Searching for Happy Landings

The Central Coast of California is a destination spot for thousands of tourists every year. They fly in, relax on the warm, sunny beaches, enjoy their favorite foods, meet with family and make new friends. Rested and replete, they fly on to their next destinations, their feathers shining with new energy and vigor.

California beaches not only play host to black-legged surfers,  golden haired sunbathers and rosy-crested vacation renters. They’re also home to avian tourists, such as Dunlins, White-rumped sandpipers, and Ruddy turnstones.

But all is not well for our feathered visitors. Habitat loss along the birds’ migration routes are making it increasingly difficult for migratory species  to complete their journeys, and it’s not a result of climate change.

“About half of the shorebird species in North America are in decline, primarily due to habitat destruction and degradation. The world’s growing coastal population continues to increase the encroachment of people into shorebird habitat.”

Birds at a Southern California beach: seasonality, habitat use and disturbance by human activity, Kevin D. Lafferty, Biodiversity and Conservation 10: 1949–1962, 2001

Here on the Central Coast of California, shorebird habitat has decreased over 90% as a result of coastal human development. In areas where the shoreline is protected from new development by the California Coastal Commission, human recreation is further disturbing shorebirds attempting to rest, feed and breed on those same beaches.

The growing number of off-leash dogs on beaches are an increasing threat to migratory shorebirds, when they chase and disturb birds attempting to rest and feed before continuing their migratory flights. Although dogs do not remove habitat and infrequently kill birds directly, dog disturbance causes birds to interrupt their feeding and expend greater energy in flight.

Impacts to migratory bird species are a result of the cumulative effects on reproduction and chick survivorship. Birds forced to forage less effectively may not build fat reserves needed by stressed and depleted migrants who must rest and feed to successfully resume their migratory journey. (Lafferty, 2001)

The problem is compounded by the international travel agendas of migratory birds. While many countries protect migratory species passing through their territory, far too many do not, leaving dangerous gaps in which critical resting and breeding habitat is rapidly becoming compromised.

Researchers track migratory birds’ routes to see if they’re venturing through protected areas or destroyed habitats.

Individual countries may protect migratory birds but the great length of their journeys are endangered. Scientific American

Migratory birds ‘lack world protection. BBC

Migratory bird species are dealing with very real physical threats to their survival. International studies of avian migratory patterns must be used to create new protected areas in key locations to allow migratory birds to continue unmolested throughout their global ranges.

Parks Commission Gives in to Bullying Dog Owners

   Late last year the off-leash dog controversy came to a head with the December 15 meeting of the Santa Cruz County Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission. Over a year ago, the Commission requested that County staff produce criteria for off-leash dog facilities and an inventory of County Parks properties suitable for fenced or unfenced off-leash dog parks. 

    The four Commissioners in attendance on December 15 listened to the Parks Department Staff Report, which concluded “County Parks does not recommend further consideration of unfenced shared use areas where dogs would be permitted off-leash.” 

    Following the Staff Report, the meeting was opened to public comment on this agenda item. Many comments from off-leash dog proponents were loud and peppered with foul language, as they demanded that the Commission “give them” an off-leash dog area on “their beach.”
The F-word was heard as often as in a modern motion picture.

    The atmosphere created by off-leash dog supporters turned ugly and intimidating. Members of the audience expressing support for the Staff Report were repeatedly interrupted by rude remarks. When the public comment was closed and the Commissioners began their discussion, the off-leash proponents continued their interruptions, moving forward toward the Commissioners, waving and gesticulating, and taking pictures with their cell phones. At times the gathering felt more like a religious revival than a Commission meeting.

    The process of careful government deliberation was destroyed by the unruly behavior of the off-leash proponents, replaced by an escalating mob atmosphere by those intent on getting their own way.

   Unfortunately, the Commission Chair failed to control the abusive outbursts, even beyond the public comment period and into the Commissioners’ discussion that followed. Even worse, two Parks Commissioners rewarded the off-leash proponents and gave them legitimacy by taking their demands seriously and proposing a motion to recommend that the Board of Supervisors look into a pilot program for off-leash dogs on a County beach.

    What message does this send to the public that looks to County Commissions to advise their Board of Supervisors on County policy? Is abusive and bullying behavior to be rewarded by obsiquious Commissioners? Is County policy to be determined by those who shout the loudest with the most foul language?

I am a long-time proponent of anarchism, the body of thought regarding a social system based on non-hierarchical, decentralized, self-rule; that is, rules but no rulers.

I am forced to admit that human beings are not capable of sustaining such a society.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been involved in an attempt to protect a section of coastal California from a small, dedicated, vociferous, group of people intent on continuing their practice of allowing their dogs to run off-leash despite local leash laws prohibiting the practice.

At first, this might seem a contradiction. Laws? Illegal? Rules? Rulers? What does this have to do with anarchy?

Not much… and everything.

The off-leash dog proponents claim it is their right to allow their dogs to run off-leash whenever and wherever they want, despite ample evidence that off-leash dogs attack and injure people, other dogs and wildlife. It is clear that the common good requires rules restricting people from allowing their domesticated animals to roam freely in shared public space, hence, in our non-anarchic society, leash laws.

