The Lesson from Western Beach

Greetings once again, fellow beach, dog and bird lovers,

dogblog--stoogesI hate to do this again, but I need to ask for your patience for a few minutes of serious stuff. After that, I promise we’ll rejoin Mrs. Catsby as she introduces the boys at  Mildew College.

*****

dogblog-westernbch-sandbagsThe Real Story of Western Beach… and What We Should Learn from It

Western Beach in Scarborough, Maine is privately owned by the Prouts Neck Country Club.  As a result, it does not fall within the scope of the current Ad Hoc Animal Control Advisory Committee’s (AHACAC) review.  Current and past activities at Western Beach are, however, directly and significantly relevant to what our community is being asked (or told) to do with respect to limiting beach access to accommodate piping plovers.

Here’s a quick summary of what the Western Beach experience tells us: We as a society, including the most vocal members of the bird advocacy community, routinely make trade-offs that balance human enjoyment with the best interests of endangered species like the piping plover.   And yet somehow the plover advocacy folks have decided to pursue a zero-tolerance policy with respect to off-leash dogs on the Town’s beaches.  The Western Beach story demonstrates how actions that are clearly and significantly detrimental to piping plovers are tolerated in the interests of maintaining human enjoyment, in this case, the human enjoyment of whacking a small white ball around a golf course.

So now a few salient facts about what’s happening at Western Beach now and what the impacts will be on our piping plover friends beginning in April:

Fact #1 – The dredge project will significantly degrade, if not destroy, the piping plover food source at Western Beach for the 2014 nesting season, and perhaps beyond.

According to the August 20, 2013 letter from USFWS to the US Army Corps of Engineers (p. 19): “Beach nourishment will completely bury the wrack and benthic invertebrate populations [i.e., the stuff piping plovers eat!] in the nourishment area.  These are essential resources used by piping plovers and red knots.  The EA [Environmental Assessment] concluded that there is rapid recolonization of nourished beaches by invertebrate populations (usually within one or two seasons).”  So there’s absolutely no need to worry – these “essential resources,” i.e., food, will return in a mere “one or two seasons.”

Later in that letter: “In your August 5, 2013 letter the Corps [of Engineers] acknowledges that beach nourishment completed in late winter, just before the nesting season, could diminish wrack and intertidal invertebrate populations for the majority of one full nesting season.”  So USFWS and USACE agree that there will basically be no food source for piping plovers on Western Beach for the 2014 nesting season.

Don’t you love the warm and fuzzy sound of “beach nourishment.”  Never mind that it eliminates the plovers’ food source for the season.  What are the chances of Western Beach producing healthy chicks in 2014?  You don’t need to be a wildlife biologist to answer that question.

Fact # 2 – Any beneficial effects of the dredge project on creating suitable plover nesting habitat are temporary.

From page 14 of the same letter: “The cycle of maintenance of the Scarborough River FNP [Federal Navigation Project] causes long periods of time when the carrying capacity of piping plover habitat on Western Beach is greatly reduced or nonexistent.  Beach nourishment temporarily mitigates beach erosion and creates short periods of time when the Western Beach can support up to three pairs of piping plovers followed by years of inferior habitat when no plovers can nest on the beach.”

Please read those last two sentences again and try to convince yourself that the Western Beach “nourishment” is a positive step toward long-term piping plover recovery.  Sadly, some bird advocates will be able to convince themselves that it is.

dogblog-old seawallFact # 3 – The seawall reconstruction project contributes to the instability of plover habitat at Western Beach.

And more, from page 15 of the same letter: “Hardening of the beach by repairing a long-buried seawall on Western Beach could ultimately accelerate erosion when wave energy is reflected back on to the beach.”

The seawall reconstruction part of the current Western Beach do-over is one more element of the project that significantly impedes the piping plover recovery effort.

Fact #4 – In 2004, USFWS essentially told the Corps of Engineers that the impact of the Western Beach nourishment was harmful to piping plovers.  And not to do it again.

After considering the three facts above, you are probably wondering, why on earth would the USFWS approve of this project if they are so concerned with the plight of the little guys?  Well, in essence, they didn’t.  Or at least they said they wouldn’t approve it.

Recall that the current dredge project is a re-play of the 2004/5 dredge project – back then, sand was removed from the channel and placed on Western Beach, just like the current project.  But back in 2004, USFWS warned the Corps of Engineers “if the newly-created piping plover habitat on the nourished beach is lost, the consultations on future dredge projects will likely conclude that there are adverse effects on piping plovers.”  (from page 5 of the same “informal consultation” letter).  Of course, the habitat created in 2004/5 was lost to the easily-predicted erosion.  So why didn’t USFWS cry foul and do what they threatened in 2004 and say this time that the project has an adverse effect on piping plovers?  Excellent question!  And here’s the answer…

The facts add up to a value judgment

Despite the disturbing facts just cited about the impact of the Western Beach projects on the piping plover population, I am not against the renourishment of Western Beach or the seawall reconstruction.  I think it’s an entirely appropriate value judgment to balance the traditional enjoyment of a relatively small number of golfers against manageable threats to the piping plovers. We all just need to recognize that we’re asking that a very similar value judgment be made with regard to off-leash dogs on the beaches… balancing the traditional enjoyment of a relatively small number of dog owners who enjoy off-leash time with their dogs against manageable threats to the piping plovers.  And like all social value judgments, this one should be made by an informed public, not by government bureaucrats.  (Perhaps even by an informed public voting on the matter, as they did this past December 3…)

Put another way: The best thing we humans could do for piping plovers with regard to Western Beach is absolutely nothing.  Let the tides and storms do their things.  Let the dunes fall where they may. Have some faith in Mother Nature’s ability to create suitable piping plover habitat.  A byproduct of that plan would obviously be a smaller golf course.

