Friends, the Councilors are once again testing the gullibility of the people of Scarborough. First there was the totally one-sided report of the Ad Hoc Animal Control Advisory Committee. Then the Council had the February 19 workshop where they made noises about maintaining off-leash time for dogs during the summer months. Then at the March 5 workshop Councilor Donovan outlined a “compromise” that eliminates all off-leash time for dogs on large swaths of the beaches from April 1 through at least Labor Day and will very likely eliminate all off-leash time on entire beaches from mid-May through Labor Day… depending upon the presence of the Sacred Bird. Councilor Donovan’s proposal is nothing less than the Chabot sanctuary beaches proposal dressed up with confusing complexities and self-serving contingencies.
Words matter! A “compromise” is produced when each side on an issue gives up something. In this case, the bird extremists/anti-dog crowd have given up absolutely nothing from the current ordinance. There was nothing there for them to give. Instead, those of us who have enjoyed exercising our dogs on the beautiful Scarborough beaches (many for decades) are being told that the Sacred Bird has priority and we must change accordingly. Basically no more off-leash hours in the summer and new restrictions in the winter as well. The dog people were the only ones who gave. This was not a compromise!
(Some have argued that this is a “compromise” because the bird extremists weren’t successful in getting the beaches completely closed to dogs from April 1 through September 30 – their preferred solution. So they gave up some of what they wanted. But that’s very different from giving up some of what they already have. In fact, the dog owners were the only ones who gave up anything. So the Donovan proposal does not reflect a compromise, just a statement of how badly dog owners are getting screwed.)
The devil, as always, is in the details.
You have to love some of the finer points of the Donovan faux-compromise:
· Bird monitoring – One of the main contingency complexities of the proposal is that non-protected (i.e., sanctuary) portions of the beaches will be closed as soon as one of the Sacred Birds plunks his or her feathery little butt down across certain lines in the sand. And guess who will be monitoring said butt plunking? Yes, indeed, the Mses. Chabot and LaCasse, ably assisted by a platoon of volunteers from the bird extremist army (Audubon). Sure, they’ll be impartial and unbiased observers. That’s like having the fox guard the chicken coop. Or, in this case, the plover nest.
· Real beach closure dates – So, given the very high likelihood that a chick will be “spotted” by Audubon on each of the beaches at the earliest possible opportunity, what are the realistic dates for which the ENTIRE BEACH will lose off-leash time? Well, the US Fish & Wildlife Service’s 1994 Guidelines for Managing Recreational Activities in Piping Plover Breeding Habitat… (1994) notes that “flightless chicks may be present from mid-May until late August, although most fledge by the end of July.” (p. 4). So, please do not be surprised when all of Higgins, all of Ferry and most of Pine Point beaches prohibit off-leash dogs from May 15 through September 1.
· Just where is Ferry Beach? – Although it’s not noted in the written description, in his comments at the March 5 workshop, Councilor Donovan made reference to the north end of Ferry Beach, that is, beyond the boathouses and away from the parking area, as being available to off-leash dogs at all times during the summer. Trouble is, that chunk of beach beyond the boathouses doesn’t belong to the Town. That piece of beach along Black Rock Road belongs to – wait for it – Prout’s Neck Country Club. You know, the same people who own Western Beach and have made it “NO DOGS ALLOWED from April 1 to September 30.” I’m not much of a betting man, but I’ll give very good odds on “Black Rock Beach” becoming “NO DOGS” very soon.
· Can you say “slippery slope”? – The complexity, contingencies, moving dates, moving lines, bird sighting standards/responsibility (currently undefined) and beach closure communication protocols (also currently undefined) mean that the 2014 summer season will be utterly chaotic in terms of dog access. Here’s the prediction of a not particularly talented psychic: Around October of this year, the Council will decide that, despite heroic efforts on everyone’s part, the revised animal control ordinance was just too cumbersome. And so for 2015, we’ll have to go to a simpler approach – no dogs from April 1 through Labor Day. Wanna bet?
