First Meeting of the AHACAC
The Ad Hoc Animal Control Advisory Committee (which is saddled with the entirely unsatisfactory acronym of “AHACAC”) had its first meeting at the entirely unsatisfactory time of 5:15 pm on Friday evening, December 27. The seven members and Town Manager Hall were joined by about ten interested members of the public.
After the meeting I realized that the Committee reminded me of another group… yes, that loveable bunch of sitcom castaways from the 1960s. Please don’t take this comparison the wrong way – I honestly mean it in a very flattering sense. The Committee members appear to be a diverse group of extremely talented and well-intentioned folks dedicated to a common goal: fixing what’s wrong – if anything – with Scarborough’s animal control ordinance. May the determination, resourcefulness and good humor that sustained those long-ago castaways also nurture the Committee in its efforts.
Unfortunately, despite their talents and good intentions, I’m afraid their biases with respect to “the problem” may lead some of them down the path for which they were hand-picked by Town officials to march. It was obviously not an accident that four of the seven members are very sympathetic to the slings and arrows to which our piping plover friends have long been subjected. And that sympathy clearly outweighs the traditional and reasonable enjoyment of our beaches by dog owners. I hope I am wrong and that a careful, fact-based and unbiased analysis of “the problem” will take place. And that the recommended solutions will fit the real problem.
AHACAC (Gesundheit!) Update
So, what happened at the meeting, you ask? Well, it was mostly a get-to-know-each-other sort of thing, as well as a setting up of procedures for going forward. But let me highlight three significant decisions/discussions:
1. Transparency will hinder the Committee’s work
The Committee appeared to understand the need for transparency to counteract the public skepticism surrounding their ability to make recommendations that reflect the will of the 73% of the voters who nixed the Council’s ordinance amendment. To address transparency, they started out with a proposal to take minutes and post them to the Town website. Town Manager Hall said that minutes would be of limited usefulness since they would only capture the bare bones of the meetings and could not be reviewed and published in a timeframe that would be useful to the public. Hall then confirmed that the meetings could be broadcast and/or videotaped just as Council meetings are. But that suggestion was ruled out because, according to one Committee member, it might inhibit frank discussions among members. (And if there’s one thing we don’t want, it’s the public to see frank discussions!) So back they went to essentially useless and untimely minutes being the general public’s access to the Committee’s deliberations.
As a result of Committee’s consensus, there are basically two ways you, Concerned Citizen, can keep up-to-date on the AHACAC’s work – you may attend in person or, for insightful analysis, sign up to follow this blog. By the way, meetings are currently scheduled for 6:30pm on January 6, 9 and 13.
2. Not enough time for public input
To those of you who were yearning for an open process with an opportunity for public interaction with the Committee as they craft their recommendations, sorry. It turns out there isn’t enough time to allow for that. (Well, maybe they’ll schedule one meeting for public input after they come up with their recommendations.) Fear not, however… your voice will be heard! A special Town email account will be set up for incoming suggestions. Many of you have already had experience with one-way emails to members of the Town Council, and you know how effective that was in many cases.
But why isn’t there enough time for legitimate public interaction with the Committee as they frame the problem and suggest solutions? Very simply, because we’re on the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s schedule. The Town has to act (i.e., amend its ordinance to prohibit any off-leash beach time for dogs during the summer) by the possible USFWS deadline of April 1, 2014. USFWS, in case you hadn’t noticed, is driving this entire absurdly-scheduled, outcome-biased process. Or, rather, USFWS is being used by certain Councilors as a pretext to enact long-desired limitations of dogs on beaches, regardless of public sentiment.
Speaking of being in a hurry, let’s not lose sight of one crucial point – the Town has still not seen the Maine Warden’s Service report on the alleged death of a piping plover chick on Pine Point Beach more than five months ago. No one knows the exact circumstances surrounding the incident. (I heard a new version of the story at the Committee meeting.) And why is it that the Town hasn’t seen the report? Because the USFWS Office of the Regional Solicitor in Hadley, MA won’t release it since it’s part of an “open investigation.” So — follow me closely here — the Town has to jump through ridiculous hoops to meet a possible USFWS deadline while the USFWS refuses to produce the key piece of evidence on the event that started this brouhaha. My head hurts.
