Author Archives: Site Author

New Dog Restrictions Bomb on Scarborough Beaches

Plovers Rebound!  Dogs Exonerated!

dogblog--snoopy-woodstockOK, folks, the 2014 piping plover results are in. I know you’ve been waiting on the edges of your seats! Turns out it was a decent year overall for piping plovers all along the Maine coast. In fact, as I’m sure the Audubon headline will tout, the most chicks fledged since 2001! Huzzah.

It’s only when you look at the detail of plover activity and productivity on local beaches that some very startling results appear. Audubon, USFWS and MDIFW hope you don’t bother to look that closely at the numbers. But, smart consumer of plover information that you are, you will now look at what the bird extremists don’t want you to know…


Here are a few of the observations about the local experience that jump out at us:

• Scarborough State Park Beach – a State-owned facility with a total NO DOGS policy – appears to have had the absolute worst results of any beach in the State… five plover pairs making six nest attempts and not producing a single fledged chick! This has to be a record for bad performance.  That’s right, no dogs and horrible plover performance.

• Old Orchard Beach – which is often held out as the bad boy of bird protection because of its welcoming policy toward canines and their owners – was slightly above the overall State-wide productivity result with 2.0 fledged chicks per adult pair compared to the State average of 1.94. (Interestingly, a footnote on the Audubon report states that some of the chicks hatched at Pine Point were “largely reared on OOB.” Apparently the plover parents weren’t all that concerned about the OOB dogs.)  OOB summary — dog friendly, good plover results.

• As predicted by yours truly (no humility here!), there was no nesting activity on Ferry/Western Beach. Most of Ferry/Western is, of course, dog-free… even well after the plover season ends. Whether the lack of plover activity was a result of Phase 1 of the “beach renourishment” project, or just because it’s crappy plover habitat to begin with, only the plovers know. And we all know how reticent they are. On the plus side, we’ve heard about some excellent rounds being played this summer at the Prouts Neck Country Club…

Armed with the above observations, a budding eco-biologist might conclude that piping plover success is inversely proportional to the degree of restrictions on dogs. That is, the fewer restrictions on dog activity on the beach, the better the piping plover population does. Ahh, Science!  Maybe I’ll write this up for the Audubon Monthly.

We hope you will take a few minutes to review the data yourself. Click here for the Audubon spreadsheet  — unless they decide to pull it because it’s not telling the right story.  When you look at the data, it’s very clear that dog restrictions have nothing to do with piping plover success.

Bottom line: Needless, perhaps even counterproductive, dog restrictions.  Lots of unhappy people.  Piping plover results that are unrelated to dog restrictions.

Remember the Year of the Dog?

Yes, of course you do! Maine Audubon proclaimed 2013 as “the Year of the Dog” to gin up anti-dog sentiment after the (still!) alleged take of a piping plover by a dog at Pine Point in July, 2013. Despite all the data that clearly demonstrate that dogs barely register on the list of plover predators, Audubon made dogs public enemy number one of “the little guys.” It was not one of Audubon’s finest hours.

dogblog--atv

So, what about 2014? We only heard about two incidents involving the demise of little guys this season. One at the hands (beak?) of a seagull. And one being pulverized by an OOB beach patrol ATV. (The report on this incident is probably locked in the same drawer down in USFWS’s Hadley, MA office as the report on the alleged 2013 Pine Point “take.”) In any event, we will be waiting patiently for Audubon’s spin on 2014. My guess is that “Year of the Killer Gull” and “Lethal Weapon IV – ATV of Death“ will not be the headlines.

Piping Plover Monitor Program

dogblog-Yosemite-Sam

We hear that one of the Higgins Beach plover monitors is a shoo-in for this year’s “Monitor of the Year Award.” Her grace and finesse in dealing with the public was legendary. The final results won’t be announced until the annual Association meeting to be held in mid-September at a Harmons Island estate.  We’ll let you know when it’s official.

 


 Until next time, enjoy the beach with your dog(s)!  And be neighborly!

PLOVERS REBOUND!!! …or do they? And if so, why?