Yet somewhere along the way, the decision was made to give the golfers’ interests at least as much weight as the piping plovers’.  That decision – of an action which was every bit as controllable as that of restricting off-leash access of dogs to the beach – will without doubt have both significant short and long-term adverse effects on piping plovers.  Adverse impacts that it could be argued will be far greater than those allegedly attributed to well-controlled off-leash dogs.  The Town of Scarborough’s decision on revising current beach access policies should likewise be based on a balancing process like the one that obviously occurred in allowing the Western Beach reconstruction project.

Why Not Just Leave the Little Guys Alone?

dogblog-ppls at beachThe kind of stuff you run across when you start reading “the literature” about piping plovers is absolutely amazing.  I mean, they are fascinating little birds.  Not among the planet’s brightest creatures, to be sure, but fascinating nevertheless.

What half-way intelligent bird builds its nests in locations where they’re going to be washed away by high tides 20 to 50% of the time?  Or scrapes away a half inch of sand and calls it a nest.   But good old reliable Mother Nature has found ways to make up for these shortcomings of intelligence and industry.  In the case of the piping plover, one of these compensating behaviors is the ability to make multiple nesting attempts in a single season.  And at least some piping plovers appear to have adopted “sequential polyandrous behavior,” in which some females may desert their first broods and shack up with another male miles away (Lessells 1984, Warriner et al 1986, Fraga and Amat 1996, Stenzel et al 1994).  (Warning: There’s a potential quiz question there.)

In any event, while you’re picking up all the fascinating information about the plovers, you start coming across some of the results of “Science” studying and protecting the little guys.  For instance:

  •   “This electric fence will keep that fox away.  Oops.

dogblog-fox fence

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“Crescent Surf Beach – Kennebunk… A dead adult male plover was found on April 13th.  It was directly below the cable fencing and may have hit the wire.”  “The wire” mentioned apparently was part of an electric fence that had been erected as a “predator control measure” to dissuade a local fox from bothering the plover nest.  (Source: Audubon 2010 Piping Plover and Least Tern Project Report for Maine.)

  •  “These leg bands will help us track the little guys.  Oops.

 dogblog-plover-band“Between 1998 and 2003, scientists placed nearly 1,100 plastic and aluminum bands around the legs of the birds as part of an effort to track the endangered species.”  Unfortunately, those bands were found to cause leg injuries.

The report continues: “Scientists recovered 140 piping plovers with the tall, anodized aluminum bands. They found 15 of the birds suffered injuries, including 10 with serious injuries and four that lost an entire foot.  The scientists found that others had swollen legs and skin adhered to the metal band. Most of the birds recovered, though the scientists said more may have died from injuries that they didn’t know about.”

But, don’t worry, at the end of the report a wildlife scientist assures us that “any negative impact of the bands is minuscule compared to other problems for these birds,” including, of course, loose pets.  Anyone see a trend here?  (Source: From a 2008 Canadian Broadcasting Company report, )

  • “These exclosures will help protect the little guys.  Oops.

dogblog-crow on exclosureWe’ve all heard about those exclosures of posts and wire fencing that go up around piping plover nests to protect the nests and birds.  But it seems that the crows have now become “smart predators” – when they find an exclosure, they know it’s a great spot to gobble up a plover chick or two as said chicks are on their way in or out of the exclosure.  To a crow, an exclosure is equivalent to an “Eat Here!” sign.  So the use of exclosures is now, as you might imagine, “under review.”  In the meantime, the USFWS “solution” – poison the crows!  I’m not sure what method has been used to control predators on Western Beach in the past; it’s not one of those things they like to talk about in polite society.  (One source, of many: Wicked Local — Provincetown.)  And don’t miss the accompanying editorial that suggests that shooting the crows would be a more humane method than poisoning them.)

If I were a piping plover, I’m not sure how I’d feel about having the government working to protect me.

Update from Frostbite Falls

dogblog-bullwinkle-hat

Bullwinkle: Hey, Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat.

Rocky: Again?  That trick never works!

Bullwinkle: Presto!

.

.

dogblog-bullwinkle-ppl.

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Bullwinkle: Oops… wrong hat!

Rocky: Bullwinkle, that’s not a rabbit…that’s a sandpiper!

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dogblog-boris and natasha

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Natasha:  Wrong, leet-tle squirrel, that’s a piping plover.

Boris Badinov:  You in B-E-E-E-G trouble, Moose!

Deep-voiced Announcer:  Will Bullwinkle be fined $12,000 for an unauthorized take under 16 USC §§ 1531-1544?  Will the plover be offered a $500 travel voucher for a future flight?  Will Rocky be required to be on an 8-foot leash at the Frostbite Falls Avian Beach Resort?   Tune in for the next exciting adventure – “Getting Your Moose Under Voice Control,” or “Oddly Audubon.”

Thought for the Day

dogblog-AristotleThis popped up a couple days ago on a “thought of the day” email I receive:

“Humor is the only test of gravity, and gravity of humor; for a subject which will not bear raillery is suspicious, and a jest which will not bear serious examination is false wit.” – Aristotle

I know it doesn’t translate very well from the ancient Greek. But I think in modern English it basically boils down to “if a subject can’t stand a bit of fun being poked at it, maybe it’s a bit shaky to begin with.”   Old Aristotle got it right.

So on with the raillery!

dogblog-thank you

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Einstein at the Beach

The Grand Compromise????

dogblog-python-Gumb3The past week has been a rough one for many Scarborough dog owners, not to mention those Scarborough citizens who expect a modicum of honesty from their Town officials.

 First it was the meeting of the Ad Hoc Animal Control Advisory Committee (“AHACAC”) on January 13.  I must have missed something at the meeting.  I always had a clear understanding that “compromise” involved BOTH PARTIES giving some.  And yet, somehow, the “starting point” for a solution to the piping plover protection issue that appeared on the flipchart proposed the following changes to off-leash time:

dogblog-offleash table

Yikes!  Perhaps it was just me, but I saw a whole lot of taking and absolutely no getting.  But, fear not, Friends, that’s only the starting point!  (It’s hard to imagine what they’re still planning to take in the “negotiations,” isn’t it?)

dogblog--altarboys01
“Of course we didn’t put that frog on your chair, Sister Mary Albert!”

