State of the Beach/State Reports/OR/Beach Ecology

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To the casual observer, beaches may simply appear as barren stretches of sand - beautiful, but largely devoid of life or ecological processes. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Sandy beaches not only provide habitat for numerous species of plants and animals, they also serve as breeding grounds for many species that are not residential to the beach. Additionally, beaches function as areas of high primary production. Seaweeds and other kinds of algae flourish in shallow, coastal waters, and beaches serve as repositories for these important inputs to the food chain. In this way, beaches support a rich web of life including worms, bivalves, and crustaceans. This community of species attracts predators such as seabirds, which depend on sandy beaches for their foraging activities. In short, sandy beaches are diverse and productive systems that serve as a critical link between marine and terrestrial environments.

Erosion of the beach, whether it is “natural” erosion or erosion exacerbated by interruptions to historical sand supply, can negatively impact beach ecology by removing habitat. Other threats to ecological systems at the beach include beach grooming and other beach maintenance activities. Even our attempts at beach restoration may disrupt the ecological health of the beach. Imported sand may smother natural habitat. The grain size and color of imported sand may influence the reproductive habits of species that utilize sandy beaches for these functions.

In the interest of promoting better monitoring of sandy beach systems, the Surfrider Foundation would like to see the implementation of a standardized methodology for assessing ecological health. We believe that in combination, the identified metrics such as those described below can function to provide a revealing picture of the status of beach systems. We believe that a standardized and systematic procedure for assessing ecological health is essential to meeting the goals of ecosystem-based management. And, we believe that the adoption of such a procedure will function to better inform decision makers, and help bridge the gap that continues to exist between science and policy. The Surfrider Foundation proposes that four different metrics be used to complete ecological health assessments of sandy beaches. These metrics include

  1. quality of habitat,
  2. status of ‘indicator’ species,
  3. maintenance of species richness, and
  4. management practices.

It is envisioned that beach systems would receive a grade (i.e., A through F), which describes the beach’s performance against each of these metrics. In instances where information is unavailable, beaches would be assigned an incomplete for that metric. Based on the beach’s overall performance against the four metrics, an “ecological health” score would be identified.


Oregon does not allow beach "grooming." They do permit foredune management as special area management plans for small areas where sand inundation is a problem for residential homes. These approved plans allow grading within certain perimeters but also require planting and maintaining vegetation to stabilize the sand.

"Wildlife friendly" grooming protocols have been established as part of a Foredune Management Plan conducted in compliance with the guidelines set out by the Oregon Coastal Management Program and carried out and monitored by a qualified coastal geologist.

Oregon has policies related to beach fill that consider the potential impacts of beach fill projects on beach ecology. Fill projects must comply with standards under Goal 18 for Beaches and Dunes and the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) rules for Ocean Shore permits.

Bulldozing on sandy beaches is not permitted unless it is being conducted as part of the Foredune Management Plan or a Habitat Restoration project.[1]

Information on ocean shore vehicle use zones policy and vehicle permit provisions are available here. These rules specify certain areas and days and times when vehicle use is permissible on beaches, as well as provide information on obtaining a vehicle permit.

In addition, the Ocean Shore Management Plan has made recommendations for changing some of the existing regulations on beach driving (page 88, OSMP).

The Oregon State Marine Board has rules for the operation of motorized Personal Water Craft (PWCs). These are found here. Also see here.

The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department is planning for its Ocean Shore jurisdiction. This effort has resulted in two plan documents. The first plan is a comprehensive look at all of OPRD´s regulatory and management responsibilities for the Ocean Shore, the Ocean Shore Management Plan. The second is the Habitat Conservation Plan for the Western Snowy Plover, a state and federally threatened shore bird.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission approved Oregon's Nearshore Marine Resources Management Strategy at the December 2, 2005 Commission meeting. In mid-2015 the ODFW Marine Resources Program announced it was seeking public input on a public review draft of an updated Oregon Nearshore Strategy (pdf).

Oregon Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program

The Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program, or CELCP, is a federal program to provide grants to states for coastal conservation land acquisitions. Projects for CELCP funding are selected at the national level on a competitive basis, and federal funds for CELCP projects must be matched at least 1:1 by non-federal funds. Only state agencies and local governments authorized to hold title to conservation lands are eligible to apply for CELCP funds.

The Oregon Coastal Management Program submitted a Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Plan to NOAA's Office of Coastal Resource Management (OCRM) in December 2005. OCRM provided comments to Oregon in late 2006, and the OCMP revised the CELCP Plan and re-submitted it to OCRM in July 2007. OCRM has provided additional comments to Oregon on the revised draft. The OCMP anticipates revising Oregon's draft CELCP Plan in 2011.

OCMP's CELCP web page has more information, including the state's draft CELCP Plan.


Snowy Plover

Oregon has several programs in place for collecting data related to beach ecology. The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department has completed a coast-wide assessment of ecological resources as part of its development of an Ocean Shore Management Plan and the Snowy Plover Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP).

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) also conducts research and maps habitat areas along the coast. The Oregon Coastal Management Program helps to fund this research, specifically those areas of rocky shore habitat, and incorporate that data into management decisions made under the Territorial Sea Plan and Rocky Shore management planning efforts.

ODFW collects species-specific data on several species that occur on sandy beaches. These data are related to beach ecology in that each species abundance is partially controlled by, or reflective of, ecological characteristics of the beaches.

