The National Areas Association presented the organizers of the Snowy Plover Program at Coal Oil Point Reserve with an annual award for conservation.

The UC Natural Reserve System, Santa Barbara Audubon Society and the US Geological Survey (USGS) were presented the 2003 Resource Stewardship Award Sept. 26 for balancing beach recreation with the protection of western snowy plovers. The award also recognized the work of Kendy Radasky, chair of the Science Committee within the Santa Barbara Audubon Society and the founder of the snowy plover docent program.

“It was a great honor, but in a way it was a great surprise because we get so wrapped up in our work and this forced us to see the bigger picture of what we accomplish,” Radasky, said.

The plover docent program was developed in spring 2001 when two plover eggs were found at Sands Beach. The discovery of the eggs prompted the placement of a protective fence to mark the boundary of a plover protection zone, in which the birds can breed undisturbed. It is a collaboration between USGS, UCSB and Santa Barbara Audubon, marine biologist and USGS faculty member Kevin Lafferty said.

“USGS provides the research, Santa Barbara Audubon coordinates the volunteer docent program and the UCSB Natural Reserve System oversees the management of the program,” Latterty said.

The docent program is staffed by volunteers from the community, UCSB and SBCC.

“We don’t do this for the recognition, but it is good to get it. It’s great,” junior aquatic biology major Thomas Welch said.

Undergraduate students, graduate students, professors, instructors and student interns all volunteer their time, current program coordinator Jennifer Stroh said.

“Santa Barbara is a great place to get community support for environmental protection, and I don’t know if any other community would have had given such an overwhelmingly positive response to the snowy plover program,” Lafferty said.

Coal Oil Point Reserve Director Christina Sandoval and Stroh were also invited to the award ceremony.

“I am very proud of not just the work we’ve done, but also our partnership and the volunteers,” Sandoval said. “It is nice to be recognized so we can set an example to other communities around the country.”

The first breeding season in 2001 produced one fledgling chick. In 2002 there were 14 chicks hatched at Sands. Last summer’s breeding season produced 39 fledglings.

During the plover breeding season from March to September, 100 docents patrolled the fence boundaries of the reserve. Once the last chick had fledged in late September, the number of docents was reduced to 40.

“Docents have two roles, first as an educator and second as a protector,” Stroh said. “Docents inform people of reserve rules, provide accurate information on plover biology, help beachgoers identify plovers with a spotting scope and encourage questions and learning about conservation.”

Typically there is only one docent on site at a time, but on holidays and special occasions when there is a high number of people expected to visit the beach, docents serve in shifts of two.

“The people at the beach are respectful, but our biggest problem is when they bring their dogs without leashes,” Stroh said. “So we provide leashes that they can use when they are there and they can take with them.”

Lafferty, who lives on the reserve with Sandoval, his wife, began researching the effect of public disturbance on snowy plovers in 1999, He said most visitors to Sands Beach have been supportive of the program.

“In addition to the fact that the program is only a minor inconvenience for beach recreation, a lot of people have enjoyed getting a chance to see the plovers, their chicks and lots of other wildlife that do well in the protected area,” Lafferty said. “It is a unique opportunity to get close to wildlife and enjoy the beach at the same time.”

There are similar programs up and down the coast, including the Marina State Beach, which helped the snowy plover program get started at the Coal Oil Point Reserve.

“There has been interest in applying the success of Sands Beach to other areas where plover protection and beach recreation are in conflict. State and federal agencies consider the UCSB program as a model for others to emulate,” Lafferty said.

The Natural Areas Association is a national organization of more than 1,000 scientists and land managers dedicated to the conservation and management of natural habitats. Every year the association recognizes groups for excellence in protecting the environment.

“The award brings national recognition to UCSB for its leadership in conservation, research and environmental management. It is also a reassurance that the university did the right thing to protect plovers,” Lafferty said.