The Western Snowy Plover became known to science through specimens collected by early explorers in what is now the GGNP. Once quite common, the population of this diminutive shorebird has been greatly reduced as a result of habitat degradation due to human disturbance, urban development, introduced beachgrass, and expanding predator populations.
To make matters more complex, the very places the Western Snowy Plover needs to survive are also areas that are in high demand for human activities. California’s sunny beaches and dune habitats are important roosting and nesting areas for the species, and when we stop acting like good neighbors by letting our pets chase birds, by leaving trash at the beach, or even by driving through the bird’s habitats, the Western Snowy Plover’s population suffers.
The Western Snowy Plover was protected under the Endangered Species Act in 1993 as a “distinct population segment,” which means that only a portion of the entire species—the portion that nests on coastal beaches and adjacent bays—are currently protected. Biologists are concerned that if the Western Snowy Plover is lost from these coastal areas, the entire subspecies could be placed in jeopardy.
However, some have tried to claim that because Western Snowy Plovers can be found in other areas, the subspecies should lose protection in coastal areas. This reasoning was rejected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2006, which upheld the protected status for the species and found that the continued protection of the Endangered Species Act is warranted.
Throughout the legal wrangling, the Western Snowy Plover has clung to existence at the GGNP. At both Ocean Beach and Crissy Field, the species can be seen roosting throughout most of the year, save a short window in the summer when it migrates to other areas.
With the help of the Endangered Species Act, a multi-agency recovery effort to stabilize and maintain a healthy Western Snowy Plover population has been initiated. To date, there have been many conservation successes for the species, but the Western Snowy Plover’s population is not yet fully recovered. If human disturbance of the Western Snowy Plover can be reduced at the GGNP, local naturalists believe that the Western Snowy Plover could even begin breeding within the Park, bringing the species that much closer to recovery.