Ornamented in buff and pale feathers, the western snowy plover often goes unnoticed amongst the sand dunes it inhabits. Heedless of this shy, pocket-sized shorebird, developers have made the open sandy beaches it favors a prime target for destructive projects, and human beach activity often scares plovers away from their nests, leaving chicks and eggs vulnerable to both predators and the elements. Fortunately, since the species was protected under the Endangered Species Act, nest-site destruction and harassment has been reduced; the bird's once-decimated population has increased by more than 50 percent.


Unfortunately the western snowy plover is far from safe. To help ensure its recovery and save it from prime threats such as sea-level rise, it needs an adequate amount of federally protected critical habitat — which was proposed in March 2011 to the tune of more than 28,000 acres, due to a Center petition and two lawsuits. We worked hard to overturn a politically tainted 2005 critical habitat rule for the bird that slashed protections from thousands of acres of essential plover habitat. In 2012, in response to our work in court, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated 24,527 acres (38 square miles) of critical habitat to protect the Pacific Coast population of these birds in Washington, Oregon and California.

But until western snowy plovers are truly recovered, the Center must continue our fight to protect their habitat: In July 2016 we joined with allies to file a notice of intent to sue over a planned resort that would sprawl along the Monterey Bay and harm these rare birds. We've also fought off-road vehicle use that kills plovers in their winter habitat, pushed for restrictions on oil drilling in key habitat, petitioned for dog-leash laws in the bird's Golden Gate National Recreation Area home, and published a report detailing the devastating effects of pesticide use on plovers. 

In the Oceano Dunes, after the Center documented and exposed State Parks staff attempting to prevent plovers from nesting in former off-road riding areas, the California Coastal Commissions ordered State Parks officials to keep significant portions of Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area closed to vehicles and camping.

Photo © Mike Baird