Cuts to State Parks Threaten Washington’s Plovers

Western Snowy Plovers
Plover nests usually contains three tiny eggs, which are camouflaged to look like sand and are extremely difficult to see. Photo: USFWS Pacific Southwest Region.
For the last 100 years, Washington’s 116 state parks have provided invaluable natural, cultural and historical resources for visitors and crucial habitat for a diversity of wildlife, including one of our state’s most at-risk species—the western snowy plover.

Historically, western snowy plovers were widely distributed along the Pacific coast, but in recent years their populations have steeply declined and they are now listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and endangered by Washington State. Climate change is placing these and other beach-nesting birds in further jeopardy, as rising sea levels threaten to inundate their habitat.

Today, Washington’s only population of western snowy plovers nest along a 60-mile stretch of ocean beach in the Seashore Conservation Area, extending from the mouth of the Columbia River to the southern boundary of the Quinault Indian Reservation—an area managed by the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission.  But severe budget shortfalls are making it increasingly difficult for State Parks to continue their important work—placing plovers and many more wildlife in peril.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Lisa Lantz, Stewardship Program Manager at the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, who has worked with western snowy plovers for more than 11 years:

What do you see as the biggest threats to the survival and recovery of western snowy plovers?

Habitat loss is the biggest threat. When you visit our beaches, you see a series of dunes, but those did not historically form here. In the early 20th century, the Natural Resources Conservation Service introduced non-native invasive plants, including European beachgrass, to bind the sand and form the dunes. This caused loss of habitat for snowy plovers, which need unvegetated, open sand above high tide for nesting.

Human activities such as jogging, running pets, and kite flying can frighten plovers and destroy nests, which are very difficult to see. These disturbances, along with garbage left on the beaches which attracts nest predators such as crows and ravens, are key factors in the ongoing decline in breeding sites and populations.

What are the conservation efforts that State Parks is working on to protect western snowy plovers?

For the last decade, State Parks has worked cooperatively with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to recover and protect western snowy plovers. We have been posting signs and putting up fencing in nesting areas, which are effective in discouraging people from disturbing important habitat for plovers.

We’ve also recently begun restoration work that includes removing invasive dune grasses that encroach upon the open sandy areas plovers need for nesting.

How have budget cuts already impacted State Parks’ work and what impacts would further cuts have?

Some of our Beach Ranger positions have already been eliminated and we expect to see additional staff reductions and potentially closure of some parks unless we receive funding to support our core operations. Beach Rangers are critical to restoring and protecting plover nests, educating the public, and organizing volunteer efforts. Without additional support, we cannot maintain our parks, which will have a cascading effect on our natural resources and wildlife throughout the state.

The work to protect and recover western snowy plovers is just one example of many important services that State Parks provides all across the state. But without adequate funding for the agency to continue their work, these unique habitats and species are at risk of disappearing forever.

Take ActionLive in Washington? Help protect western snowy plovers by urging your state legislators to support critical funding for Washington’s state parks.