A heightened level of police activity may surprise pet owners at Sands Beach this weekend, as UC Police Dept. officers will be enforcing off-leash pet laws to protect UCSB’s snowy plover reserve.

Beginning March 1, UCSB police officers will be stationed between Coal Oil Point and Ellwood Beach in order to provide additional protection for the snowy plovers’ nesting area. According to the university, the on-duty officers will confront owners of off-leash pets and either issue citations or warnings.

Cristina Sandoval, director of the Coal Oil Point Reserve, said this increase in law enforcement around the snowy plover reserve is an effort aimed at protecting the species and not an attack against pet owners.

“The university hopes that this final phase will demonstrate that dogs do not have to be prohibited from the beach in the future,” Sandoval said in a press release. “UCSB greatly appreciates the collaboration and support from beach users and dog owners, and is committed to finding a balanced management solution that ensures environmental protection and recreation on the beach.”

According to the UC Natural Reserve System, the plover docents will continue to provide education and outreach on the importance of the reserve and encourage beachgoers to adhere to the leash law.

The California Coastal Commission banned dogs and horses at the beach of the Coal Oil Point Reserve in 2006 to provide extra protection for the nesting sites of snowy plovers, a designated threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

However, UCSB recently received approval for an alternative plan allowing dogs on the beach if the Santa Barbara County leash law was actively enforced. Signs have since been posted near Coal Oil Point and docents have continued to monitor the beach to ask owners to leash their dogs voluntarily.