This is the time of year when maple trees are tapped for their sap and vast quantities of the stuff are boiled down into maple syrup. In fact, it takes about 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of maple syrup. That’s a lot of boiling down. So let’s boil down the facts about the current piping plover protection hysteria…
When you get right down to it, there is only a single fallacy that has been driving the entire dog/plover controversy for the last eight months – reasonably controlled off-leash dogs and piping plovers cannot coexist on our beaches. That’s simply not true. Experience shows it’s not true.
“Science” did not determine that piping plovers and reasonably controlled off-leash dogs cannot coexist on our beaches – the four hand-picked anti-dog members of the AHACAC made that determination.
In fact, if “Statistics,” that highly regarded patriarch of the “Science” family had been consulted, this entire discussion should have been short-lived. There are reams of data, much of it ginned out by the bird extremists themselves, citing the threats associated with piping plover mortality and productivity. High on the lists of threats are weather, tides, crows, gulls, skunks, foxes, minks, and on and on. Dogs rank extremely low on the list, yet they have been singled out as the villain in the plover recovery narrative. (See Maine Audubon’s 2013 Piping Plover and Least Tern Newsletter to see in what low esteem Audubon holds dog owners. Much more on this in a subsequent posting.)
Remember, in more than thirty years of record keeping, Audubon has come up with two possible incidents involving dogs, neither of which has been convincingly documented. Compare this to the tens of thousands of off-leash hours that dog owners have enjoyed with their dogs during that same time period. Compare it to the hundreds of chicks and eggs that have been lost to tides, weather and real predators. The odds of a dog killing a piping plover on a Scarborough beach are right up there with me winning Megabucks. And yet “Science” decrees that piping plovers and off-leash dogs cannot be on the same beach? Time to boil some more sap and get down to the real truth.
Western Beach Update
At about 7am on Monday (March 10) I was checking on the progress of the dredge/”renourishment” project at Western Beach. To do this, I confess I briefly breached the yellow tape that marks the “construction zone.” For this minor infraction I was rewarded with two bird sightings.
First, a couple of dozen common sandpipers doing their usual dance with the remnants of the waves at the ever-moving intersection of sea and land. (I wonder, can anyone without an advanced degree in avian science possibly distinguish between a Sacred Bird (piping plover) and a common sandpiper at 200 feet? Especially without binoculars.)
Second, sitting placidly atop a snow-fence post was a snowy owl. He or she seemed utterly unconcerned by the passage of man and dog. Actually, I think he was scoping out the area in terms of plover habitat in the next month or two. Perhaps thinking that this would be an ideal spot to score a plover omelet. (Now won’t that be a tough choice for Those Who Control Nature – what if a snowy owl sets up shop as a plover predator on Western Beach? TWCN don’t mind poisoning or shooting crows that pose a threat to the Sacred Bird, but a snowy owl? Now that would be the horns of a dilemma.)
Anyway. Birds aside, the dredge is in full swing. Lots of sand being pumped out of the channel and sprayed on to the beach where it will be neatly bulldozed into place. From which it will gradually be sucked back into the channel in the great rhythm of beach life. My only concern is whether the project will be completed on time. The bitter cold, snow and general storminess of February made that a very challenging time to dredge. And there are still considerable areas of the channel that need HMS Electrolux’s suctioning attention. One can only imagine the consternation that will result from the appearance of one of the Sacred Ones on any area beach before the last piece of PVC pipe is on a flatbed trailer headed back to Maryland. Panicky phone calls, crisis meetings, discussions of waivers from Scarborough to Falmouth (Maine Audubon) to Augusta (MDIFW) to Hadley, MA (USFWS) to Concord, MA (USACE) to Washington, DC. And you thought the Russian incursion into Ukraine was a crisis.
More next time…
In the meantime, the “Thought for the Day” that arrived in this morning’s email:
“So long as we have enough people in this country willing to fight for their rights, we’ll be called a democracy.” — Roger Baldwin
(I had never heard of Roger Baldwin. Turns out he was one of the founders of the American Civil Liberties Union.)