Unleashed dogs running the beaches of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore are one of the biggest threats to the endangered piping plover.
But other dogs and their human companions who volunteer as BARK Rangers can be the tiny bird’s best friends.
Piping plovers are classified as an endangered species in the Great Lakes region where they nest and raise their young on open beaches. Loss of habitat and nest disturbance are primary factors.
Piping plovers build shallow nests in the sand and line them with pebbles or broken shells. The birds are very sensitive to humans in the area and abandon nests if they feel threatened. Dogs running free on a beach destroy nests and often harass or kill piping plovers.
That’s one of the reasons park rules require all dogs to be on a leash, and ban dogs from certain beaches known to be piping plover nesting sites.
But not every visitor knows the rules.
As part of the Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes volunteer program, dog owners and their pets regularly walk the beaches to help educate visitors about the rules. They remind people a leash is required, and explain which areas allow dogs and which are off-limits. BARK Rangers can be identified by their NPS volunteer shirts or vests and BARK vests or kerchiefs on their dogs.
The idea behind the BARK Ranger program is that a conversation between one dog owner and another is often a positive and effective way to educate visitors and help everyone enjoy the park. BARK Rangers also thank people they see abiding by the rules, and serve as park ambassadors to answer questions.
BARK Rangers also walk our dog-friendly trails as well. Did you know that Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is one of the few national parks that allows dogs on beaches and trails? Our BARK Rangers help educate park visitors about pet rules, so we can keep this privilege. Besides harming the nesting success of the piping plover, unleashed dogs can also chase wildlife resulting in harm to the wildlife and possibly to the dog.
Become a BARK Ranger volunteer: fill out our Volunteer Registration Form.
Read the rules regarding pets in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
For more information about the endangered piping plover.