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Audubon California “Stunned and Delighted” at Decision Ending Off-Road Vehicle Access at Oceano Dunes

Coastal Commission votes to phase out OHV access over three years in biodiversity hotspot


 (Oceano, Calif., March 19, 2021)—In a move that reverses more than four decades of policy inaction at one of California’s most sensitive coastal areas, the California Coastal Commission voted Thursday night to phase out off-highway vehicle (OHV) access at Oceano Dunes over the next three years. The move goes beyond Commission staff recommendations that called for access to be discontinued over a five-year period. The California Department of Parks and Recreation operates the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area, which attracts some two million off-road vehicle enthusiasts to the dunes and adjacent beaches each year, in spite of the area’s threatened Snowy Plovers and Least Terns, whose nesting season coincides with peak off-road activity.

The DPR released a Public Works Plan (PWP) last November that, while claiming to balance OHV use of the area with the needs of nearby residents and wildlife, actually expanded access and development in sensitive areas. Audubon California and Morro Coast Audubon Society submitted comments both to the Parks Department and to the Coastal Commission decrying the PWP and in support of Coastal Commission staff recommendations to phase out OHV access altogether.

“We are stunned and delighted at the Commission’s decision,” said Andrea Jones, director of bird conservation for Audubon California. “The Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Complex is the most extensive remaining dunes system on the West Coast. It’s home to migratory shorebirds and many endangered species, including one of the largest breeding sites for Western Snowy Plovers on the Pacific Coast, yet for four decades, the Coastal Commission has ‘kicked the can down the road’ and failed to develop a cohesive OHV policy. That’s allowed State Parks and Recreation to cater most of the Park to one set of Oceano Dunes visitors at the expense of all others. Current policy isn’t ‘access for all’; it’s access for only some, to the exclusion of all others. Current policy doesn’t serve the nearby residents who have to contend with traffic, noise and dust generated by summer OHV crowds. It doesn’t serve visitors on horseback or on foot who could come to enjoy an incomparable natural setting. And it definitely doesn’t serve the threatened bird species who rely on the area to build their nests and raise their young.”

Protecting coastal open space and providing equitable public access is an important part of “30 x 30,” an international effort to maintain biodiversity and create resilience against climate change, recognized in an executive order signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in October. Multiple studies show a steep decline in bird populations that depend on them, in California and beyond. The number of birds in North America has dropped by one-third – a billion individual birds -- over the past 50 years, likely due in large part to loss of suitable habitat. At the same time, Audubon research shows that remaining birds face an uncertain future as the continent warms.

Jason Howe,; 415-595-9245

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About Audubon
The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. Audubon works throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation. State programs, nature centers, chapters, and partners give Audubon an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire, and unite diverse communities in conservation action. A nonprofit conservation organization since 1905, Audubon believes in a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Learn more at and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @audubonsociety.

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