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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes
VENTURA FWO: Western Snowy Plover Conservation and Recovery at the University of California Santa Barbara's Coal Oil Point Reserve, Goleta California
Region 8, March 31, 2008
In this June 2005 photos, a captive reared juvenile western snowy plover awaits its release onto the beach. (Photo by Dr. Cristine Sandoval, U.C. Reserve Santa Barbara)
In this June 2005 photos, a captive reared juvenile western snowy plover awaits its release onto the beach. (Photo by Dr. Cristine Sandoval, U.C. Reserve Santa Barbara) - Photo Credit: n/a
Western snowy plover eggs in incubator, June 2005. (Photo by Dr. Cristine Sandoval)
Western snowy plover eggs in incubator, June 2005. (Photo by Dr. Cristine Sandoval) - Photo Credit: n/a

Chris Dellith, Ventura FWO
In 2007 the Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office began working with staff from the University of California (U.C.) Reserve at Sands Beach, Coal Oil Point, Santa Barbara, California, to implement a captive-breeding and rearing program for the federally threatened western snowy plover.  The captive-rearing program entails the recovery of orphaned western snowy plover eggs within Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.  The eggs are incubated, hatched and the chicks are reared in pens until they are ready to be released back onto their respective beaches. 

The western snowy plover was listed as "threatened" under the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended, in 1993 because of declining populations and the loss of breeding habitat throughout its range.  The stretch of beach between Isla Vista and Ellwood (including Sands Beach at Coal Oil Point) was designated "Critical Habitat" in September of 2005.  At the time of the critical habitat designation, the overall population of western snowy plovers was estimated at less than 1,500 individuals.  Because of Coal Oil Point Reserve‚Äôs unique setting with a sandy beach, sand dunes, and adjacent estuary, it is one of a few select coastal locations where western snowy plovers can successfully breed.  Because coastal beaches are highly used recreational areas, western snowy plovers are forced to use remaining limited space with beach users, roaming dogs, and predators such as American crows and skunks.  Without help, the western snowy plovers lose their homes, and possibly their lives. Furthermore, western snowy plover eggs have been abandoned due to these types of stresses.  Fortunately, staff and volunteers at the Coal Oil Point Reserve have been able to provide the local community with conservation education, and install protective symbolic fences, which are helping western snowy plover recovery.

 

Up to 400 western snowy plovers feed and rest on Sands Beach each winter.  Sands Beach provides a high quality habitat for these shore birds, which includes areas of sandy beach above and below the high tide line with occasional surf-cast wrack supporting small invertebrates (for nesting and foraging) and generally barren to sparsely vegetated terrain (for foraging and predator avoidance).  Sands Beach at Coal Oil Point is also special because it was the first site that had completely lost its breeding population of western snowy plovers for several decades and then recovered its population after conservation measures were implemented.  Thanks to the volunteers and staff of the U.C. Reserve at Coal Oil Point, these efforts prove that people can reverse the adverse trend to extinction by sharing space with other species.  The program has increased western snowy plover fledgling success in the region.  Since the active management started in 2001, 267 eggs have been laid, 119 have hatched, resulting in 72 chicks fledged.

 

If you would like to help out the western snowy plover, the U.C. Reserve has many volunteer opportunities.  Western snowy plover docents are trained in the classroom about western snowy plover biology and also at the beach for hands-on experience involving interactions with the public.  Training sessions are scheduled once a month.  To register, contact Jennifer Stroh:  805-880-1195 or email at stroh@lifesci.ucsb.edu

Contact Info: Scott Flaherty, , Scott_Flaherty@fws.gov