The puffin

The elusive puffin remains an iconic symbol of Cannon Beach.

Cannon Beach is home to one of the West Coast’s treasures; the last remaining tufted puffin colony on the Oregon coast exists only at Haystack Rock.

In the 2018 season, only 55 puffins were spotted returning to nest at the rock and fewer than a 1,000 puffins exist in the wild in Oregon and Washington combined.

“Alaska is the only state with a stable puffin population,” said Melissa Keyser, Director of the Haystack Rock Awareness Program.

Keyser presented the 2018 annual report to the City Council at the March 12 work session, and there is some really good news. Wildlife harassment has “dropped substantially” since 2015, wildlife collection and off-leash dog counts were also down.

HRAP wants to protect the last nesting colony on the Oregon coast, but they also want to help visitors be better stewards of the unique marine habitat.

Keyser thinks that some of the progress is from small and simple changes. After they noticed an increased trend in dogs running through the garden off-leash veteran staff member and education and volunteer coordinator Lisa Habecker suggested bringing dog leashes in the truck. After that easy change there was a major decrease in these occurrences.

Other progress is the result of bigger changes. The program had over 160 volunteers in 2018 and worked a lot of their signage, providing most signs in English and Spanish. They’ve also adopted a more educational than enforcement approach and Keyser believes this is reflected in their recent success.

But the program still has work to do. Trampling and rock climbing have increased significantly and Keyser attributes this to changing sand conditions exposing more of the marine garden and an increase in visitors. Drone usage is also increasing. There were a 114 drones cited during the season last year. In 2018 the HRAP interpreters had direct contact with almost 100,000 people, the most of any year they’ve been on the beach.

And as the program grows, other needs are becoming more apparent. The beach wheelchair program is currently at capacity. Last year, 312 people used the beach wheelchair check out program but 570 additional people wanted to and couldn’t because of available resources.

HRAP has also seen an increase in field trips. In 2018, the program worked with 70 school groups. Each group was limited to 130 students to prevent excessive impact on the marine garden and to allow volunteers and staff to provide the best possible experience. And Habecker also implemented a new virtual tour program for the first time.

The virtual tour allows HRAP interpreters to, “communicate across the country and in another language,” said Keyser.

Councilor Robin Risley said that that virtual tour program “really fit in” with the chamber’s new love it like a local campaign.

The Haystack Rock Awareness Program is supported by the city, but they’re also raising money from grants and other sources.

Last year HRAP raised $66,000 through grants, donations and sales of artwork. Funds support staff to serve as interpreters seven-days-a-week, two hours before and after low tide, from sunrise to sunset, only pausing for three months in the winter when it’s too dangerous to be outside.

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