Managers and shorebird biologists' perceptions of enforcement and voluntary compliance techniques to increase compliance with dog regulations on beaches.
Disturbance to shorebirds by domestic dogs can cause direct and indirect bird mortality. Dog regulations to minimize disturbance are only effective if people comply with them. Non-compliance is a universal problem in biodiversity conservation, with an associated body of applicable social science from the field of conservation criminology. We apply the lens of this literature to better understand non-compliance with dog regulations on beaches along the Atlantic Flyway of the U.S. and the role of law enforcement and voluntary compliance techniques (e.g. persuasive communications, behavioural alternatives) in fostering compliance. Through in-depth interviews with 27 land managers and shorebird biologists experienced in creating and/or implementing regulations to reduce disturbance to shorebirds, we found that non-compliance is a challenge that law enforcement alone is inadequate to address. Managers are working to overcome these challenges with law enforcement through training law enforcement officers, as well as voluntary compliance approaches, such as conducting on-site stewardship programs led largely by volunteers, placing educational signage at sites, and highlighting alternative areas to walk dogs. The early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. increased dog walking on beaches and exacerbated the issue of non-compliance and lack of enforcement, while the capacity for educational and stewardship programs was also limited. We conclude by recommending that managers and biologists tackle non-compliance with multiple and concurrent strategies along a spectrum from enforcement to voluntary compliance techniques, while also better studying the efficacy of these approaches. We also highlight the importance of continuing to track the ongoing challenges to compliance with biodiversity conservation regulations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.