Promoting recreation and preserving wildlife are often dual missions for land managers, yet recreation may impact wildlife. Because individual disturbances are seemingly inconsequential, it is difficult to convince the public that there is a conservation value to restricting recreation to reduce disturbance. We studied threatened western snowy plovers (Charadrius alexandrinus nivosus) at a public beach (Sands Beach, Coal Oil Point Reserve) in Santa Barbara, California (USA) before and during a period when a barrier directed foot traffic away from a section of upper beach where snowy plovers roost. The barrier reduced disturbance rates by more than half. Snowy plovers increased in abundance (throughout the season) and their distribution contracted to within the protected area. Snowy plovers that were outside the protected area in the morning moved inside as people began using the beach. Experiments with quail eggs indicated an 8% daily risk of nest trampling outside the protected area. Before protection, plovers did not breed at Coal Oil Point. During protection, snowy plovers bred in increasing numbers each year and had high success at fledging young. These results demonstrate how recreational disturbance can degrade habitat for shorebirds and that protecting quality habitat may have large benefits for wildlife and small impacts to recreation. ?? Springer 2006.