New Epidemic Traced to Piping Plovers

dogblog--mental health

An epidemic of delusional back-patting syndrome is challenging physicians and staff at southern Maine medical centers. Bird extremists are being admitted to area hospitals at an alarming rate as they take credit for what is at best a modest improvement in the piping plover population on Maine beaches this summer. The psychiatric aspect of the epidemic, however, arises from the belief by many of the sufferers that the changes in the dog ordinance in Scarborough are somehow responsible for any improvement in plover numbers.

Dr. Moe Howard, head of the Self-Congratulatory Injuries Service at Spurwink Medical Center, said that he has never seen back-patting undertaken with such self-righteous intensity. “Some of these patients have experienced significant vertebral trauma, and I have even seen a couple of mild fractures,” said Howard. His colleague, Dr. Lawrence Fine, has dealt with the psychiatric

The doctors in consultation.

The doctors in consultation.

manifestations of the syndrome. “Many of these folks actually believe that the Scarborough ordinance changes directly resulted in improved plover nesting activity when the observed data support no such conclusion,” Fine noted. “Unfortunately, this is a phenomenon we are seeing more frequently as people are swayed by organized misinformation campaigns conducted by unscrupulous individuals and organizations,” said Fine. “These bogus claims can be especially damaging when they are unrefuted,” added Dr. Curlwin Fine, SMC’s chief of Neurodelusional Psychoses.

Facts are our friends

dogblog--man behind curtain

Hidden camera photo taken inside Audubon headquarters.

OK, it’s early summer. Time for strawberries. Fried clams. And piping plovers. Though not all in the same meal, please. [Just kidding! Geesh, doesn’t anyone have a sense of humor anymore?]

But seriously… it’s time to clear the air on the current piping plover situation. To read the press accounts, you would think that 2014 is to piping plovers what 2004 was to the Red Sox – a long-awaited miracle. It is not so, gentle reader! Despite the Audubon spin machine being throttled up to warp velocity, the current statewide piping plover population is almost identical to last year’s and still way below historic highs. And, more importantly, there is not the slightest shred of evidence that Scarborough’s newly restrictive dog ordinance is in any way related to the miniscule improvement.

As we have in the past, let’s look at the facts. The facts are our friends. Indeed In many places, facts are used as a basis for developing regulations, laws and ordinances. Just not here in Scarborough.  But I digress.

So here are a few facts, gathered from that authority on all things piping plover, the great and powerful Maine Audubon Society:

  • In a story about the miraculous plover season of 2014 in the July 4 issue of The Leader, noted plover authority Town Councilor William Donovan is quoted as saying “There are dogblog-ppls at beachmore plovers than people can remember on our beaches.” Well, the same article notes that there are a total of four nesting pairs on Scarborough beaches this year. My, my, you would have to go back all the way to 2011 – yes, three whole years ago – for the last time there were four nesting pairs on Scarborough beaches! Apparently people have short memories.
  • The same article also has this nice summary of the current statewide plover population: “Overall across the state, there are 45 piping plover pairs and 87 piping plover chicks.” According to Audubon’s 2013 Piping Plover and Least Tern Newsletter, the 2013 count was 44 pairs and 85 fledglings. Where I come from (SoPo), sounds like 2013 and 2014 are pretty much a dead heat. And well below the statewide record of 66 pairs in 2002.  (Please recall that in 2002 off-leash dogs were the rule; somehow, off-leash dogs and the little guys coexisted quite nicely back then. ) So let’s take off the rose-colored glasses when presenting 2014 plover statistics.
  • Also mentioned in The Leader article is the current plover population of Old Orchard Beach at four nesting pairs. What is not mentioned is the historical context of the OOB number. This is the largest number of nesting pairs ever recorded at OOB. Previouslydogblog--oob, the record was two pairs calling OOB home (in 1997 and 2013). And from 2010 to 2012 there were no nesting pairs. Why is this important? Well, this spring the Old Orchard Beach Town Council told the US Fish and Wildlife Service just what they thought of the Service’s piping plover “guidelines.” It boiled down to: “take a hike.” So OOB continues to have significant off-leash time from Memorial Day to Labor Day and no “restricted areas.” And yet their piping plover population is thriving. Perhaps off-leash dogs encourage plover nesting by providing an effective and natural deterrent to the real plover predators, like crows, gulls, foxes and raccoons. Now there’s a thought.