And then there was the January 15 Council Meeting.  Not a one of our Councilors acknowledged even the slightest whiff of bias in the composition of the AHACAC.  “Don’t be foolish, Dear Citizens!  We, your esteemed Councilors, are pure as the wind-driven snow!”

Just for kicks, I went back to the video recording of the Council’s December 4 workshop to review the discussion of how the AHACAC would be formed.  Councilor Donovan’s comments on this subject were the most comprehensive:  “It would make great sense for the Chair and Vice-Chair to work with the Town Manager to begin to put together what would be a proposal for an ad hoc committee – what their role would be, what their time frame would be, what the composition would be.  That would then be shared with the seven of us so that we would be able to provide input to it.  And we’ll go from there…”   No other Councilor questioned his suggestion so it essentially became the last word and “sense of the Council” on the formation of the Committee.

 So, at the workshop on December 4, the plan was clearly for Town Manager Hall to work with Councilors Sullivan and Holbrook to flesh out the Ad Hoc Committee’s charge, timeframe and composition and then solicit input from the other Councilors.  But now, none of the Councilors claims to have played any role whatsoever in selecting or reviewing the members of the AHACAC as presented at the December 18 Council meeting.  Huh?  So why did the Councilors decide not to do follow the plan they discussed at the workshop?

(One answer to that question comes to my perhaps overly cynical mind – By admitting to participation in an obviously flawed selection process, the Councilors would have given up plausible deniability of being involved in the charade.  Why not leave the risk associated with that exposure to the paid gun, the Town Manager?  That’s one of the things he’s paid for… to deflect political risk from the Councilors.)

And the beat goes on.

dogblog-einstein

What “Science” can…and can’t… tell us

Much has been made of various scientific studies in the course of discussions about what is good and bad for our piping plover friends.  And I certainly agree that science can help inform any decisions that are made as we search for revised animal control and piping plover ordinances.  But I do strongly object to two misuses of science: (1) drawing conclusions when there isn’t enough data present, and (2) looking to science to answer questions that it is not capable of answering.  (I promise to be brief on this important, but less-than-thrilling topic.)

 (1) Science and data insufficiency

 In a sense, science is merely commonsense dressed up in a suit and tie.  It extends and adds structure and precision to things we either know or intuitively understand.  In the current case, we know or intuitively understand that dogs can be a threat to piping plovers.  Science can dress that knowledge up a bit by discovering that, say, 80% of the time that a dog gets within 150 feet of a piping plover nest, the bird will fly off the nest.  That merely quantifies what we all know in our bones.  What science is unable to tell us is how important any one of the large number of environmental factors is in determining the productivity of piping plovers on any given beach or State or region.  Tides, weather, unknown species health issues, predation, food availability and human disturbance (in its numerous forms) all contribute in complex and interrelated ways to the health of the species.  To try to tease out and quantify the impact of off-leash dogs in the complex equation of piping plover survival and proliferation is not within science’s capability.

(2) The limits of Science

What I know about philosophy wouldn’t fill up a plover’s hot water bottle.  But a quick Google lesson on the limits of science reveals there is general agreement on at least two areas where science cannot be employed – questions about value (which are better pets, cats or dogs?)  and questions about morality (what universal rights should humans have?).  When everything else is stripped away, the current question about plovers, dogs and people comes down to a fairly simple value judgmenthow much human enjoyment (expressed through people walking with their off-leash dogs on the beach) are we willing to give up in order to make an unquantifiable improvement to the lives of several pairs of piping plovers each year?  The “we” that needs to make this value judgment are the people of Scarborough, not the biologists of USFWS or Audubon.  This is not a scientific judgment; it is a social/political judgment.

Some will argue that, since dogs are a controllable element in the piping plover recovery effort, we must focus our attention on them.  So if foxes and crows are 50 times more of a threat to piping plovers than off-leash dogs, do we still need to banish the dogs?  Is that reasonable?

We need to recognize that there is, in fact, a limit to the lengths we will go to protect piping plovers.  Otherwise, we would prohibit all types of human activity on beaches – humans can accidentally step on (or pick up) chicks, jogging humans can disturb feeding piping plovers, some particularly uncaring humans will even intentionally inflict harm on plovers   But most beaches are not closed to all human activity because society has made a decision that the levels of risk associated with those activities are tolerable.  There is a limit, and we as members of society, not scientists, make decisions on trade-offs like that all the time through the political process.  This decision should be no different.

Dredge and Western Beach Update

The Scarborough Harbor dredge project is really picking up steam now.  Speaking of picking things up, here’s a shot of the crane lowering the dredge barge (SS Electrolux) on to the gentle sands of Ferry Beach this past Thursday.

dogblog-electrolux-aloft

As of Saturday (January 18) the barge is still at Ferry Beach as the crew prepares some of the hundreds of feet of 14” PVC pipe that will carry the sediment from the harbor channel on to Western Beach.  It promises to be quite a show.  And since it won’t be repeated for 9-10 years, get your tickets now!

And while we’re on the subject of Western Beach… I didn’t realize until just recently that the Western Beach project is actually a two-fer.  Not only is the Beach being “re-nourished” (on the taxpayers’ dime, by the way), but there’s another project happening concurrently.  An old sea wall that prevents part of the golf course from having a major water hazard (the Atlantic Ocean) is being rebuilt.  That project, to the tune of $1.5 million I am told, also began in earnest this past week.

I have always found those signs proclaiming the “ecological fragility” of the dunes ironically amusing.  The dunes are especially fragile when a landowner doesn’t want somebody crossing them.

Sign on the northern end of Ferry Beach.

Sign on the northern end of Ferry Beach.

