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Snowy plover protection plan OKd

12/16/2004, 5:57 p.m. PT

The Associated Press


SALEM, Ore. (AP) A state panel endorsed a plan Thursday for protecting the threatened western snowy plover that could lead to new restrictions on such activities as driving, kite flying and playing with dogs on about 20 percent of the coast's sandy beaches.

The state Parks and Recreation Commission approved the plan but held off on imposing new rules pending federal actions.

The plan goes to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for approval and for its drafting of an environmental impact statement, which officials said could take up to two years.

The state regulates beach activity to protect the bird along 17 miles of the southern coast, where recreational uses have been restricted since 1993.

The plover was listed under the federal Endangered Species Act that year and under the state's similar law in 1987. The small bird lays eggs in the sand, where they are easily destroyed.

Delaying the added restrictions allows for uncertainties about the legal status of the plover, said Dave Wright, natural resources management planning chief for the state Parks and Recreation Department.

"This buys time to make sure we have answers," he said.

A lawsuit seeking to remove the snowy plover from the federal list is pending in federal court in Sacramento. Some Oregon coastal county commissioners are angered by the beach controls and contend the plover isn't endangered.

The plan includes possible restrictions on the more heavily used northern coast.

The regulations are part of the state's effort to avoid liability. It could be sued for an illegal "taking" of a protected species if the government allowed beach uses that harmed the birds.

The plan takes in a total of 32 miles of coastal segments that include "occupied" areas, where plovers have established nesting sites.

The other 16 miles include "unoccupied" areas, where scientists believe the birds are most likely to establish new nests, Wright said. Those include the popular Necanicum, Nehalem and Netarts areas on the north coast.

"The likelihood that all 48 miles would be restricted is very small," Wright said.

The parks agency had gotten strong protests from coastal business owners with its initial plan to close 57 miles of beaches to dogs, kites, vehicles and campfires during the birds' six-month mating season.

The proposed restrictions were eased, for example, so dogs would be allowed in designated potential nesting areas but with leashes required.

The delay before creating new beach restrictions didn't satisfy Coos County Commission Chairman John Griffith, a persistent foe of the rules.

"There's no shortage of plovers," he told the commission. "There's a perceived shortage of them on the West Coast."

But commission member Nik Blosser of Portland said the only fair path for the panel is to base its decision on science.

"It's pretty clear that that everything in the plan is the best known science today," he said.

Griffith disagreed with the commission's action: "They made nothing better. They are laying a path to make it worse."


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