Dredge Update

“Beach nourishment” can be a lot like sausage-making.

It takes a strong stomach and a hearty sense of humor to be able to read the recent batch of stories about USFWS’s dithering on whether or not to allow a resumption of the Scarborough harbor dredging project. First, you have to accept the notion that the project is all about creating suitable habitat for the Sacred Bird. Horse hockey!

The project is really about having a safe channel for marine interests, both commercial and recreational. If this maintenance dredging isn’t done every ten years or so, there will be no channel or harbor. The secondary purpose of the project (for reasons still not clear to me) is reinforcing the shoreline at Western Beach so that the Prouts Neck Country Club golf course will not be washed into the Atlantic Ocean. Western Beach, as you will recall, is owned by Prouts Neck Country Club, a private entity. Creation of suitable piping plover “habitat” is a distant third of the reasons for doing the dredge. There is very little of Western Beach that will ever be suitable habitat, as is demonstrated by the history of plovers steering clear of it for many of the last 30+ years. In fact, the plover habitat creation is basically a convenient diversion so the public won’t be tempted to question why the Town is so gung ho to have Western Beach “renourished.”

Here’s a sentence from a June 15 Portland Press Herald article: “If wildlife officials don’t readily allow the beach-replenishing plan to continue, [Town Manager] Hall said, the Army Corps could decide to barge the sand out to sea, as it often does, and the town would lose an opportunity to refurbish Western Beach, much of which has washed away in recent years.” Almost sounds like Western Beach belongs to the Town, doesn’t it? Why is the Town so concerned about a private beach?

And speaking of USFWS dithering, when do you think they’ll come to a conclusion on the settlement agreement with the Town on the pending fine? This summer? Next year? Never?

Don't hold your breath!

Don’t hold your breath!

Based on comments from USFWS and Town officials, it’s anybody’s guess. At the moment, USFWS is “conducting an internal investigation” as to the adequacy of Scarborough’s new dog restrictions. According to the July 4 article in The Leader: “Spokesperson Meagan Racey said the service hopes to release the result of the investigation within the next few weeks, but could be pushed back if more immediate issues arise.” I see, sometime in the next couple of months… unless something more pressing comes up. Doesn’t sound like a high priority, does it?

In the “I-gotta-see-this” Department

Can't wait until the beach "renourishment" starts up again this fall!

Can’t wait until the beach “renourishment” starts up again this fall. But that sand color! Oh my!

In a June letter from USFWS to the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) grudgingly allowing the dredge project to resume in the fall, USFWS makes the point that the sand deposited on Western Beach in phase one of the dredge project didn’t match the existing sand on the beach in either color or consistency. Oh my! We all know how finicky the little guys are about their sand! This will never do. And, in order to continue the charade that the dredge is all about the Sacred Bird, we will honor their highly-refined aesthetic sand sensibilities. In fact, according to the June 26 Portland Press Herald article: “Army corps officials have promised that the remaining dredged materials will match.” I cannot wait to see the equipment and/or process that will color and re-size the sand that gets dredged up this fall so that it matches the current beach. That is going to be awesome! I hope the little guys will appreciate the engineering marvels that are going into this project.

The Year of the Gull?

As you may recall, Maine Audubon dubbed 2013 as “The Year of the Dog” to commemorate dogblog--seagullthe alleged killing of a piping plover by a dog on Pine Point Beach that July.  So far, the only plover mortality I have heard about this year (and I can’t independently confirm it) is one of the little guys being eaten by a gull.  What are the chances Audubon is working on a story highlighting 2014 as “The Year of the Gull?”  Probably not.  [Note to the local gull population:  Watch your backs.  Those guys that look like sharpshooters behind the beach… well, nuf said.]

