Each year over 200,000 shorebirds make a stop at Willapa Bay in Washington State, the second largest estuary on the USA’s Pacific Coast. With nearly 50,000 acres of mudflats, shorebirds are able to rest and refuel on a buffet of invertebrates. They also forage, roost, and nest on the nearby sandy shores of Long Beach Peninsula. With salt marshes and pastures also contributing to habitat diversity, it’s no surprise that at least 43 species of wintering, migrating, and nesting shorebirds rely on the area, including Red Knot, Short-billed Dowitcher, Dunlin, Western Sandpiper, Marbled Godwit, and Western Snowy Plover.
The wetlands at Willapa Bay – WHSRN’s 97th site
Willapa Bay and Long Beach Peninsula participated in a project led by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) in support of the Arctic Migratory Birds Initiative (AMBI). The CEC AMBI project is working to support the conservation of Red Knots and Semipalmated Sandpipers by engaging local communities to help protect key habitats at migration stopover and wintering sites for the species. Manomet, along with project partners United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Willapa National Wildlife Refuge (WNWR), and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), convened regional stakeholders last fall to review data and seek support for the nomination of the bay and peninsula to the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN).
With 14 stakeholders—including landowners, conservation groups, private businesses, and state and federal agencies—signing letters of support, Willapa Bay and Long Beach Peninsula were designated as a WHSRN site of International Importance in February 2017. Willapa Bay and Long Beach Peninsula became the 97th site to join the network, which now comprises more than 36.8 million acres (14.8 million hectares) of shorebird habitat in 15 countries across the Americas. The bay and peninsula join two other nearby WHSRN sites along the Washington coastline: the Columbia River Estuary to the south, and Grays Harbor to the north.
The site is a critical link for species migrating along the Pacific Flyway. However, it is threatened by habitat loss from climate change, sea level rise, and invasive species. Human disturbance is also a threat, particularly on Long Beach Peninsula, a popular destination for tourists and local residents. Increasing the community’s awareness and appreciation of shorebirds that share their habitat is important for the success of long-term conservation efforts in the region.
The WHSRN Executive Office, Manomet, USFWS, WNWR, and WDFW are working with partners in the Willapa Bay region to share the story of shorebirds and engage the community in conservation efforts. With the support of volunteer intern Grace DeMeo, educational activities centered on shorebird ecology and conservation have been conducted in schools and with youth groups, educating over 150 students. The students created inspirational artwork, and 25 pieces were selected and transformed into weatherproof signs. Forty-one signs will be installed at locations throughout the community including beach and bay access points, businesses, visitor centers, libraries, and other public facilities.
One of the student designed signs that will be displayed on local beaches.
The classroom activities have an immediate impact on the students and the artwork will engage the wider community and increase shorebird appreciation with messages presented through the lens of local youth. The signs will also help address human disturbance by providing information to visitors on how to respectfully share the beach with shorebirds by allowing them to forage, rest, and nest undisturbed.
The WHSRN designation and community engagement activities at Willapa Bay and Long Beach Peninsula are just two components of the CEC AMBI project. With four other project sites, project partners at each site have developed site-specific community engagement action plans while also sharing best practices and existing tools between project sites. Project partners have even conducted a site exchange. Representatives from each site traveled to the Copper River Delta WHSRN site in Cordova, Alaska to learn more about their successful festival and community engagement activities. One final connecting piece for the sites is a student quilt, with artwork from all of the sites sewn together in a patchwork quilt that will ‘visit’ each site.
On International Migratory Bird Day, May 13th at the Pacific Columbia Heritage Museum in Ilwaco, WA, a dedication ceremony was held celebrating the WHSRN dedication and student artwork. WNWR Project Leader, Jackie Ferrier; USFWS Regional Shorebird Biologist, Vanessa Loverti; and teacher and Alaska exchange participant, Cheri Lloyd highlighted the recent exchange with other sites and the student artwork quilt during the ceremony. Over 70 partners, supporters, business owners, community members, and students attended to learn more about WHSRN, shorebirds, and why Willapa Bay and Long Beach Peninsula are important. All of the student artwork and the quilt will be on display into June.
Funding and support for the AMBI project is provided by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, a trinational organization dedicated to the protection, conservation, and enhancement of North America’s environment. www.cec.org. Additional support for the WHSRN Executive Office role in the project has been provided by US Forest Service-International Programs.