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Dog ban at Pacific Rim beach paying off for birds, says Parks Canada

More birds at Combers Beach, survey finds
A comparison of bird numbers this spring with last spring, before the dog ban was imposed, showed 32 per cent more bird use on Combers Beach, says Parks Canada. Via Parks Canada

Early results from a pilot dog ban at a beach in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve show it’s working to protect ­vulnerable migrating shorebirds, says Parks Canada.

A comparison of bird ­numbers this spring with last spring, before the dog ban was imposed, showed 32 per cent more bird use on ­Combers Beach, Parks Canada said ­Thursday.

“This data suggests lower disturbance, which has resulted in more time to feed.”

Bird numbers were ­generally lower at other monitored beaches, such as Long Beach, Wick Beach, and Schooner Cove, Parks Canada said. Data was reported by Yuri Zharikov, the park’s monitoring biologist.

The pilot project to keep dogs off the long sandy beach on Vancouver Island’s west coast started April 14 and runs until Oct. 1.

Dogs are not allowed on Combers Beach between ­Sandhill Creek and Green Point Rocks in order to reduce ­disruption to migrating ­shorebirds that stop on the shores of Pacific Rim beaches in the hundreds of thousands every year to feed and gather energy for their long journeys.

Parks Canada says while the number of people at other area beaches almost doubled this spring, visitor numbers at ­Combers Beach slid by 10 per cent year-over-year, “which likely represents the dog-walker segment.”

Other than Combers Beach, dogs are allowed on Pacific Rim beaches, as long as they are kept on a leash.

But Parks Canada said beach monitoring shows only 48 per cent of visitors kept their dogs on leash this spring, down from 61 per cent in the spring of 2021.

Close to 500,000 shorebirds visit Pacific Rim beaches, and research has shown that ­Combers Beach is a critical destination for migrating birds, which use the area to rest and forage during trips between the Arctic and as far south as South America, Parks Canada said.

When birds are disturbed by dogs, the time and energy they expend can affect their ­survival, the federal agency said.

“The presence of dogs can also ­contribute to the ­habituation of wildlife such as wolves who frequent beaches to access coastal food sources.”

Pacific Rim beaches are being patrolled by Parks Canada staff and law-enforcement ­officers. Canada National Parks Act tickets for off-leash dogs start with a $58 fine and can rise to court appearances and fines of $25,000, the federal office said.

Anyone seeing an off-leash dog can call 1-877-852-3100.

The issue of unleashed dogs on beaches is not confined to Pacific Rim National Park.

Dogs are expected to be ­on-leash on beaches that are part of the Victoria Harbour ­Migratory Bird Sanctuary, which was created in 1923 to protect birds that migrate through the area and those that overwinter here.

The sanctuary includes beaches from Macaulay Point in Esquimalt to Saanich’s Cadboro Bay, and up the Gorge Waterway to Portage Inlet.

Enforcement has stepped up in recent years, as ­municipalities have been asked by federal authorities to bring their own leash bylaws for beaches in line with the federal requirement.