But apparently they are much less fragile when the preservation of a golf course is at stake, as the two pictures below attest.

Ever-so-gently massaging the dunes on Western Beach.
Ever-so-gently massaging the dunes on Western Beach.

Dunes?  What dunes?  We're creating piping plover habitat!

Dunes? What dunes? We’re creating piping plover habitat!

As I was checking out the sea wall project at Western Beach, I couldn’t help but notice just how close two or three of the holes on the Prouts Neck Country Club Golf Club are to prime piping plover nesting and feeding habitat.  Shouldn’t serious consideration be given to closing the holes on the golf course that are within 150 feet of piping plover habitat?  The last thing the poor little guys need is a bunch of rowdy golfers, cigars in hand, storming around near their nests and whacking golf balls in their vicinity.  Can you imagine the amount of disruption and stress this must cause in a plover’s life?  [See above discussion of  trade-offs that get made all the time.]   But, country clubbers, fear not!  The affected holes will only be closed from April 1 through September 15!  And, in fact, the  holes may be released as soon as July 15 if none of the little guys show up.

More juicy stuff to come in a later blog entry on the Western Beach projects.  Stay tuned.

dogblog-comming attr

Please Note: This blog entry has been produced with a minimum amount of color and capital letters in response to a reader complaint.  Next time though, watch out!  You’ll need sunglasses.

Progress made, but charade continues

dogblog-jambi and text

All members of the Maine Association of Psychics and Soothsayers are reminded of the rapidly approaching deadline for submitting your renewal examination for calendar 2014.  If you have not completed the examination (provided below), please do so and submit it to MAPS headquarters on the Pier at OOB by 5pm on Monday, January 13, 2014.  Members who do not achieve a passing grade on this exam will not be recertified for 2014.

 EXAM QUESTIONS:

1.      Thinking ahead to the AHACAC meeting on the evening of January 13, 2014, what will be the vote in favor of the main recommendations of the Committee:

a.       4 to 3

b.       5 to 3 (with Town Manager Hall getting a vote after all)

c.      Outlook not so good

2.      Thinking ahead to the Town Council meeting on the evening of February 5, 2014, which of the following points will Town Manager Hall make in his introductory remarks about the AHACAC’s work and recommendations (check all that apply):

a.       This very talented and committed group worked incredibly hard at the assigned task.

b.      There was a transparent and fair process for selecting the Committee members.

c.       All or nearly all of the Committee members were current or former dog owners thereby making the entire process 100% legit.

d.      None of the Committee members had their minds made up prior to the first meeting of the Committee.

e.       The Committee’s schedule was such that all of the information presented could not possibly have been thoroughly reviewed and discussed.

3.      Again thinking ahead to the Town Council meeting on the evening of February 5, 2014, the vote to accept the AHACAC’s majority recommendations will be:

a.       4 to 3

b.      5 to 2

c.       6 to 1

d.      4 to 2 with one member not present due to a previously scheduled duck hunting engagement

Meeting #3 of the AHACAC

The third meeting of the AHACAC was held on Thursday evening, January 9.  I think a fair one sentence summary would be: “The charade continued to play out.”  At least this time there was some real exchange of ideas and bits and pieces of agreement.  For a balanced and comprehensive account of the meeting, please see Duke Harrington’s article in the Currenthttp://www.keepmecurrent.com/current/news/scarborough-plover-policy-fails-to-take-flight/article_6b51b074-7a37-11e3-be98-0019bb2963f4.html

Two suggested solutions in particular are noteworthy.  Professor Perlut suggested the “Co-op beach” on Pine Point as an option for dog walking at any time due to its plover-free nature.  And Councilor Donovan added his imprimatur, perhaps because it’s as far away from Higgins Beach as possible.  I wonder why even the plovers can’t be bothered with the Co-op beach?

The other proposal that received some attention was Ms. Chabot’s.  I must say it sounded quite sensible to me… except for one key feature.  The proposal was basically for the establishment of an Animal Control Committee (note: not a piping plover committee, but an animal control committee) and a two-year study of beach policies on education, enforcement, data collection, etc.  Perfectly reasonable except for one big old fly in the ointment — during the two-year study/improvement period, the US Fish and Wildlife ordinance would be in place.  You know, just like the Town voted for overwhelmingly in December.  Oh, wait…

The meeting ended on a rather sour note as a motion to request a one-week extension from the Town Council was voted down 4 to 3.  Gotta keep this ball rolling.  We wouldn’t want facts to get in the way or encourage better mutual understanding.  USFWS MUST BE OBEYED!  DOGS BE GONE!

 Good grief.  Expect more of the same Monday evening, January 13 at 6:30-9:00pm.

[Editor's note: Puritan minister graphic to indicate seriousness of what follows.]

[Editor’s note: Puritan minister graphic to indicate seriousness of what follows.]

 

 

 

 

In all seriousness…

Allow me, Dear Reader, to stray from my usual format and speak seriously for a moment.  I promise that it will be a brief aberration.

Although this blog attempts to treat the current controversy in an entertaining manner, the issues themselves are serious.  Indeed, extremely serious.  Yesterday I submitted a serious proposal to the AHACAC suggesting a partial solution to the current disagreement about the Town’s policy on beach access, particularly as it relates to dogs and piping plovers.  I will not bore you with the entire document, but the main points were that the AHACAC’s recommendations should include:

