Rocky Shores Strategy

Oregon’s Rocky Shores Strategy is Currently Under Review

This page includes background information about rocky shoreline issues and how the state has been and will be addressing them.

What Are Rocky Shores?

Oregon’s coast is noted for its rugged coastline, public beaches, and rocky shores with tidepools that invite exploration at low tide. With Highway 101 paralleling the coast over much of its length, and many state parks, waysides, and innumerable informal access trails abutting the shoreline, the Oregon coast provides ready access to rocky shores. Think about the rocky intertidal jewels strung along Highway 101 from Ecola State Park at Cannon Beach to Harris Beach State Park at Brookings. Along the way are popular spots such as Haystack Rock, Yaquina Head, Otter Rock, Seal Rocks, Sunset Bay, Cape Arago and many other smaller sites that offer Oregonians and visitors from across the nation and around the world opportunities to glimpse rich marine life revealed at low tide.

Rocky shores encompass a diversity of landforms including rocky intertidal platforms and rocks covered by the ocean at high tide but exposed at low tide, cliff headlands and nearshore rocks and islands that provide critical isolated nesting and haul-out sites for seabirds and marine mammals, and related submerged rocky reefs. Biologically rich and ecologically important for many species of marine algae (seaweeds), marine invertebrates, fish, 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.

How Are Rocky Shores Managed and Protected in Oregon?

Oregon’s beaches and rocky shores are open to public access. Rocky shores are managed by a patchwork collection of state and federal agencies. The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) is the primary manager of the entire Oregon shoreline above “lower low water,” including rocky shores, and provides parking and other amenities for visitors. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) regulates the harvest or “take” of marine life everywhere along the coast; the Oregon State Police are charged with enforcing the ODFW regulations. The Oregon State Marine Board regulates boating activities in state ocean waters. The Oregon State Land Board has jurisdiction for submersible and submerged state lands within rocky shores, but has no active management programs for rocky shores. Rocky shores and other ocean areas are covered by Statewide Planning Goal 19, Ocean Resources, which promotes protection of ecosystem values.

Several federal agencies are also important managers 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. Many of these rocks and islands, which are critical seabird and marine mammal habitat, are vulnerable to disturbance from low-flying aircraft during nesting season. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), better known for managing rangelands in Eastern Oregon along with forested lands west of the Cascades, manages access to intertidal areas and seabird nesting sites at the 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.

What is the Rocky Shores Strategy?

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 is based on the work of the Oregon Ocean Resources Management Task Force, created by the 1987 legislature in response to potential federal offshore oil and gas leasing. The Task Force heard many concerns from the public about the need to protect rocky shores from impacts that might be caused by oil and gas development or other human activities, and reviewed scientific evidence that several sites were being adversely affected by visitor over-use. The Task Force also found a lack of focus and coordination among agency programs with regard to rocky shores.

In 1990 the Task Force adopted the Oregon Ocean Resources Management Plan (Ocean Plan) which included recommendations for improving management and protection of intertidal areas and for protecting 33 specific offshore rocks and islands as critical habitats. The Task Force also recommended that the legislature create a permanent ocean advisory council. In 1991 the Oregon legislature created the Oregon Ocean Policy Advisory Council (OPAC), charging it with developing a plan for managing the resources and uses of state’s three mile-wide territorial sea.

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.

The strategy uses a hierarchical approach so that the management needs of each site are considered in a larger ecological context. Each rocky shore site was evaluated by the ODFW and OPRD using more than a dozen factors to assess site condition and management priorities. Sites were then placed into one of six management categories:

  • Marine Gardens
  • Habitat Refuge
  • Research Reserves
  • Marine Shore
  • Not Yet Designated
  • Priority Offshore Rocks and Reefs.

Each category is distinguished by its management goals and objectives. Within each category, each site is depicted on a map (very simple black and white maps compared to the mapping and aerial photo technologies available today). Management prescriptions (not requirements) are given for each site based on the site evaluation and the objectives of its management category. The strategy also includes a seasonal boating closure around Three Arch Rocks National Wildlife Refuge (near Cape Meares), a closure that was negotiated over nearly two years among various interest groups, the public, and agencies to reduce impacts on nesting seabirds. Finally, the strategy encourages the use of public education and interpretive programs to help reduce impacts from overuse and misuse and, hopefully, avoid the need for regulations – which, in the absence of strong enforcement, give the illusion of protection but in fact do little to protect resources.

In the first few years after adoption of the Rocky Shore Strategy, ODFW and OPRD used these recommendations to take action at a only few rocky shore sites – principally those with the highest level of public use that were termed “Marine Gardens,” a term ODFW had used for many years. ODFW amended its annual harvest regulations to include specific maps and regulations for these Marine Gardens and some Research Reserve sites. OPRD made changes in access to some sites to try to reduce overuse of intertidal sites, particularly during certain seasons. Both agencies, with the Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD), installed a number of interpretive panels about rocky shores at key sites along the coast and stepped up public educational efforts related to rocky shores. ODFW began a research program aimed at improving our scientific understanding of offshore rocky reefs such as Orford Reef and Perpetua Reef. DLCD provided funds to support local volunteer interpretive programs such as the Haystack Rock Awareness Program in Cannon Beach, Shoreline Education for Awareness at Bandon, and others at Yaquina Head and Seal Rocks, to help reduce visitor impacts at these vulnerable, popular sites. In 2000 the strategy was amended to account for the heavy use and complex management needs of rocky shore sites on the Cape Arago headland, near Coos Bay.

Has the Rocky Shores Strategy Been Successful?

No one knows. Anecdotally, it appears that ecological conditions of Oregon’s rocky shores are no better or worse than in 1994. But no one is really looking at how fully the strategy has been implemented, or whether implementation at specific sites is associated with better outcomes. The responsible state agencies, ODFW and OPRD, have shifted their focus to other topics related to ocean planning and shoreline management. During this period, scientific research and monitoring programs such as the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Study of the Coast and Ocean (PISCO), have been collecting data that can help improve our general understanding of the ecological conditions of intertidal and other rocky shore areas, and how those areas function as part of larger regional marine ecosystems. Linking these data to management efforts (or lack thereof) based on the Rocky Shore Strategy might provide clues to the effectiveness of these recommendations.

What’s Next for the Rocky Shores Strategy?

In October, 2015, 22 years after adoption of the strategy, OPAC, at the urging of Oregon Shores and other groups, created a special Rocky Shores review committee to assess the effects of the Rocky Shores Strategy, as well as changes in visitor use and other conditions that might indicate a need for updated management guidelines. New scientific information about Oregon’s rocky shore areas and ecosystems will be incorporated in revised recommendations to improve the overall strategy and to support site-specific planning and management. Oregon Shores pointed out the fact that 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 on-coming effects of climate change (e.g. ocean acidification and sea level rise) make this an opportune time to assess the ecological condition of our rocky shores, related management issues, and research opportunities and priorities.

Oregon Shores will participate in the Rocky Shores review committee.