Rocky Habitats Strategy

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Background

Rocky habitats represent 41 percent of Oregon’s 362-mile coastline. Rocky shores are defined in the Ocean Resources Management Plan as the cliffs, rocky intertidal areas, offshore rocks and islands, and submerged reefs within the Territorial Sea. Biologically rich and ecologically important for many species of seaweeds, marine invertebrates, fish, mammals and birds, these shores are often next to areas of high human use and are therefore especially vulnerable to impacts from human activities or disturbances that can degrade or destroy essential biological and ecological values. These regions remain vulnerable to direct impacts from activities such as fishing, shoreline armoring, and industrial activities such as energy development.

Oregon’s beaches and rocky shores are open to public access. The coast’s rocky habitats are managed by a patchwork collection of state and federal agencies. The Oregon Department of State Lands is the trustee for the state on behalf of the people, up to mean high tide. The Department shares this management responsibility with the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department for the part of the shore, whether rocky or sandy, covered and uncovered by the tide down to extreme low water. Most marine life is under the jurisdiction of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). The Oregon State Police are charged with enforcing ODFW regulations. Some rocky shore areas front the ocean at Oregon State Parks while others front federal lands and still others border private lands where uses are regulated by cities or counties. Rocky shores and other ocean areas are covered by Statewide Planning Goal 19, Ocean Resources, which requires the state “to conserve marine resources and ecological functions for the purpose of providing long-term ecological, economic, and social value and benefits to future generations.”

Several federal agencies are also involved in the management of Oregon’s rocky shores or biological resources that rely on rocky shore habitats. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has jurisdiction over all of the offshore rocks and islands along the coast, which comprise the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages access to intertidal areas and seabird nesting sites at Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area as well as providing visitor interpretive and educational opportunities about these rocky shore resources. The U.S. Forest Service (USFS), whose principal mission is focused on federal forest lands in the Coast Range and Cascade mountains, manages access to intertidal areas and provides visitor interpretive programs about rocky shores at Cape Perpetua. Even cities such as Cannon Beach are involved in providing access to (and law enforcement in) rocky intertidal areas.

The Rocky Shores Strategy is part of the original Oregon Territorial Sea Plan adopted in 1994. It includes policies, management prescriptions, and site-specific recommendations to guide management by local, state and federal agencies at nearly 90 sites on the Oregon coast. The strategy relies on authorities and programs of state and federal agencies to carry out activities in the field; the Ocean Policy Advisory Council (OPAC) will not implement the strategy.

OPAC focused much of its early attention on rocky shores and in 1994 approved the initial Oregon Territorial Sea Plan including Part Three, the Rocky Shores Strategy, detailing policies, management prescriptions, and site-specific recommendations to guide management by local, state and federal agencies at nearly 90 sites on the Oregon coast.

In October 2015, 22 years after adoption of the strategy, OPAC, at the urging of several groups and members of the public, created the Rocky Shores Workgroup to update the Rocky Shores strategy. Now called the Rocky Habitats Management Strategy to incorporate offshore rocks and reefs, new scientific information about Oregon’s rocky nearshore ecosystems will be incorporated in revised recommendations to improve the overall strategy and to support site-specific planning and management. Some key rocky shore sites now lie within the boundaries of, or are immediately adjacent to, recently designated Marine Reserves (e.g. Otter Rock, Rocky Point, Strawberry Hill) and that the oncoming effects of climate change, including  ocean acidification and sea level rise, make this an opportune time to assess the ecological condition of our rocky shores, related management issues, and provides conservation opportunities.

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