Oregon monitors a number of listed fauna and flora species that use the beach, including snowy plover, pink sand verbena, salmon, and stellar sea lion. Snowy plover and salmon are listed as endangered species. These species are not monitored specifically as indicators of "beach health", but more of general ecosystem health. Baseline information on abundance and distribution has been collected, with the most recent inventory for each species generally completed within the last 3 years.[2]

Abundance and distribution data have been collected on Northern elephant seal (2006), California sea lion (2006), Pacific harbor seal (2006), razor clam (2006), Dungeness crab (2006), and Western snowy plover.

The Oregon Nearshore Strategy, developed by ODFW, is a management strategy for the state’s nearshore environment, including the beach. The strategy lists priority species for the nearshore under different categories. Pages 55 and 56 of the strategy document lists these “priority” species. In addition, the Oregon Conservation Strategy lists bird species that occur on sandy beaches including Western snowy plover, Aleutian Canada goose, black oystercatcher, California brown pelican, and Caspian tern.

Invasive Species

An article published in The Register Guard in January 2013 discussed the growing problem of invasive species on Oregon's beaches. From the article:

"Vast expanses of open sand are being overrun, under attack from invasive plants — in particular tenacious European beachgrass and Scotch broom — and shore pine. Compare current aerial photos to some taken in the 1950s or before, and the creep of green over white is unmistakable. At ground level, Forest Service markers show the ongoing, powerful march of vegetation: In some areas it’s advancing as fast as 5 feet a year. [...] The invasive species created a mountainous foredune at the point where the beach and the dunes meet, behind which wetlands replaced what had been dry, open sand. There and elsewhere vegetation has proliferated."

Other Coastal Ecosystems

NOAA's Final Evaluation Findings Oregon Coastal Management Program, November 2006 to September 2016, states:

The Oregon Coastal Program is capitalizing on its strengths in data management and planning to develop a strong foundation for communities to assist them with updating the estuary management plans and enabling them to make decisions based on current information.

Rocky Shore Interpretation Program

In 1999, the Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD) provided OCMP funds to Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to support three tide-pool volunteer programs, which not only provided awareness of the resource, but also provided for protection of the fragile habitats and the rocky shores. The projects included:

  • Haystack Rock Awareness Program (HRAP) in Cannon Beach, in its 15th year on the beach. The program starts in April or early May as school groups begin to visit the coast, and runs through the end of September. HRAP volunteers and staff interact with the area’s visitors to the rocky coastal area.
  • Three Arch Intertidal Program in Tillamook is located in a rocky intertidal area just inside the mouth of Tillamook Bay. Though not heavily used by the public, it is used extensively by groups from nearby summer camps and school groups. In its third year, the group participated in an intertidal ecology class at the local community college, was able to have interpreters in the field for four low-tide days, and published information on rocky intertidal areas that was distributed locally (it has been found difficult to recruit volunteers and thus maintain an entirely volunteer program).
  • Coast to Crest Interpreters League in Coos Bay, which has focused on contacting and assisting school groups to visit Cape Arago and Sunset Bay State Parks because of the high potential for impacts from school groups. In addition to providing on-site interpretive services at South Cove, interpretive tours were scheduled for three groups of school children, interpretive displays were set up at a high school watershed conference, information was presented to a conference of marine educators held at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology, and an information hand-out on tide-pool etiquette was produced.

In 1998 and 1999 the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD),through an interagency cooperative agreement with DLCD that provided CZM § 309 funds, employed ranger-interpreters for four heavily visited rocky shore sites on coastal State parks: Seal Rock, Neptune, Devil’s Punchbowl and Cape Arango/Sunset Bay. The four summer rangers met visitors and conducted interpretive walks and learning sessions to stimulate visitor awareness and understanding of rocky shore resources. The Rocky Shores Final report was prepared to provide information based on the experience of the seasonal Rocky Shores park interpreter in the Nehalem Bay Management Unit during the summer of 2000 and help with the development of future interpretive programs within the Oregon State Parks. The program was such a success that the OPRD took over funding the program as a part of its ongoing program in 2001.

NOAA's Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) maps provide a concise summary of coastal resources that are at risk if an oil spill occurs nearby. Examples of at-risk resources include biological resources (such as birds and shellfish beds), sensitive shorelines (such as marshes and tidal flats), and human-use resources (such as public beaches and parks).

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coastal Services Center, in partnership with NatureServe and others are developing the Coastal and Marine Ecological Classification Standard (CMECS), a standard ecological classification system that is universally applicable for coastal and marine systems and complementary to existing wetland and upland systems.

Contact Info

Andy Lanier
Coastal Natural Resources Specialist
Oregon Coastal Ocean Management Program
Department of Land Conservation and Development

John Allen
Coastal Region Manager
Ocean Shores
Oregon Parks and Recreation Department
725 Summer St. NE, Suite C
Salem, OR 97301
(503) 986-0718

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
3406 Cherry Avenue N.E.
Salem, OR 97303-4924
Phone: (503) 947-6000

Ocean Shore Management Plan
Kathy Schutt
(503) 986-0745
725 Summer St. NE, Suite C
Salem, OR 97301

Calum Stevenson
Ocean Shores Natural Resources Specialist
(541) 888-9324

Habitat Conservation Plan
Michelle Michaud
(503) 986-0737
725 Summer St. NE, Suite C
Salem, OR 97301


  1. Paul Klarin, OOCMP. Surfrider State of the Beach Survey response. November 2003.
  2. Paul Klarin, OOCMP. Surfrider State of the Beach Survey response. November 2003.

State of the Beach Report: Oregon
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