Dogs walked on beaches can disturb shorebirds, causing them to waste energy fleeing or avoid areas with lots of dog usage.

Photo by Lindsay Addison.

By Ashley Dayer, Jillian Everly, Carolyn Comber, and Meredith Gore.

This Plain Language Summary is published ahead of the article discussed; check back soon for a link to the full paper.

Even friendly dogs can disturb shorebirds on beaches. Beach managers often restrict use of beaches by dogs or require leashing or voice control to reduce this disturbance, especially during nesting season, as well as other public safety concerns. Yet, managers across the Atlantic Flyway of the U.S. report that dog regulations on beaches are routinely violated, leading to one of the greatest concerns for the welfare of these shorebirds.

From interviews with 28 land managers and biologists in the region, we found that this concern became even more pronounced during high beach usage by U.S. recreationists during the COVID-19 pandemic. Both carrot (or, voluntary compliance techniques, such as volunteer beach stewards) or stick (such as law enforcement fines) approaches are used to encourage compliance with dog regulations. Response of law enforcement to dog regulation violations, as well as capacity for educational and stewardship programs was further limited during the pandemic. Building bridges through trainings and communications with law enforcement agencies has led to better enforcement in some locations, while other locations have had more success with engaging the community in protecting shorebirds in other ways.

We recommend managers consider strategically how they can tackle non-compliance with techniques along a spectrum from carrots to sticks. Studying how various combinations of approaches can have lasting positive impacts for shorebirds is urgently needed.