Environmental group sues to stop Oceano Dunes reopening


The nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity sued California State Parks, seeking to stop Friday’s reopening of the Oceano Dunes to vehicle traffic on the grounds that off-roading at the park kills endangered snowy plovers. Even so, cars were lined up to get in at 5:30 a.m.

In March, state parks closed the Oceano Dunes to vehicles as coronavirus measures began taking effect. Recently, state parks announced a three-phase reopening of the Oceano Dunes. 

On Friday, the first phase of the reopening began with officials allowing up to 1,000 “street-legal” vehicles on the beach per day. Vehicles are allowed on the dunes from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

On Thursday, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction to stop vehicles from returning to the dunes. The nonprofit is suing state parks under the Endangered Species Act.

“Motorized vehicle activities authorized and permitted by State Parks at Oceano Dunes have resulted in prohibited take of snowy plovers through direct killing, harming and harassment,” the lawsuit states.

The Center for Biological Diversity alleges snowy plovers have repeatedly been found dead or injured in vehicle tracks in recent years. The dead birds found lying in tire tracks had signs of blunt trauma, according to the lawsuit.

Vehicles on the dunes also impede the Center for Biological Diversity and its members from observing, studying, photographing and enjoying snowy plovers, along with other endangered species, including the California least tern, California steelhead and tidewater goby, the suit states.

In announcing its reopening plan, state parks said in a statement it intends to foster a safe and healthy environment for the endangered Western snowy plover and California least tern.

Earlier this month, hundreds of supporters of off-roading at the Oceano Dunes protested the then-months-long closure of the park to vehicles.