At the urging of EHL and other environmental groups, the State Lands Commission acted to help protect these endangered shorebirds.

State property is leased to the County of Orange at the Santa Ana River mouth. There, Orange County does periodic dredging. This stretch of beach is also home to rare colonies of western snowy plovers and California least terns, both endangered species. While there are regulations against trespassing in this hazardous location and against bringing dogs to the beach, recreational activity is rampant. There are commercial dog operations with unleashed dogs and even motorized parachutes. County law enforcement tolerates all of this illegal behavior. The disruption to foraging at the shore and nesting in the sand causes intolerable harm to the birds, which need all their energy to undertake long migrations.

EHL is part of an environmental consortium that has repeatedly brought these problems to the attention of the County and the California Coastal Commission. The Commission required posting of signs, but these had no impact. Warnings issued by the Commission to the County have gone unheeded. And the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has scandalously stated it has no intention of enforcing the Endangered Species Act, which prohibits harassment of the birds.

When the County’s lease came up for renewal, however, the California State Lands Commission included several new conditions. First, the County finally agreed that its enforcement obligations extended to the bird locations, which had been a point of contention with the State. The lease requires the County to enforce these trespass rules. The County also agreed to allow other parties, such as California Dept. of Fish and Game wardens, to enforce County ordinances pertaining to dogs and trespassing. We commend the State Lands Commission for these important steps. We will now seek funds for enforcement and monitor the situation to see if lease terms are carried out. 

There are similar harmful activities on City of Newport Beach property. To date, the City has pursued a strategy of perpetual delay on a western snowy plover protection plan, and has refused to properly update its regulations in the coastal zone. EHL is evaluating legal action on all these fronts.