Although the human health and social benefits from outdoor recreation are numerous, there is mounting evidence that outdoor recreation can negatively impact wildlife. Shorebirds are known to be especially sensitive to recreation-related disturbance because they nest and forage directly on beaches that are often used for recreation. Many studies have documented negative effects of outdoor recreation on shorebirds, and some have specifically related to the federally threatened western snowy plover (WSPL) (Charadrius alexandrinus nivosus). The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area (ODNRA) is a popular location for beach recreation that provides critical habitat for the WSPL. ODNRA managers struggle to keep visitors from recreating inside sensitive WSPL nesting and foraging habitat in dunes and open sand. Due to limited personnel, the ODNRA uses rope fencing and signs to communicate rules about WSPL nesting habitat.
In an effort to improve compliance and influence attitudes, this study tested signs based on two communication theories: the Focus Theory of Normative Conduct (i.e., normative) and the Extended Elaboration Likelihood Model (i.e., narrative). This thesis contains one standalone article that examines how narrative and normative messaging: (a) relates to visitor attention to signs at the ODNRA, (b) impacts visitor attitudes related to the WSPL and their management at the ODNRA, and (c) impacts compliance with WSPL restrictions at the ODNRA.
In the summer of 2018, direct observation and questionnaires were used at a popular ODNRA beach to compare the normative and narrative signs against an existing interpretive sign on the following variables: attention capture and holding, impact on attitudes about the WSPL, and impact on beach use. A total of 440 completed questionnaires were collected with a response rate of 74%. Results showed that visitors were more likely to read the treatment signs than the existing interpretive sign, although many visitors ignored the signs altogether. The narrative sign was the most effective in encouraging visitors to stay out of WSPL nesting habitat. However, the impact of the treatment signs on attitudes was minimal compared to the existing interpretive sign. This thesis suggests changes in the design of interpretive signs at the ODNRA and recommends using a narrative format to encourage visitors to perform wildlife friendly behaviors. However, because many visitors still recreated inside WSPL nesting habitat after being exposed to signs, these signs should not be used as a primary management tool at the ODNRA. Rather, signs should be used to supplement strategies such as fencing or personal contact.