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Dogs, even on leash, will be banned from two Ellwood area beaches to protect the Snowy Plover

ELLWOOD, Calif. - The Western Snowy Plover, a tiny shorebird, will be getting extra protections along the coast between the western end of Isla Vista and Ellwood.

Starting April 1, when the birds are laying eggs and establishing nests, no dogs, even on a leash will be allowed on Ellwood Beach and Sands Beach. The no dogs rule is not unusual in other areas. It is a common rule in protected areas of the California State Park system along beaches with sensitive habitats. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and UC Santa Barbara Police are the enforcement agencies with the public in these posted protected areas.

The snowy plovers are covered by federal protections under the Endangered Species Act. It is illegal to disturb them. In addition to the beaches on the Ellwood coast, there are also potections in San Luis Obispo County and Ventura County including the nesting areas of McGrath State Beach, Mandalay State Beach, Hollywood Beach, and Ormond Beach. The state says the nests are found from March through August. The nests are depressions in the sand. Both birds and their eggs are well
camouflaged and easily stepped on.

Dog owners have asked why the rules are in place, if they have a well behaved dog and are not specifically near the nests or only in the ocean. The state says even behavior that scares the birds or has them fleeing can be an issue because the snowy plover may flee the nesting area or use energy flying away from the dogs and not use that energy to build a nest or gather food.

At Coal Oil Point Reserve, a UC Santa Barbara staff report says visitors are sometimes aggressive towards the Reserve staff and docents "who request that the visitor alters behaviors that may be impacting the wildlife or habitat at the Reserve.

The reports also says, "Coal Oil Point Reserve has been the site of more unlawful activity than any of UCSB’s other Natural Reserves. The nature of these
unlawful or uncivil activities at Coal Oil Point Reserve ranges from trespassing, theft of research
equipment, illegal fires, illegal fireworks, vandalism, illegal drug use, harassment of wildlife,
harassment of people including COPR staff and docents, breaking and entering, public
drunkenness and littering."

William Boelcke is a Snowy Plover habitat docent who says, "what it does is the dog is curious. He approaches the nest, he looks around and sniffs it out. He chases the birds away.  The birds fly away and it can lead to nest and egg abandonment."

The area has had docents for almost 25 years to help watch over the site and educate the public about the protections under the Endangered Species Act.

Boelcke said, "so if there's an endangered species in that area and has the first first right of passage, so to speak. You know, and so it's only half a mile of beach."

Isla Vista resident Bill Pearson was walking his dog, on leash on the beach and said, "I'm aware of the rules that the snowy plovers are endangered and they nest along here and they require dogs to be on a six foot leash. So I've been happy to respect that over the years. And I believe everyone else that I see as as well."

He was surprised to hear of the no dog rule coming up. Pearson wants to comply to protect the bird, but also wants to walk his dog on a leash in the area, but thinks the no dog rule is not necessary.

"So I think there's an understanding of the culture to respect the endangered snowy plovers. I think it would be a mistake that they require no dogs at all on the beaches."

 For more information go to: UCSB snowy plover protection plan, California Department of Parks and Recreation and Ventura County.

Article Topic Follows: Santa Barbara - South County
Santa Barbara
Western Snowy Plover

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John Palminteri

John Palminteri is senior reporter for KEYT News Channel 3-12. To learn more about John, click here.


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