New Opportunity to Help Protect Oregon’s Iconic Rocky Coastal Habitats

by Joe Liebezeit, Staff Scientist and Avian Conservation Manager

The state of Oregon is currently updating its Rocky Habitat Management Plan, providing an opportunity to expand and bolster protections of these vulnerable habitats. Oregon’s iconic rocky habitats are both biologically and culturally important, making up 41% of the state’s 362-mile coastline. From famous Haystack Rock on the north coast to the numerous majestic sea stacks and headlands of the south, these rocky habitats support a wealth of marine lifecolonial nesting seabirds, marine mammals, kelp and sea grass beds, and thousands of fish and invertebrate species. These breathtaking rocky features and headlands attract millions of visitors and recreationists each year.

A Black Oystercatcher stands on a rock in front of the ocean.
Black Oystercatcher, photo by Scott Carpenter

It’s been 25 years since the original plan was developed, but a lot has changed since then. Growing impacts related to a changing climate (e.g., ocean acidification) and increasing human visitation have increased stress on these sensitive places. With the help of a Rocky Habitat Working Group, the Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD) is leading a process to update the plan, the intention being to balance site protections with human use. Currently DLCD is pulling together the most recent ecological, oceanic, and human-use information to create a Rocky Habitat Web Mapping Tool that will be an important resource to aid the development of site designation proposals. Current site designations include (1) Marine Garden, (2) Marine Research Area, and (3) Marine Conservation Area.

Of these three designations, Marine Conservation Area will offer the strongest protection measures. Marine Garden will balance maintaining ecological integrity while prioritizing public access and education. Marine Research Area will maintain the natural system to support scientific research and monitoring. While many of the sites in the original 1994 plan will maintain their designations, there are a suite of other sites that were considered potentially worthy of protection during the original planning effort but were left as “Not Yet Designated.” This includes places like Ecola Point, Seal Rock, and Devil’s Backbone. 

DLCD’s Web Mapping Tool is expected to be completed by the end of 2019, and by spring of 2020 they will start to accept site designation proposals from the public and other entities to be reviewed for consideration. This is an excellent opportunity for evaluating and advocating for stronger protections for rocky habitats where deemed necessary. Bird Alliance of Oregon has been tracking this process for over a year. Through public testimony and working with DLCD staff, we have helped expand designation consideration to subtidal rocky habitats, strengthened site designation definitions, and have pushed for relevant agencies to take a stronger role in site designation proposals as well as removing hindrances to make it easier for the eventual public-led site designation proposals. 

Tufted Puffin
Tufted Puffin, photo by Scott Carpenter

Bird Alliance of Oregon is working with coastal partners to increase outreach and engagement and educate on this process as well as evaluate a list of sites to consider for stronger protections. There will be multiple public comment opportunities on this process prior to the call for site designation proposals. To learn more visit our Rocky Habitat webpage. Contact Joe Liebezeit to get on our coastal marine supporter list and receive periodic updates and action alerts on this and other coastal marine issues.