Snowy plover 'nursery' success earns Resource Stewardship Award

A single strand of rope separates threatened western snowy plovers from people recreating on the public beach of Coal Oil Point Reserve, at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Although these small, 6-inch shorebirds had seemingly abandoned this site for breeding, after the 400-yard nursery was protected, it fledged 39 young snowy plovers this summer. The success of this combined effort of researchers, managers and volunteers has earned national recognition for three groups: U. S. Geological Survey, the Santa Barbara Audubon Society, and the University of California Natural Reserve System.

On Sept. 26, The Natural Areas Association, meeting in Madison, Wis., will present its 2003 Resource Stewardship award to these three groups for balancing beach recreation and protection of snowy plovers. The Resource Stewardship Award recognizes this partnership for demonstrating excellence in the stewardship of natural areas through creative and innovative strategies to resolve issues and advance the preservation of natural resources.

"The research predicted that disturbance rates would drop from their previous high levels, but I had no idea that the plovers would respond as dramatically as they did," said Dr. Kevin Lafferty, a USGS marine ecologist and adjunct professor at UC Santa Barbara whose research helped plan and evaluate the conservation effort. "This is the first evidence that a reduction in disturbance can lead to the recovery of a formerly abandoned snowy plover breeding site."

On the Pacific Coast, North American snowy plovers, named for their pale plumage, breed from Washington to Baja California. Although plovers historically bred at Coal Oil Point, from the time it opened to the public in 1970 until the summer of 2001, the site produced no snowy plover chicks.

In a USGS study, Lafferty assessed the rate of different kinds of human disturbance, and found that human use of parts of the beach shared by the plovers interfer

Contact: Gail Gallessich
University of California - Santa Barbara

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