  • Establishment of a publicly-elected Beach Committee to advise the Council on future beach management and access issues.  We need to restore public trust in the Town’s governance processes.  It is sadly lacking at the moment.  And we currently have an elected Sanitary District Board; don’t our beaches deserve as much public attention as our sewer system?
  •  A two-year study/review/improvement period during which a committee would be charged with responsibility for education, enforcement and data collection, as well as making recommendations to the Town Council on those matters.  This is essentially as suggested by Ms. Chabot.
  • During the two-year period, the existing animal control ordinance would remain in effect, with any additions unanimously agreed to by the AHACAC. This reflects the outcome of the December 3, 2013 special election.  It has been suggested that some number of “no” voters may have voted that way because they thought the Council’s October 3 stealth amendment “went too far.”   But the undeniable fact is that when they voted “no,” they knew we would be returning to the original ordinance.  If piping plover protection were their main goal, they should have voted yes and then lobbied the Council to correct the overreach.  You can’t have it both ways.
  •  The outline of a detailed enforcement plan.  We have heard over and over again that the Town’s past enforcement efforts have been sadly lacking. And yet I have still not seen any specifics proposed for an enforcement plan going forward.   My plan, offered merely as a starting point, calls for a total of 50 hours per week of uniformed presence on the beaches from April 1 through August 31.  These “beach patrol officers” would be scheduled in a way that permitted a minimum of 30 minutes presence (on an unpredictable schedule) on each beach once between 6 and 9am and once between 6 and 9pm every day.  These officers would work closely with the volunteer civilian beach monitoring groups and perform any “heavy lifting” in the enforcement area.  The officers would be funded by a combination of increased dog license fees, beach pass fees and special off-leash dog permits if necessary.

I believe these suggestions will provide a reasonable framework for addressing the serious — but not crisis level — concerns surrounding the limited summer off-leash time for dogs and the protection of piping plovers.  I also firmly believe that it is the responsibility of the citizens of Scarborough to set beach access policies, not a Federal or State agency.

And now back to work…

Preparing the S.S. Electrolux for launching at Ferry Beach.

Preparing the S.S. Electrolux for launching at Ferry Beach.

Dredge Update

Work is beginning in earnest on the dredge with the activity centered at the Ferry Beach parking lot.  They are in the process of assembling the S.S. Electrolux, the floating pump mechanism that will suck all that goop off the bottom of the channel and spray it oh-so-gently on Western Beach.  Ahh, I can feel the good vibes of re-nourishment already!

…..

Neighbor-of-the-Year Nomination Withdrawn

dogblog-mr rogers

At Thursday evening’s meeting of the AHACAC, Mr. Donovan very kindly offered up Old Orchard Beach as an alternative beach that Scarborough residents could use after he and the Council close our beaches to off-leash dogs from April through August.  In other words, shift the problem (if off-leash dogs are in fact a problem) to another Town.  Isn’t he the essence of neighborliness?  You gotta love it!

By the way, we have it on good authority that the Naked Surfers of New England are planning to hold their 2014 summer convention at Higgins Beach on the July Fourth weekend.  Included in the festivities are a let-it-all-hang-out paddleboard regatta up the Spurwink River.   Arrive early for the best viewing spots.

……….

Next/Last AHACAC Meeting: Monday, Jan 13, 6:30pm at Town Hall.  See you there.

Thanks again for reading this.  Please share with friends.  It’s amazing how far a little information can go.

From the Stacked Deck Saloon…

dogblog-saloon-1

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.

dogblog-alchemist

 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:

dogblog-tab8

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:

dogblog-tab11

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

lIllustration of the thumb up and thumb down buttons. Isolated on white.

·        

      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?

lIllustration of the thumb up and thumb down buttons. Isolated on white.

·       

            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.”

dogblog-nugget-text

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.

Adios

dogblog-spittoon

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!

Stop Crying “WOLF!”… or in this case, “DOG!”

Winslow Homer's "Fox Hunt," painted on Prouts Neck

Winslow Homer’s “Fox Hunt,” painted on Prouts Neck

In 1893 Winslow Homer painted “Fox Hunt” on Prouts Neck, perhaps on the current site of the golf course.  He probably didn’t realize that this painting would capture two of the significant piping plover predators – crows and foxes, both of which still roam Scarborough’s beaches.  Plovers, like all of our feathered and furry friends, face many challenges in their daily lives.  Dogs, it turns out, are not high on the list of those challenges.

Although no authoritative, ranked list of the causes of plover predation (or disturbance) exists, most threat measurements rank dogs well below other species.  Among the most often cited plover predators are crows, gulls, skunks, foxes, coyotes, and cats (house or feral).  Dogs are a mere nuisance compared to these other species which count plovers as part of a well-balanced daily nutrition program.

So why the over-the-top emphasis on dogs as a threat to plovers?  What other agenda is at work here?

A Species in Crisis?

Much has been made by the bird protection industry of the sad plight of our piping plover friends.  The facts, though, suggest the species is doing quite well under existing conservation measures.  For instance:

  • Piping plovers produced 85 fledglings on Maine beaches in 2013 – the most since 2002.  (This is according to data from the Maine Audubon Society’s website.  That data mysteriously disappeared from their website shortly after I obtained it.)
  • New England has met its USFWS-determined “recovery goal” of 625 nesting pairs every year since 1998.  The preliminary estimate for the number of nesting pairs in New England for 2012 was 879.  (Interestingly, the “recovery criterion” for the Atlantic Coast Population includes plovers in Atlantic (eastern) Canada.  So the USFWS-defined success for the piping plover population includes non-resident birds.  Perhaps they have green cards.   It’s just another example of how far the USFWS’s clout extends.)
  • There have been two unsubstantiated takes of piping plovers on Scarborough beaches in the more than 30 years that Audubon has been keeping score.  I wonder if Audubon has summarized its records for losses to crows, gulls, foxes, merlins, etc. over that time period.  It would be very interesting to see. It’s probably too interesting for them to release.

Note that the "recovery goal" set by USFWS is 625 pairs.

Note that the “recovery goal” set by USFWS is 625 pairs.

Bring on the Anecdotes!

Anecdotes are fun!  They add lots of color and warmth to a story.  They are especially useful when the facts don’t support the position one is trying to advance.

Among the anecdotes you will hear ad nauseam from the bird protection industry are those involving dogs “disrupting” the nests of plovers.  Or perhaps bothering them.  This particular species appears to have a very sensitive psyche.  (We will explore PBDS (post-beachfront-development syndrome) in plovers in a future posting.)

