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Resilient Habitats: Ecosystems

California Coast

Western snowy plover (Charadrius alexandrinus nivosus)
If there is an enduring image of California in the minds of most Americans — and in fact, people worldwide — it is probably the coast, that dramatic meeting of land and water on North America's western edge. Whether fringed by palm trees, cypress forests, or shaggy conifers, the California coast is an iconic American landscape.

A world-renowned vacation and recreation destination, the California coast also provides essential habitat to hundreds of animals, including threatened species like the Western snowy plover. A small shorebird that nests along the shores, peninsulas, bays, islands, and estuaries of the Pacific coast, the plover has made its home here for thousands of years. But habitat loss due to development and other human activity has caused its numbers to plummet, and the federal government listed the bird as threatened in 1993.

The plover's natural predators include falcons, raccoons, coyotes, and owls. But a host of others such as crows and ravens, red fox, and domestic dogs have been introduced or increased in number by the human presence. Recreational activity on beaches where the plover lives and breeds is also disruptive, especially during the bird's breeding season from March through September. Plovers use anything they can find to build their nests, from kelp to driftwood to shells and rocks-even human footprints! But the skittish bird will often leave its nest when threatened, leaving its eggs vulnerable to predators.

And now there is the added threat of climate disruption. The California coast will be hit hard by global warming, as rising sea levels infiltrate or destroy coastal wetlands and speed erosion. Storms are likely to become more intense, causing frequent flooding and-somewhat ironically-an increase in natural fires.

One of the Sierra Club's top objectives is to ensure that coastal lands, whether publicly or privately owned, are managed according to the guidelines set forth under the California Coastal Act. To prevent further fragmentation of wildlife habitat and migration corridors, the Club is actively seeking state and federal funds to purchase coastal lands. Property on the California coast is expensive, but to ensure the survival of many coastal species, such as the plover, land must be purchased and designated as protected areas.

The Club is also working to prevent sprawl that destroys coastal habitat, including construction of desalination plants to supply water for new developments. If natural habitats are managed appropriately and water conservation measures are adopted, California will have sufficient fresh water to support a growing population and desalination plants will be unnecessary. Other specific Sierra Club objectives include:

  • Using the Land and Water Conservation Fund and state-based funding to acquire key private land tracts to build resilient coastal habitats
  • Prevent development of key coastal lands and habitats with advocacy and administrative challenges



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