A quick final note

A July 1 story in the Bangor Daily News about the US Fish & Wildlife Service giving its blessing to a continuation of the Scarborough harbor dredge project this fall attributes this to Ryan Wynne, Scarborough’s piping plover coordinator: “There are no nesting piping plovers on Western and Ferry beaches, but Wynne said piping plovers from other beaches often come to Western and Ferry to forage.” Hmm, I’ve spent a fair amount of time at Ferry/Western this year and haven’t yet seen a plover there, foraging or otherwise. (In fact, when I was there on the 4th, the only foraging birds I saw on the beach were a couple of crows… perhaps looking for those foraging plovers.)  I’ll follow up on the facts behind the assertion that piping plovers often visit Western/Ferry beaches when they’re feeling a bit peckish; I’ll report back in the next update.


dogblog--gromit2

Until next time — enjoy summer with your dog(s) on the little strips of beaches we haven’t been chased off.  Yet.

BULLETIN: Part of Ferry Beach Closed to Dogs

dogblog--ferry closed

Yet another broadside has been fired in the war on dogs on Scarborough’s beaches. This time, a couple weeks after a portion of Higgins Beach was closed to both dogs and people, a large chunk of what many people consider to be Ferry Beach has been closed to dogs.

The closure of the additional beach area to dogs – leashed or not – is the doing of the Prouts Neck Country Club (“PNCC”). As you will recall, Western Beach, which is contiguous to Ferry Beach, is owned by the good folks of PNCC. They put the “No Dogs All Summer” sign up at Western Beach last year. The policy and sign were probably part of the deal with US Fish and Wildlife Service (“USFWS”) to get the sand from the harbor dredge deposited on the beach in a manner that would protect their golf course from losing a couple of holes to Old Man Tide.

Late last week, new signs went up in the middle of what most folks consider to be Ferry Beach. It turns out that PNCC’s beachfront property is more extensive than what many of us blithely assumed. A review of the Town’s tax maps shows that PNCC owns the beach (at least to the high water mark) for 750’ or so northeast of Ferry Rock.

The new sign that went up on Ferry Beach last week.

The new sign that went up in the middle of Ferry Beach last week.

Signs 1 & 2 are new.  Sign 3 was in place last year.

Signs 1 & 2 are new. Sign 3 was in place last year.  (Source: Town of Scarborough tax map; Gruntfuttock Grafix)

So PNCC was inspired this year to expand their “no dogs” area by another 750’ of beach. Which, coincidentally, is pretty close to the “protected area” that the Ad Hoc Animal Control Advisory Committee had defined on what we all thought was Ferry Beach. So apparently the AHACAC was trying to establish regulations for land the Town didn’t even control. In any event, the relentless crusade to transform Scarborough beaches into sanctuary beaches rolls on.  Higgins and Ferry have now been partially sanctuarized… can Pine Point be far behind?

Dredge Update

As I pointed out a few weeks back in “Dredging Up the Dirt,” there will undoubtedly be large incremental costs involved with stopping the dredge project as of March 31 and then restarting it after the conclusion of piping plover season (April 1 through September 15, according to USFWS). Costs which could have been avoided if the dredge completion deadline had been extended a few weeks into plover season.

At the time, I wondered aloud what the size of the taxpayers’ tab would be for preserving the option of plover nesting on Western Beach by stopping and restarting the dredge project. (Remember, none of the “little guys” honored Western Beach with their presence for the last two seasons.) Surely there is a cost at which even the most ardent bird advocate would say “Oh my, that’s too much to spend just on the possibility that a plover would nest here.”

Silly me! There is no such dollar limit! And that, gentle readers, is the nub of this whole problem – the Endangered Species Act fails to provide any commonsense balance in the efforts to preserve and promote threatened species. The only time a USFWS action gets overridden is when it is so egregious that public outcry gets a US Senator or Representative to intervene. (See the recent Camp Ellis jetty experience, for example.) So perhaps if we had a Town Council that actually represented the citizens of the Town, Washington officials could have been persuaded to call the USFWS dogs off (to use a poor choice of words). Oh, well.

In our current situation at Western Beach, I understand that the US Army Corps of Engineers, who are conducting the dredge project, have not even calculated the additional costs associated with the dredge stop/restart. So clearly cost could not have been one of the elements weighed in the decision to stop the project as of March 31. All that mattered was the unlikely possibility that a plover might arrive. And for this possibility, no cost was too great.

[A footnote: As of this writing on April 21, I do not believe a piping plover has been sighted on Western Beach.]