There seems to be a growing movement in the United States (the only country I know) of disregarding laws by considering them “obsolete.” It’s part, I think, of the “on demand” society created, at least in part, by the ubiquitous presence of television, computers, “smart” phones ( a “dumb” idea), and other instantaneous access technology that reduces human attention span, increases demand for material possessions and increasingly emphasizes personal individuality and desires over the common good.

Thus, those who want to go to the beach with their dogs off-leash seem to see this as an “entitlement” that no one else has any right to tell them they cannot do. They want it. They want it now. Any rules that stand in the way are “obsolete” because they don’t agree with them.

“You don’t know me well enough to tell me what to do” is the oft-heard and experienced attitude.

This trend, if it is a trend, is 180 degrees away from the ideals of anarchy. In this world view, every individual is an authority, there is no common good, the needs and desires of society are subservient to the needs and desires of the individual.

So we’re stuck with some form of hierarchical society until Homo sapiens grows up enough to take responsibility for its individual self and relearns the concept of responsibility to the wider society.

It’s Simple – Enforce the Leash Law

In a long running debate, a group of dog owners lobbying for exemption from Santa Cruz County leash laws loudly proclaim they are going to continue to let their dogs off leash no matter the law, and that enforcement of the leash law doesn’t work because there are still dogs off-leash on County beaches. This is a circular argument (that is, “I still break the law, so enforcement doesn’t work”) that is used as an excuse to demand that law breakers be exempted from the law.
“Enforcement” does not mean 100% compliance. No law ever achieves total compliance, no matter how stringently it is enforced. There are always individuals who decide to flout the law and take the risk of getting tickets or being arrested. 
Fortunately, we live in a society where the majority of the people obey most of the laws, and there is no need for an overweening police state to maintain public safety and order. It is only when the illegal acts of a minority group infringe on the rights of the majority that legal pressure must increasingly be brought to bear to protect public health and safety and maintain order in the community.
Such is the case with off leash dogs on County beaches. A small group of dog owners has decided that their desire to allow their dogs to run off leash on local beaches should take precedence over the desires of the rest of beach users for a beach experience unmarred by dogs running uncontrolled. The dog owners have organized to avoid getting tickets from Animal Services officers’ attempts to enforce County leash laws, as they let their dogs loose daily on local beaches.
Meanwhile, the dog owners who admit to breaking the leash laws have the audacity to lobby County government to not only overlook their illegal actions, but to suspend County Leash Laws on the beach in order to allow them to continue to run their dogs off leash. Leash laws were written and are enforced to protect public health and safety, the health and safety of other dogs, and to protect sensitive wildlife and habitats. These off leash dog owners claim their desires trump public health and safety, their own animals’ safety and County, state, federal and international wildlife regulations.
It’s time to put a stop to this egregious “off leash dog gang” behavior. There are 12 off leash dog parks in the County where dog owners legally can let their dogs run off-leash for exercise and socialization, without putting other park users at risk. 
If dog owners continue to blatantly ignore existing off-leash dog areas and continue to illegally allow their dogs to run off-leash in shared pubic space, they should be ticketed and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. No “half-price” sales, but full and escalating fines for these repeat offenders. Let them take responsibility for their disregard for the law and stop asking for a free ride from County government.
It’s hard and it’s fair.

Santa Cruz County beaches are thriving natural habitat for numerous species of wildlife and plants. It is not a sacrifice zone to be thoughtlessly discarded in favor of human recreation and amusement.

It is sad to note that such habitat is rare in Santa Cruz County, so much so that shore bird numbers have declined precipitously as their feeding, resting and breeding areas have been destroyed by development and dominated by human activity.

Recently, local dog owners have pressured Santa Cruz County officials to allow dogs to run off-leash on Santa Cruz County beaches, in the very spot where this egret is feeding.

Shore birds perceive dogs as predators, especially off-leash dogs roaming free across the beach and uplands. The birds take flight, interrupting their feeding, resting and nesting behaviors, reducing their viability in their home habitat.

It is important to protect and preserve the remaining natural habitat on Santa Cruz beaches, which are a critical part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Dogs must be kept on-leash and County leash laws must be strictly enforced.

“Examine each question in terms of what is ethically and esthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient. A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” Aldo Leopold

Plover killed by off-leash dog

Wardens look into death of endangered plover

An off-leash dog killed a nearly fledged endangered piping plover on a beach in south Maine. The beach has off-leash hours from sunrise to 9 AM, and areas where dogs are required to be kept 150 feet from plover habitat.

In a follow-up story, Dog’s owner steps forward in killing of protected Maine bird, officials explain that the dog owner has come froward and that the owner may not be fined.

The video and text exhibit a remarkable complacency about dogs on the beach and their devastating effects on wildlife. The incident also shows clearly that off-leash hours on the beach place wildlife at risk, no matter how many signs and exclosures are put up to protect sensitive species and habitat.