop Spit along the Columbia River South Jetty, Necanicum Spit, adjacent to the town of Gearhart in Clatsop County, and Nehalem Spit in Tillamook County. Maps of the area can be found here: bit.ly/wsplover.

The seasonal restrictions require dogs to be leashed during the plover nesting season, March 15 to July 15. Driving on the beach, which is already prohibited on the Nehalem and Necanicum Spits, will also be prohibited on a short stretch of Clatsop Spit east of the Columbia River South Jetty. Driving to the popular fishing spot known locally as "Fishermen's Beach" on Clatsop Spit will still be permitted. The restrictions were voluntary in 2013, but are now requirements.

"Balancing public recreation with natural resource conservation is part of OPRD's mission," said Chris Havel, Oregon Parks and Recreation (OPRD) Associate Director of Communications. "Sometimes it's not easy, but Oregonians have shown us time and time again that they understand and value both parts of that mission."

"We welcome dogs and their people on just about every beach in Oregon, all year long. The only exception is that dogs are not allowed during nesting season where plovers are actually known to be nesting," Havel continued. In Oregon, nesting plovers are usually found from southern Lane County to southern Coos County beaches, where recreation restrictions are well established. No plovers currently nest on the north coast.

Snowy plover management areas are part of a coast-wide recovery agreement called the Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP), finalized in 2010 after years of public comment and analysis. The HCP is a legal agreement between OPRD, which is responsible for managing recreation on Oregon's ocean shore, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), which oversees the ESA and thus the status of the western snowy plover. The HCP enables OPRD to have a say in how beaches are managed for both recreation and plover habitat. Without the HCP, OPRD could be assessed serious penalties, including beach closures, if plovers were harmed on the ocean shore, even accidentally.

Clatsop Spit is managed by OPRD, and leased from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The eastern section of this river beach is popular with anglers, and cooperative efforts between OPRD, USFWS, and USACE focused on retaining recreation while promoting plover recovery.

At the Necanicum site, OPRD has been working with the City of Gearhart and a team of Americorps volunteers to build a new trail that redirects the many "unofficial" trails that currently spill out onto the beach. The new trail will join up with an existing fire access road and will exit onto the beach just north of the management area. OPRD is installing new wayfinding signs this spring.

The Nehalem Spit site is part of Nehalem Bay State Park, and restrictions will begin a quarter mile south of the horse concession area of the park, running to the southernmost tip of the spit.

The HCP sets out designated recovery spots, called management areas, based on a variety of factors that include suitability of habitat, known breeding areas, population surveys, proximity to other recreation areas, and a host of other considerations. In Oregon, snowy plover breeding areas, called occupied sites, are concentrated along the south coast, near Bandon. The three north coast sites have the potential to attract breeding plovers, which could strengthen the much smaller plover population along the Washington coast. In total, about 50 miles of Oregon's 362 mile shoreline have been identified as a recovery location.