Western Beach “Nourishment” Update

After NALCO, the dredge contractor, was ushered out of town in early April, a rather unbeachlike pile of sand was left on Western Beach. Curiously, or perhaps not so, the dredged sand had been deposited right at the spot on the beach where tidal erosion has historically most affected the golf course. In any event, the pile of dredged sand sure didn’t look like attractive plover habitat.

The sand pile at Western Beach as the dredge ended.

The sand pile at Western Beach as the dredge ended in late March.

Today, April 21, 2014, Gorham Sand & Gravel was hard at work leveling the sand pile into a more gently sloped form.  Let us hope that the resulting landscape receives the Good Scratchkeeping Seal of Approval(1).

Putting the final touches on "beach nourishment."

Putting the final touches on “beach nourishment.”

A final note about “beach nourishment” in general. That terminology has always bugged me. (And I will readily admit to being easily bugged.) It just sounds so Disney-esque. Like a platoon of pixies will be flitting in and dispensing little bursts of magic, vitamin-fortified sand. When, in fact, beach nourishment consists of huge, diesel-powered machinery messing with tons of sand and in the process wreaking havoc with the “natural” beach ecosystem. It’s really not that pretty a sight.

(1) This was a feeble attempt at plover humor. A ‘scratch” is what a piping plover’s nest – such as it is – is known as. I know, I know; when you have to explain a joke, it ain’t that funny. But I couldn’t help myself. Sorry.

Thank you!

I can’t say this often enough – thanks to all of you who read, comment on, follow and share this blog! And thanks also for the many kind words of encouragement. It is heartening to know that so many people share the concern for continuing fair and reasonable access to Scarborough’s beautiful beaches. Thank you!

 

 

Audubon Proclaims “Year of the Dog”

dogblog--year of the dog

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!

.

dogblog--cartoonThanks to Donna Wilson for this spot-on summary of “best practices” in beach management.

.

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:

dogblog--dogs-ppl-chartAnd let’s not forget – there are human beings that go along with all those dogs. Rarely have so many been so restricted for so few.

.

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…

dogblog--plover emergency

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.

dogblog--poetry contestPoetry contest deadline extended until April 27!

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.

dogblog--public hearing[Editor’s note: You can’t imagine how much restraint it took not to put a different image here. But as you know, “dignified” is our watchword here at ScarboroughBeachesAlert.com.]

Until next time, peace.

BULLETIN — Closure of Part of Higgins Beach

dogblog--higgins closedYes, indeed, the eastern end of Higgins Beach is now officially closed. Not just to off-leash dogs. Not just to leashed dogs. But to us good ol’ human beings as well. Yup… BEACH CLOSED.

On or about April 4, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (“MDIFW”) staked off the eastern end of the beach and installed “No Trespassing” signs. No dates were specified so one can only assume that this piece of beach has permanently entered “Sanctuary Beach” status.

031Admittedly it is not a large portion of the beach. And it is State property. Although as State residents and taxpayers, shouldn’t we have some say in the matter? Or at least get notice that this was going to happen? No, that’s not the way MDIFW works. Like the US Fish and Wildlife Service on the Federal level, MDIFW is a law unto itself. It is, you must remember, all about the birds.

The Bird Extremist’s Continuum of “Beach Management”

Now at least part of Higgins Beach has reached the goal the bird extremists have for ALL our beaches.

So now all that talk of a “slippery slope” seems a bit more real, doesn’t it? Last year we saw privately-owned Western Beach become no-dogs-all-summer, apparently as part of the beach nourishment/golf course protection deal. Now a chunk of Higgins Beach is closed to all. Chalk up another one for the bird extremists.

It will be interesting to see what steps MDIFW takes on Scarborough Beach, the majority of which is State-owned property. Or perhaps they’ve already closed it and I just don’t know about it…

Poetry Contest Announced

dogblog--bullwinkle-poetry

.

 .

[Editor’s note: Given the highly creative and literate leanings of many of this blog’s readers, we are pleased to offer this outlet for those talents.]

 

Robert Frost famously wrote: “Good fences make good neighbors.” Well, maybe. Some Scarborough residents might take issue with that sentiment. Nevertheless, to celebrate “good fences” and the arrival of spring, ScarboroughBeachesAlert.com is pleased to announce our first contest for readers. We are looking for the best limerick on the theme “The $8,000 Fence.”

