Ah, yes, the good folks at Maine Audubon are doing their best to make an alleged piping plover death at Pine Point Beach in July, 2013 into a disaster of Biblical proportions. In fact, the 2013 edition of their Piping Plover and Least Tern Newsletter is headlined: “The Year of the Dog: Maine Piping Plovers Overcome Challenges in 2013.”
To quote from the story: “The biggest news of the season is the unfortunate death of a plover fledgling caused by an unleashed dog on Pine Point Beach in Scarborough…” Lest you wonder where they stand on the issue of off-leash dogs on beaches, “Maine Audubon encourages towns to ban dogs on beaches throughout plover season, or at very least, require dogs to be leashed during the plover season [emphasis added].” You will recall that “plover season” runs from April 1 through September 15. So feel free to enjoy playing and swimming with your dog on the beach after the spring and summer are over.
It’s only in the last paragraph of the lead story that Maine Audubon finally gets around to sharing a bit of good news: “In sum, Piping Plovers successfully fledged 85 chicks on Maine’s beaches in 2013, a whopping 21 more fledglings than last year.” In fact, though Audubon doesn’t mention it, there were more chicks fledged in 2013 than in any year since 2002. A less cynical presentation of the year in review might have been headlined: “Plovers have best year since 2002,” rather than vilifying man’s best friend.
But Maine Audubon has a generous side as well. In the same vein as Councilor Donovan suggesting that owners take their dogs to Old Orchard Beach for off-leash time in the summer, Audubon’s Newsletter provides a short list of spots “where pets and their owners can enjoy the outdoors together.” Two of the locations are dog parks (don’t get me started on dog parks!) and three are Scarborough Land Trust properties. How magnanimous of Maine Audubon to offer the Land Trust’s properties! (My email to Scarborough Land Trust inquiring about their policy on off-leash dogs hasn’t been responded to.)
So, according to Maine Audubon, piping plovers overcame challenges in 2013. And in the 2012 Newsletter last year the headline was “Plovers persevere despite a challenging year.” Those little guys sure face a lot of challenges! Hey, guess what, Audubon? It’s been a challenging year for dogs and their owners in Scarborough, too!
Let’s also hang a few numbers on this discussion just for a bit of perspective. Here’s a graphic presentation of Scarborough’s dog and piping plover populations:
Today’s Town Hall Riddle: When is an ordinance not an ordinance?
I don’t believe I was the only one scratching my head when last week’s Council agenda was released and the proposed new animal control ordinance appeared broken up into a resolution and an ordinance. Although I am not a student of parliamentary procedure, I found the explanation of why the Council was taking this novel approach completely unconvincing. Something about ordinances not lending themselves to graphics or maps, was it? Huh? Where do the Town’s Charter or the Council’s rules say that an ordinance must be graphics-free? (I always thought resolutions were for ceremonial and non-binding sort of things. You know, like making April “Piping Plover Month” in Scarborough.)
Far be it from me to question the motives of the esteemed Council, but one can only imagine why this resolution/ordinance format was employed. As if the proposed Sanctuary Beach solution isn’t already complicated enough. And what mischief could possibly be created by a Town official having carte blanche authority to declare a “plover emergency”?
I don’t know the answers to the following questions, but wish I did:
1. Has the Town ever used this linked resolution/ordinance format before?
2. Has any Maine municipality ever used this approach?
3. Did the Town attorney review this approach for possible drawbacks?
4. What did she say about it?
5. When one goes to look up the new regulations, where do they go? (The ordinance piece will be with the other ordinances on the Town website. But where will the resolution piece be found? In the minutes of the meeting? Seems like a bizarre way to research a regulation.)
And speaking of piping plover emergencies, here’s one…
That’s probably not the sort of emergency the Council is envisioning. They’re probably thinking of something more along the lines of a chick “going missing.” Sort of an Amber Alert for the little guys.
It’s very easy to imagine a scenario where, say, a chick from a nest at the end of Higgins Beach near the Spurwink River doesn’t show up for Audubon’s roll call some morning. “Oh, oh!!! Missing chick!!! Call the Town Piping Plover Coordinator! Level 5 Piping Plover Emergency! Close the rest of Higgins Beach for a few days while we organize a search party. No dogs until further notice. Humans only with a pass signed by a beach-resident Councilor.”
Of course the little guy’s disappearance was probably a result of him having become a tasty (but not very filling) snack for a fox, skunk or gull, but what the heck. At least it will get the dogs off the beach. And that, it seems, is all that really matters.
A final thought on Maine Audubon and dogs…
I confess to being a bit surprised by the sharpness of Maine Audubon’s public communications singling out of dogs as a major threat to piping plover success. Maine Audubon knows as well as you and I that dogs are near the bottom of the plovers’ threat list. Yet they portray dogs as a major villain to the species.
At some point – and perhaps we’re very close now – Maine Audubon members who are also dog owners may think twice about renewing their membership in an organization that is so clearly anti-dog. Considering that there are around 200,000 dog-owning households in the state, Maine Audubon’s stridence on the dogs/plovers issue could well have a negative impact on their membership level.
Until next time, peace.