In any event, most of these anecdotes are very unpersuasive.  Many are based on “dog tracks” leading up to nest areas.  The qualifications of the individual making the assessment that the tracks are indeed those of a dog and not a fox or coyote are rarely if ever mentioned.  And even if an occasional dog does accidentally intrude in a plover nesting area, wouldn’t you expect a normal bird to have the innate ability to deal with it?  What are that particular bird’s chances against a skunk or a fox?

But there are also anecdotes you will never hear from the bird protection industry…  Like the occasional story that slips through the politically-correct filter into the press about how more human activity may in fact be better for plovers than less.   Or what about the radical notion that off-leash dogs are beneficial to plovers by discouraging the presence of non-domesticated animals that regularly consume plovers and their eggs as part of their diet – again: foxes, crows, gulls, skunks, etc.  (Note to budding scientists: I wouldn’t use that last hypothesis in a grant application to the Audubon Society.)

Here are links to a couple of stories that slipped through somehow:

1.  A 2011 Boston Globe article: The curious case of the piping plover

 A couple of excerpts:

“Despite the image Goldenrod and the state’s Endangered Species Act seem to paint of plovers as delicate birds whose patterns of behavior and habitats must never be disrupted, plovers have shown a remarkable adaptability to humans. On the Fourth of July, the piping plover chicks on Kalmus Beach in Hyannis were happily feeding while a massive fireworks display exploded over their heads. In South Boston this year, a plover nest was spotted on the men’s side of the L Street Bathhouse, though it was gone by the time wildlife officials arrived to check it out.

“The main problem facing plovers today, Coleman says, isn’t off-road vehicles but natural predators. Sandy Neck has never lost a plover to human meddling, but this year, coyotes, crows, gulls, and other animals ate the eggs and chicks in 18 of its 44 nests. In Plymouth, a plover hasn’t been killed by a human since 1996; yet in 2005, all 15 plover pairs lost all their eggs to predators.”

2. A recent Cape Cod Times article: All sides weigh in on beach access during plover nesting

A couple of pull quotes:

 “Such extensive closures didn’t help the bird much, Morris said. Predators and storms killed off many of the chicks, as had happened in prior years, and only three chicks on the southern trail and nine on the northern trail reached flying stage. Man is not the problem, Morris argued, and a vehicle ban didn’t contribute to any significant success.”

“Hodgson said he had heard options he hasn’t heard before during the meeting, like the ability to move a nest or reduce the buffer zone around a nesting pair so that vehicles can pass.”  [Editor’s astonished note: moving a nest — what a concept!]

 

Out on a Limb – Another Fearless Prediction

dogblog-Carnac

OK, a prediction of two people who you will not be heard from at tonight’s Ad Hoc Animal Control Advisory Committee meeting: the Town’s Piping Plover Coordinator and the Town’s Animal Control Officer.  That’s right, the two people you would expect would know the most about any issues with dogs and piping plovers will not be asked for their insights.

So any shred of credibility the AHACAC had – and it was a pretty darn small shred to begin with — will be eliminated.  When the final report is written, how will the Council be able to hold it up and crow that it was a fair and comprehensive review of the plover/dog situation when the two principal individuals with the most direct knowledge of “the problem” were not even asked for input?  Who’s writing the script for the AHACAC anyway?   Lewis Carroll?  Franz Kafka?  Monty Python?

dogblog-DeadParrotIrate customer: “I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it, my lad. ‘E’s dead, that’s what’s wrong with it!”

Pet shop owner: “No no he’s not dead, he’s, he’s restin’!”

Customer: “This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! ‘E’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker!…THIS IS AN EX-PARROT!!”

———————————————————————————————–

I hope to see you at tonight’s AHACAC meeting.  I’ll be the one banging two bricks against the sides of my head.

 

 

The unproven problem… full speed ahead!

dogblog-gilligans-island

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.

Of course it's a balanced committee!  (Sorry I haven't mastered Photoshop.)
Of course it’s a balanced committee!            (Sorry I haven’t mastered Photoshop.)

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.

dogblog-fireworks

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

Christmas Wishes

ImageChew bones are great, Santa, but what we really want is some off-leash time on the beach next summer!

Holiday Schedule Update…

From the “who would have guessed department:”  It turns out that the proposed date for the first meeting of the Ad Hoc Animal Control Advisory Committee – December 26 – isn’t going to work.  Too many members apparently have family and/or travel commitments.  Imagine that!  People are busy with their families during the week between Christmas and New Year’s!  No worries, 14 business days will still be plenty of time to arrive at a forgone conclusion.

Given the hiatus, I, too, plan to spend the next few days enjoying time with family and friends.  I will, however, return refreshed and rejuvenated with more lively and informative posts in the days ahead.  I have several real corkers in mind.  In the meantime, best Christmas wishes to all!

 dogblog-snoopy xmas

                     Peace on earth (including beaches), good will to all!

“I’m not going to fight the government.”

A Christmas miracle?

dogs-christmas miracle

For a few brief minutes yesterday evening, the unthinkable seemed possible: the Scarborough Town Council appeared to be on the verge of listening to the common-sense pleas of the Town’s citizens.  Were we to have our own little Christmas miracle?  Yes, they actually considered extending the wildly unrealistic deadline they had suggested for the new “Ad Hoc Animal Control Advisory Committee” to complete its work – 21 business days amid three holidays to craft a reasonable response to a complex, highly charged issue.  But, no, the esteemed Council members reverted to their true form and nixed the proposed extension.  Apparently 21 days is plenty of time to ram through a predetermined outcome while still preserving the appearance of fair public input.  Councilor Donovan thought 21 days was sufficient.