The Grand Prize is an email subscription to the Maine Audubon Society’s “News and Notes” and a copy of my email to former Town Councilor Judy Roy that earned me a stiff rebuke.  (Based on her public comment at the last Council meeting, one might speculate that Ms. Roy is at the beginning of a quest to join the Council again.  Do we need another Councilor who values MDIFW/USFWS guidelines over the voice of the people?  But I digress.)

Entries must be in standard limerick form, be suitable for family reading and be free of libelous content. Entries should be submitted to tthannah@yahoo.com and are due by 5pm on April 15. The decision of the judges is final. No purchase necessary. Residents of New Mexico may not participate. All entries become the property of CloudMedia LLC. Rules and deadline subject to change.

dogblog--coming attractions

Stay tuned for the next exciting chapter. Topics will include:

• The Year of the Dog
• Ordinance or Resolution – You Decide
• Western Beach Project Update
• Are You Prepared for a Plover Emergency? Five Things You Should Know.

 

 

Dredging Up The Dirt

dredge bannerSCARBOROUGH FISHERMEN MAY BE GROUNDED BY PIPING PLOVERS

Hard to believe, but true: the Sacred Bird, aka the piping plover, is holding up the Scarborough River dredging project. First, a brief review of the salient facts:

  •  The dredging project is running behind schedule. Contributing factors have been a late start due to contract approval issues, brutal weather and equipment problems. (There is also a hint of a suggestion that the contractor hasn’t been working hard or long enough on the project. Having seen them at work at all hours of the day, seven days a week, and in all sorts of inhumane weather, I personally discount that suggestion.)
  •  The project contract and Maine DEP permit require that the work be completed by March 31.
  • Why March 31? You already know the answer to that question… That’s the date that USFWS and MDIFW specify as the beginning of piping plover season.
  • Since the project will not be completed by the hard deadline of March 31, the US Army Corps of Engineers is evaluating how best to schedule the completion of the project – either this fall or after the beginning of 2015 (while the Sacred Bird is catching its breath in the Bahamas).

dogblog-cost per bird

Pampering Piper Plovers – At What Cost?

I am not an engineer. In fact, high school physics was touch and go for me. But I do have a pretty good sense that there will be a significant additional cost involved with stopping the project on March 31 and restarting it again later in the year with a new contractor, versus simply extending the deadline of the current contractor by a few weeks.

To start a completely new project with a new contractor to finish the dredge in October or January will involve significant additional start-up and breakdown costs that would not be incurred by simply letting the current contractor finish the job in April. Among these additional costs would be going through another contract awarding process, transporting another barge and piping to the site, setting the new equipment up (it took the current contractor at least a couple of weeks to put all the pieces together in January), coordinating the work that has been done with the remaining work, breaking down the barge and equipment and shipping it back to its home base.

So while there won’t be any change in the total amount of sand dredged in the project, there will be significant front- and back-end costs associated with adding a second phase to the project. What might that cost be? $25,000? $50,000? More? I don’t the answer to that question. I certainly hope that someone is at least asking that question. Until a knowledgeable party provides a reasonable estimate of the additional costs involved in adding a second phase to the project as opposed to extending the current contractor’s deadline, here, for discussion purposes, is my estimate of the minimum additional costs involved with not extending the March 31 deadline – $25,000.

[Mr. Kim: If you are reading this, please contact me.  I would like to hear your side of the story, as well as an estimate of how much longer it will take to complete the contracted work.  TTH]

Western Beach as a Piping Plover Summer Destination: “Meh”

Let’s face it, the piping plovers have never really embraced Western Beach as prime habitat, despite the Prouts Neck cachet.  Never has it made Plover Travel & Leisure Magazine’s “Top Twenty Beaches in Maine” list.  In fact – to use some real data – Western Beach has a very spotty record as a plover destination.  According to Audubon data, there have been exactly zero nesting attempts on Western Beach during the last three years. Not one. Zilch. Nada. And a total of only three nesting attempts there in the three-year period before that. Doesn’t sound like very crucial plover habitat, does it?

