Wow! It’s been a busy and exciting week. I arrived at my Oregon site a week ago, and it’s already been filled with new experiences. I finally met my manager for my site, and he filled me in with a lot that’s going on at Siuslaw National Forest and showed me a few amazing locations. The forest beauty is off the charts and you can’t help but fall in love with its aesthetic scenery. From ancient towering trees and large expanses of dunes to powerful crashing waves, Siuslaw has it all. This coniferous old growth forest is bustling with many partnerships, programs, and ideas, and receiving all this information is like being in a whirlwind of information. Just when I think I have some time to read up on a topic, I am informed of three new things! It can definitely feel overwhelming, but thrilling at the same time. It’s akin to a roller coaster ride. You dread the anxious trip to the top, yet relish the adrenaline-inducing drop. Learning so much about Siuslaw makes me appreciate all the action that’s occurring within it. I can go on and on about all the new topics we’ve covered, but it would be easier to focus on one. In this case, let’s talk about our Snowy Plovers. (I HIGHLY encourage you to look up Snowy Plover images, especially their chicks. Be warned, an involuntary “awwww” or “d’aww” might escape your mouth, followed by a warm happy sensation. Side effects will vary.)
Super quick history fact! Back in 1993, the Snowy Plover was listed as a threatened species by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Siuslaw National Forest has taken strong initiatives and steps to help Snowy Plover populations bounce back since then. To really understand why these small shorebirds are threatened, we must first identify the pressures they are facing. Anthropogenic food sources, human disturbances on the beach, and invasive (non-native) beach grasses are key points to consider.
Food sources from humans can be detrimental because that means visitors are feeding wildlife or leaving food behind that wildlife can easily access. A big concern is attracting corvids (ravens and crows), which are highly intelligent birds that can devastate a plover population by preying on their nests for eggs. An increase in avian predators has been directly tied to the increased food sources from campers and hikers. When you consider that plovers lay on average three eggs, we can get a better sense of why egg predation is a huge concern.
Human disturbances on beaches can range from visitors not keeping dogs on a leash and walking on protected areas. These actions flush out the Snowy Plovers from their nests (small depressions in the sand), which makes them expend valuable energy and exposes their eggs and chicks to the elements and predation.
Next we have our invasive European beach grass, which is in a class of its own. The beachgrass was planted along the West Coast rivers and roadways in the early 1900s to stabilize the sand. Other regional plantings combined with the plant’s aggressive growing nature resulted in the grass taking over huge areas of the dunes and drastically altering the dune process of the landscape. What does this mean for our Snowy Plover, you might ask? The quickly colonizing grass meant that there were less open sand areas, which is crucial habitat for our tiny shorebird. In addition, European beach grass provides cover for predators to better prey on plovers.
Example of the open sand that
Snowy Plovers need for nesting
Now, I’m not trying to paint a bleak picture of the situation the plovers have down here. Not at all. Quite the contrary, I want to highlight the many challenges our plovers face to inform everyone of the situation, but would also like to share what we’re doing to mitigate it. Snowy Plovers are important because they are “umbrella species,” meaning other species that make up the ecological community are protected when plovers are protected. Siuslaw National Forest is helping out the Snowy Plover population by closing off parts of the beach to the public from March 15 to September 15 to help protect the birds during the nesting season, implementing management strategies to combat European beachgrass, and actively reaching out to the community and public about our endeavors to form bonds and better connect to the community. On top of that, we’re attempting to lessen corvid predation by implementing an outreach and interpretation campaign that aims at decreasing the availability of anthropogenic food sources. By getting everyone on board, we can work together to reach our conservation goal.
So, remember, ladies and gentlemen, always care for the ABCs (Adorable Beach Cottonballs)!