Tag Archives: usfws

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

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[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.

 

 

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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.

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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!

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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

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.

Welcome to Scarborough Beaches Alert!

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Since the reported killing of a piping plover chick at Pine Point Beach in Scarborough, Maine on July 15, 2013, the issue of dogs on the Town’s beaches has been a hot topic.  In this blog, I hope to add some light to the heat this topic has already generated.  My goals are to:

  • inform
  • analyze
  • entertain
  • and, where necessary, excoriate.

Any undertaking like this will necessarily have a point a view.  Mine is simple — the people of Scarborough should control access to the Town’s beaches.  Not a Federal agency.  And not those members of the Town Council who are attempting to impose their personal opinions on the rest of us.  I hope you will enjoy this small attempt to separate the real issues, motives and solutions from the phony ones.