Beach nourishment in process.

Beach nourishment in process.

Not sure this is the color sand the Sacred Bird prefers...

Not sure this is the color sand the Sacred Bird prefers…

Just how much sand is 115,000 cubic yards?

Just how much sand is 115,000 cubic yards?

Last day of dredging -- March 31!

Last day of dredging — March 31!

Just How Dumb “Instinctually Challenged” Are the Little Guys?

So, at the moment, Western Beach is a mess – huge, unnatural piles of sand; heavy equipment rattling around all day; the constant and loud rattling sound of the sand pumping equipment and a huge and ever-present flock of gulls attending the sand outflow pipe at the water’s edge. It’s hard to imagine a more inhospitable piece of habitat for a piping plover. While a few hundred feet away – as the natural predator flies – is a relatively quiet and nutrient-rich stretch of Pine Point Beach. Why would any plover that had a microliter of survival instinct consider nesting on Western Beach in its current state when Pine Point Beach sits placidly across the Scarborough River entrance?

dogblog-threatened speciesWhat goes around, comes around…

Those of you who have been following the goings-on involving the piping plover and Scarborough beaches since the beginning of this issue will recall that this is not the first time the harbor dredge project has been threatened by the Sacred Bird. In fact, delaying the dredge was the first club the USFWS used on the Town in their fanatical efforts to keep dogs off our beaches. At that time, some Town officials had their knickers in a frightful twist at the prospect of a delay in the dredge – they cited the inability of fishermen to get their boats in and out of the harbor if the dredge wasn’t completed this winter.
Things must have changed somehow in the last few months, since — at least based on media reports — not a peep has been heard from Councilors or the Town Manager about the possibility of extending the dredge deadline for a few weeks.  Apparently defending the livelihood of the Town’s fishermen was only important when banning off-leash dogs on the beach was part of the deal.  Interesting.  And appalling, too, that apparently no Town leader even dares to raise the possibility of standing up to USFWS/MDIFW and extending the dredge deadline.

Patting Myself on the Back and Kicking Myself in the @¢¢

Although I was early in identifying the dredge as being behind schedule, my conclusion on the result of the delay was totally off the mark.  As you will recall, in the last blog entry I predicted a major panic when it became clear that the dredge project would not be completed on time.  Wrong.  No need for panic… the March 31 deadline is sacrosanct, inviolable, untouchable.  We are, after all, talking about the Sacred Bird. He shall not be inconvenienced.

So the only handwringing has been about how best to respond to the needs of Scarborough’s fishermen and recreational boaters in a manner that minimizes the fact that their needs are clearly secondary to those of the piping plover. I made a rookie mistake – I assumed that the dredge project was being directed by reasonable people using common sense. Obviously experience has taught me nothing.

"I'm listening to reason..."
“I’m listening to reason…”

 

Just How Dumb Lacking in Common Sense Are We?

To summarize, then:

  • Western Beach has never been high on the piping plover’s nesting radar. No nesting attempts have been made there in the past three years. (Now that’s SCIENCE!)
  • Any bird with half a brain checking out Western Beach in its current disrupted state would quickly choose nearby Pine Point Beach as a preferred nesting site. (More Science!)
  • Taxpayers will foot a significant bill — $25,000 or perhaps much more — for not extending the dredge timeline. All to allow the Sacred Bird the opportunity to grace us with its presence. We may or may not be honored by his presence. (Economics!)
  • Scarborough fishermen will be put at unnecessary risk and inconvenience for the spring and summer, on the off chance that a plover plunks his or her adorable little tush down on Western Beach. (Politics!)

Please wake me when this nightmare is over.

 

 

 

The Grand CONpromise (as in, “you’ve just been conned.”)

dogblog-little red ridingWell, first there was the charade of a “public process.”  Then the stacked committee to carry out the charade.  And what could be a more fitting ending than a grand con masquerading as a “compromise.”

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.

 dogblog--devilindetails.

.

.

.

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?

dogblog--sap timeThis 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.)

The markings on the owl I saw weren't quite as pronounced as on this one.

The markings on the owl I saw weren’t quite as pronounced as on this one.

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.)