Councilor St. Clair made a plea that the public name names when questioning Councilors’  statements and positions.  I think she’s right.  Voting against the one-month extension of the deadline were Councilors Benedict, Blaise and Donovan.  That resulted in a 3-3 tie, so the extension amendment was defeated.  Council Chair Sullivan was not present at last night’s meeting.  The last time he was not present – when a 3-3 tie caused the Council not to reconsider their dubious all-leashes, all-the-time amendment – then-Council chair Ahlquist reported that Mr. Sullivan was moose hunting.

More of the same

The Council’s discussion and action Wednesday evening confirmed once again their starting point for any possible modifications  of the animal control ordinance – the US Fish and Wildlife Service is in charge of our beaches. Since a few piping plover families have popped in to spend the summer season on our beaches, the Council has essentially turned over setting access policies for our beaches to a Federal agency.  This is in spite of three important factors:

  •   No Council member has seen the Maine Warden Service report on the alleged death of a piping plover chick on July 15.  Yes, the Town basically entered a guilty plea without seeing the evidence.  How irresponsible is that?
  • The legal basis for the USFWS’s Notice of Violation to the Town is questionable.  Dueling high-priced lawyers disagree on this point, but that’s often the case.
  • The Council refuses to consider the option of simply paying the possibly reinstated $12,000 fine and move on with defining how Scarborough residents want to balance beach access rules with threatened species protection.

(One quick reminder that cannot be repeated often enough – having dogs on leashes is not the USFWS’s preferred method of “protecting” piping plovers from dogs.  They would much prefer no dogs at all on beaches all summer.  Period.  Do not take the word of a jaundiced observer (me) on this… look at what happened at Western Beach this past summer.  In order to get the US Army Corps of Engineers to “renourish” the beach, USFWS prevailed upon the Prouts Neck Association to ban all dogs from the beach from April 1 to September 30.  There’s a definite pattern here – USFWS goes town by town, and even beach by beach, and extracts the strongest concessions they can with the minimum amount of effort and public outcry.  Unfortunately, USFWS has found an all too willing accomplice in the Scarborough Town Council.)

See just how close we are to that slippery slope!

See just how close we are to that slippery slope!

In their own words…

Councilor Blaise

Councilor Blaise

The crowd of about 25 dog supporters  was remarkably quiet, restrained and well-behaved considering the Council’s continuing determination to ignore the will of the people.

Councilor Blaise, however, drew major guffaws with his statement that he hadn’t seen any other solutions regarding the plover issue.

He also made the statement of the night: “I’m not going to fight the government.”  That crisp sentiment, which appears to be shared by at least three other Councilors, is at the very heart of the problem.  Councilor Blaise and others are willing – no, anxious – to cede control of access to Scarborough’s   beaches to a Federal agency.  Many of us are not.

.

.

EXCLUSIVE: Late Breaking News…

dogsblog-ppl adv

STOP THE USFWS CHARADE

Since the alleged killing of a piping plover chick on Pine Point Beach this past July, the Scarborough Town Council has seized on the threats of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as the rationale for enacting new restrictions on access by dogs to the Town’s beaches.  Those threats are a red herring that some Councilors are using to promote their long-held personal biases.  Let’s take a look at the USFWS’s actions and their real implications for the Town.

usfws logo

What did the USFWS do?

In simple but direct terms, two things: First, in an “informal consultation” dated August 20, 2013, USFWS essentially told the Town of Scarborough and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) that unless the Town eliminated the meager summer off-leash hours for dogs on Town beaches, USFWS would withhold its blessing of the USACE project to dredge the Scarborough River.  That would potentially delay the project and make the Pine Point anchorage area inaccessible to fishermen and boaters.  (With the USACE’s awarding of the dredge contract on December 2, that threat has been largely negated.)

As a second club, USFWS issued a “Notice of Violation” on September 11, 2013 that proposed a $12,000 civil penalty for the Town’s alleged complicity in the death of the piping plover chick.  After an intense period of feverish negotiation [not likely!], the Town Council on October 2, 2013 approved a Settlement Agreement with USFWS.  The Agreement provided for a reduced fine of $500 in exchange for the Council enacting an amended animal control ordinance that eliminated summer off-leash hours on Town beaches, as well as making enforcement and education improvements.

 dogs-usfws-violation

And the Town Council’s reaction?

From the beginning, the Town Council has embraced the USFWS’s threats and demands – those threats and demands provided a perfect smokescreen for rushing forward on an agenda many Councilors have long desired – further restrictions on dogs on beaches.  The USFWS’s arrival was a godsend – the Council could enact a more restrictive leash law without considering what Scarborough residents want… “Golly gee, we HAVE TO enact this new leash law ‘cause the Feds told us to.”  So our Council, bowing to the highly questionable demands of Washington bureaucrats, let itself off the hook of representing the citizens of Scarborough.  How convenient!

The Council’s attitude is now playing out in the formation of the “Ad Hoc Animal Control Advisory Committee.”  The Council’s guiding principle for the committee is “how do we satisfy the USFWS?”  instead of “how do the citizens of Scarborough want to balance access to our beaches with the protection of threatened species?”   When you start with the wrong question, you will almost always arrive at the wrong answer.

That misinformed guiding principle is reflected in at least two significant ways:

·          The selection and composition of the committee.  It is a small, “manageable” committee.  (Manageable for whom, one wonders.)  The process for selecting members was decidedly non-public.  (Did anyone ask you if you wanted to be on the committee?) And, although as of this writing the exact composition of the committee has not been announced, I will go out on a limb and predict that the 73% of voters who restored the balanced leash law will get less than 50% representation on the committee.  (What could that possibly mean for the committee’s recommendations to the Council?)

·         The timing of the committee’s work and report.  With 21 business days smack in the middle of the holiday season, the committee is supposed to wrestle with this complex, highly-charged issue and propose reasonable solutions.  Let’s be honest, the proposed schedule only makes sense when there is a simple, predetermined outcome – “the committee recommends amending the animal control ordinance to comply with the USFWS demands.”

It was 4 below on Higgins Beach this morning...