3. About that Piping Plover Coordinator…
In June, 2012, the Town entered into a “Beach Management Agreement” with USFWS and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife for the 2012 through 2014 piping plover nesting seasons. One requirement of that agreement: “The position of piping plover coordinator shall be incorporated into Community Services Programs and funded as part of that budget for the period April 1 through August 31, annually.” Among the duties enumerated for the plover coordinator: “The piping plover coordinator will recruit and schedule volunteer monitors.” And: “The Coordinator will collect daily reports from volunteer monitors, compile data, and act as liaison with The Town and state officials.”
It turns out, according to Town Manager Hall, that there is no formal job description for the plover coordinator position. And no formal reports have been produced. In fact, the coordinator position appears to be more of the symbolic nature than the productive nature. It was merely a title added to an employee who already had a full-time position in Community Services.
The more I learn about the Town’s past commitment to piping plovers, the more I am convinced that we deserve that $12,000 fine from USFWS. Not because of the highly questionable link between a supposedly inadequate animal control ordinance and an unfortunate accidental death of a piping plover, but for sheer disregard of previous commitments to plover protection and encouragement measures. Historically, the Town has not made a good-faith effort to protect piping plovers.
The Next Meeting… Just what is “the problem”?
At Friday’s meeting, some members seemed anxious to dive right into “solutions” without giving much thought to “the problem.” Isn’t an accurate description of the problem a prerequisite to arriving at the correct solution?
Do we really have a problem with dogs and piping plovers? If so, how significant is the problem?
It’s not as if the Kiwanis Club has been holding an annual piping plover hunt every Memorial Day weekend with a cash prize for the biggest plover bagged. In fact, despite a marked lack of enforcement by the Town, Scarborough’s record with respect to dogs and plovers has been very good. In the 30 years that Audubon has been keeping records, there have been two possible plover takes associated with dogs: In 2003, USFWS states that an adult piping plover was killed on Pine Point Beach. According to an undated letter from USFWS to the Town in September, 2013, “the evidence suggested that this bird [in 2003], too, was killed by a dog.” That’s a fairly loose standard of culpability, isn’t it? “Suggested” evidence. So it might have been a dog. Or maybe a fox. Or perhaps a coyote. Whatever.
And then there’s the July 15, 2013 incident on Pine Point Beach. The incident for which no official report of any kind has yet been released to the public. At the time, you may recall that there were conflicting media reports on the incident. So what exactly happened? And when? Was it, in fact, a plover chick? And, if so, piping, semipalmated or black-bellied plover? Sorry, but I’m uncomfortable with the USFWS being both judge and jury for this incident.
So, there are two essentially unconfirmed reports of dogs taking plovers in 30 years. During which period there were probably tens of thousands of hours of off-leash dogs on the beaches. That’s not sounding like much of a problem. And shouldn’t any solutions be in proportion to the magnitude of the problem? Perhaps the Town should actually honor previously made commitments with respect to education, monitoring and enforcement before enacting unnecessary ordinance restrictions to which the voters are strongly opposed.
Happy New Year to All!
As 2013 draws to a close, New Year’s Eve celebrations will be the order of the day, from the very raucous to the very tame. Every year, television serves up a montage of massive fireworks displays from around the world as Father Time limps along his daily circuit of the time zones for the last time of the old year.
Apparently they are not shy about spectacular fireworks displays in the Bahamas, where many of our piping plover friends overwinter. (Links provided below.) I have always been very puzzled by the notion that plovers are particularly sensitive to fireworks and that fireworks cause a major disruption in their lives. I don’t understand how fireworks are even a tiny bit more disruptive than the thunderstorms that Mother Nature orchestrates on a fairly routine basis. Someday I’ll have to dig up the studies that demonstrate how fireworks are more damaging to the psyches of plovers than thunderstorms.
In the meantime, on New Year’s Eve I will be imagining Ned and Alice (piping plover band numbers A109-732 and G288-401) sitting on a beach in Bimini sipping rum-based drinks and enjoying a breathtaking fireworks display.
I wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!
Fireworks in the Bahamas:
Bahamas Fireworks on the Beach – Jan 1, 2012: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QmYXjgt0So
Bimini Fireworks on the Beach – Jan 1, 2012: http://bimini-bahamas.blogspot.com/2012/01/bimini-bahamas-new-years-eve-fireworks.html