Howdy, Pardner. You’re lookin’ mighty beat up. Another AHACAC meeting? That’s rough. Well, belly up to the bar and let me buy you a whiskey. Tell me all about it. Sometimes it helps just to talk about it…
“The Law is an ass…”
So famously said a Dickens’ character. Well, Councilor Donovan charged into Monday night’s meeting of the AHACAC riding on the law. With both guns blazing, figuratively speaking. He was insistent that the Town must comply with the Endangered Species Act. And who could argue with that?
Mr. Donovan is both the only lawyer and the only elected official on the Committee. One might have hoped that the combination of these two factors would have caused him to be an informative, helpful and conciliatory force at the meeting. Any such hopes would have been in vain.
Naturally I would have expected him to argue for his point of view. But couldn’t it have been presented in a modestly balanced manner – at least acknowledging that (1) the Endangered Species Act does not require dogs to be leashed on beaches when piping plovers are present, (2) that neither he nor the USFWS have the final say in interpreting “the law;” that’s the province of the courts, and (3) that an environmental lawyer from one of Maine’s most respected law firms (Pierce Atwood) came to a significantly different conclusion with respect to USFWS’s ability to require the Town to amend its animal control ordinance? (Have the Committee members even seen the Pierce Atwood assessment?)
But, no, Mr. Donovan chose to vigorously pursue his own agenda. I count that as an opportunity lost.
Blinded by Science?
And the blustering wasn’t limited to “the law.” On at least three occasions, Mr. Donovan referred to the “scientific studies” noted in “tabs 8 through 11” of the information packet he had provided to the Committee. These “studies” – “more than a dozen of them” – were supposed to support the notion that there can be no off-leash dogs on beaches during piping plover season.
A review of the so-called scientific studies didn’t occur at the meeting. Without watching the tape (which I refuse to do – sitting through it once was torture enough), I can’t say specifically why they weren’t challenged. I do know that Mses. Foley and Hodgkins were cut off on more than one occasion, and that Town Manager Hall was very deferential to Mr. Donovan, at one point lauding him as “a facts guy.”
In any event, the oft-referred-to “scientific studies” were pretty much a bunch of hokum, at least as they were presented to the Committee. Here are a couple of examples of the “studies” which Mr. Donovan included in tabs 8-11:
From tab 8, a 2006 USFWS publication on the threat posed by dogs and cats:
Note the unqualified statement that “Unleashed dogs chase birds, destroy nests and kill chicks.” Note that this is from “a 1993 study” – the title, author(s), peer-review status, publication, methodology and conclusions of which we are provided no information. Say no more; what could be more persuasive?.
Or from tab 11, an excerpt from a New Hampshire Fish and Game Department Wildlife Action Plan:
This one received a huge star from Mr. Donovan, never mind that cats are identified as the causes of plover deaths, while the dogs apparently inflicted no physical harm. And these anecdotes are from “unpublished data.” Somehow I don’t believe many legitimate scientists would consider this a valid study.
And then there’s a string of several “studies” identified with author name(s), a date and a 3-5 word summary, like “unleashed dogs may chase plovers” in tab 9. Granted, there may be some real science buried in some of the materials in Mr. Donovan’s tabs 8-11. If it is there, it certainly wasn’t obvious from what was distributed to the Committee.
Please don’t misunderstand me… I am not denying for one minute that uncontrolled off-leash dogs can be a legitimate threat to piping plovers. But I do believe that steps can be taken to ensure that off-leash dogs and piping plovers can co-exist on beaches if reasonable steps are taken in the areas of education, specific regulations and enforcement. And I didn’t see anything that scientifically demonstrates that leashing dogs is the gold standard (or best practice) for protecting piping plovers.
Thumbs Up and Down — briefly noted
To Dr. Ravin – for suggesting that the Committee look for ways to accommodate off-leash dogs on the beaches in a manner that protects piping plovers. How refreshing!
· To Prof. Perlut – for insisting that Tom Hall produce the promised, detailed documentation of the current activities of the Animal Control Officer and Piping Plover Coordinator. (Enforcement issues? What enforcement issues?)
· To Ms. Foley – for summarizing five years of Maine Audubon Society data that demonstrates just how miniscule a “threat” dogs are to piping plovers
. To Ms. Hodgkins – for pointing out the absurdity of restricting hundreds of dog owners from Pine Point Beach because of a couple of birds.
· To Prof. Perlut – for providing a no-holds-barred glimpse into the sex lives of piping plovers. Who knew the little guys were such randy devils?
To the entire Committee – for including skunks, foxes, etc. in the “feral animal” category.
· To Tom Hall – for arranging to have the Committee meetings videotaped when the clear agreement at the first meeting was that they would be tape recorded.
· To Ms. LaCasse – for dismissing out-of-hand the possibility of having different rules for different beaches depending upon the specific beach’s piping plover activity as “just complicating things.”
As you know, Courteous Reader, I do my best to deliver extraordinary value with each posting to this blog. Part of that steadfast commitment to providing you with the best information available concerning the beaches of Scarborough is sharing information you will probably not see elsewhere.
For instance… at the Monday evening meeting, there was passing reference made to Federal, State or local “predator control” measures, such as trapping animals that threaten a protected species. If memory serves, it was presented with the historic perspective that some critters had been trapped and relocated from Western Beach. Sounds humane enough, right?
Today’s free bonus nugget: In August, 2013, Prouts Neck Association, the Town of Scarborough, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Maine Department signed a Beach Management Agreement for Western Beach. Section IV. E. of that agreement addresses predator control. “Lethal and [emphasis added] nonlethal predator removal from nesting areas is a necessary component of piping plover and least tern management.” The agreement specifically empowers MIDFW to “conduct piping plover management activities on Western Beach.” This probably won’t be a good year to be a fox or crow on Prouts Neck.
OK, Friends, time to put away the ol’ spittoon and rest up for Thursday evening’s meeting at 6:30pm. I hope to see you there! (I’ll be the one with wearing the Stetson.) In the meantime, please remember to share this blog your friends, relatives and neighbors. And click “Follow” at the above right to be notified of the next exciting installment of Matt Batterson, LCP, Frontier Psychologist. Coming soon!