It was 4 below on Higgins Beach this morning.  It was in the mid 70s in the Bahamas where our piping plover friends overwinter.  Some birds have all the luck.

What could the Town Council do?

If the Councilors were truly representing the citizens of Scarborough, they could drop the pretext that complying with the USFWS’s “guidelines” is required.  In fact, given where we are right now with USFWS, there is a very easy, low-risk strategy – do nothing and see what USFWS’s next move is.

They may do nothing.  In which case the Town can begin a thoughtful, fact-based review of its animal control ordinance on a reasonable schedule to determine if modification of the ordinance and/or changes in enforcement and education are appropriate.

 Or, if USFWS decides to “reopen” the violation case, the Council could simply decide to pay the additional $11,500 and be done with it.  Yes, they could take a deep breath, say to themselves “yup, we should have done a better job of enforcing the old ordinance and we’ll try harder in the future.”  Think of it as a cost of doing business.  When you get a speeding ticket, you pay it and get on with your life.

 But can’t you hear the righteous squeals from behind the Council table now – “It’s our duty to the people of Scarborough to hold their taxes down.  That $12,000 isn’t in the budget!  Where will we ever come up with that much money?”  The truth of the matter, however, is that $12,000 is miniscule in a total budget of $54 million.  If I did my arithmetic correctly, a $4,000 tax bill would go all the way up to $4,001.  Even in terms of revenues from beach sources (passes and permits), it’s not an extraordinary one-time charge – beach management revenues for Fiscal 2013 were projected at $226,000 (with an operating profit of $22,000).  Never have so many been so concerned with so little!   And if there isn’t a contingency line in a $54,000,000 budget that can absorb an unexpected $12,000 item, we have a severe financial management problem.

Bottom line

After voters overwhelmingly restored a thoughtful and balanced animal control ordinance, the Council needs to – finally and honestly – listen to their constituents.  That means, the starting point for any ordinance amendment should not be compliance with the arbitrary dictates of the USFWS.  The starting point should be the will of the citizens of Scarborough.

Coming Soon…

  • ·         The July 15, 2013 incident – a muddled story and many unanswered questions
  • ·         The Bird Protection Industry and how it operates
  • ·         Birds & Beaches – The Slippery Slope of Beach Access Limitations
  • ·         Piping Plovers – Facts, Fantasies & Funny Stories

Ad Hoc Committee Details and Dredge Award

December 13, 2013 – Two major announcements today…  The Town website has the resolution outlining the structure and objectives of the Ad Hoc Animal Control Advisory Committee that will examine the issues surrounding dogs and piping plovers on Town beaches.  And the US Army Corps of Engineers has officially awarded the contract for the dredging of Scarborough harbor.

The Scarborough Town Council at work.

The Scarborough Town Council at work.

First, the ad hoc committee.

The resolution appears as pages 7-9 of the agenda for the December 18 Town Council meeting as posted on the Town website.  Two things stand out:

1. The report has to be completed by January 21, 2014.  Hmmm… Assuming the group meets for the first time the day after the Council meeting, they will have 21 working days – tucked in among three holidays – to complete a huge and complex task with significant data collection needs, widely divergent opinions and much emotion.  How could anything go wrong with that schedule?

2. The committee members are “to be announced” at the Council meeting.  Hmmm, again… The dog owners’ group asked for a committee size of 12 in order to represent a broad spectrum of interests; they got seven as directed by the Council to keep the group “manageable.”   That’s a good start on compromise.  Not.  And all seven members of the Committee have been selected by the Town Manager and Council leadership.  Again, what could possibly go wrong for the dog owners?

So, since 73% of the voters in the special election voted no in support of the dog owners’ position, we should expect 73% representation on the ad hoc committee, right?  That would require that five members of a seven-person committee be no voters/dog owners.  Any bets on how many committee members will be from the no voters/dog owners’ group?  I’m guessing not five of the seven.  Four, maybe?  Keep dreaming.  My guess – three.  Enough so the Councilors can truthfully say that dog owners’ concerns were aired, but few enough to ensure that dog owners’  recommendations will not be adopted in the final report.  That’s completely consistent with the Council’s previous record of ignoring not just the dog owners, but the voters in the special election.  And it’s the only way they can carry out this holiday-time charade of “listening” to the concerns of the Town residents.

Scarborough River -- Dredge to begin January 6, 2014.

Scarborough River — Dredge to begin January 6, 2014.

Second, the Scarborough River dredging project.

As you will recall from this past summer, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (“USFWS”) was holding the Scarborough River dredging project hostage – unless the Town modified its animal control ordinance to comply with USFWS “guidelines,” USFWS would insist on the US Army Corps of Engineers completing a “formal consultation” for the project, a bureaucratic maneuver that could threaten the Corps’ ability to complete the dredge project this winter.  And potentially leave the harbor unnavigable for the Town’s fishing community.  Somewhere along the way, USFWS decided to drop this demand.  Perhaps they were afraid it would look too heavy-handed.  Or perhaps they decided that having the $12,000 fine for the Town’s supposed complicity in the alleged death of a piping plover was enough of a club to get their “guidelines” adopted by a Council already anxious to restrict dog access to the beaches.

In any event, the dredge is officially on.  Perhaps (and this may be pure wishful thinking) the USFWS actually heard the message of Scarborough voters on December 3 and have decided they don’t want to be seen as the bad guys in this.  USFWS’s modus operandi is to go town-by-town and use every opportunity they have to get as much as they can in terms of beach access restrictions without using large amounts of internal resources or creating inordinate amounts of adverse publicity for the agency.   Maybe the December 3 vote caused USFWS to get the message that the Town Councilors didn’t.  If they did, it is very possible that USFWS will choose not to reopen the Settlement Agreement with the Town and just wait for their next opportunity to insert themselves into our beach access policies.  Unfortunately, several Councilors, for reasons of their own, have decided not to consider this possibility.

Sorry this post was so long, but both these matters are too important to gloss over.