2013-09-13 / Front Page

Increased plover protection sought

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

For more than 10 years, local, state and federal biologists have been working hard to protect the piping plover, a federally protected shore bird that nests on the beaches all across the eastern seaboard, including Scarborough. But after a piping plover chick was killed on Pine Point Beach earlier this summer, many are calling for better protection.

Mark McCollough, an endangered species biologist for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, said that was the second time in a decade a piping plover was killed in Scarborough. In 2003 a piping plover adult was killed on Pine Point Beach.

The latest piping plover death occurred in mid-July when a dog inadvertently killed a fledgling chick by the water’s edge. The dog’s owner was not cited, but the United States Fish and Wildlife Service is investigating whether the town bears any responsibility. The service has recommended a $12,000 fine against the town. Per the federal endangered species act, it is illegal to injure or kill a piping plover. McCollough said he could not speak to specifics in that case, but that the incident “sets back our recovery of the federally threatened species.”

As that investigation continues, the Town Council is looking at an amendment to Scarborough’s animal control ordinance to ensure the piping plovers — and possibly other threatened shorebirds — remain protected. The topic generated a lot of public comment at the Town Council meeting Wednesday, Sept. 4.

On Wednesday, Sept. 18, the Town Council has scheduled a public hearing and second reading on an amendment that would prohibit dogs on the beach between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. from April 1 to Sept. 15. Dogs would be allowed on the beach between 5 p.m. and 9 a.m. if they are on leash.

Dogs are barred from the beach between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. from June 15 to Sept. 15, but are permitted on leash from 5 p.m. to sunrise. They are allowed to run free, if under voice control, from sunrise to 9 a.m.

While wildlife officials have applauded the town’s efforts, the amendment did not sit well with many dog owners in town.

Art Dimauro, a resident of Pleasant Hill Road, said dogs on the beach is not as big an issue as some are making it.

“Two dog incidents (with piping plovers) in 10 years hardly suggest there is a major dog problem,” he said.

“Every plover counts to us,” McCollough responded. “Everyone counts in the recovery.”

This year, McCollough said, there were 44 pairs of piping plovers in Maine. According to the Maine Piping Plover Report.

The birds begin coming to the northeast to nest and raise their young in early spring. The exact date, however, is difficult to pin down.

“With every spring getting warmer and warmer, our piping plovers are arriving earlier and earlier. This year we had piping plovers in March. They most typically arrive in mid to late April,” he said.

Laura Minich Zitske, a wildlife biologist with Maine Audubon, said the birds started nesting in Scarborough this year in early April.

According to the 2012 Piping Plover and Least Tern Project Report, in 2012 just two nesting pairs came to Scarborough — one at Pine Point Beach and one at Higgins Beach. It was the fewest number of piping plovers since 1992, when one pair was observed at Scarborough Beach. The record high was in 1996, when 13 pairs came to Scarborough, including five at Higgins Beach.

Piping plovers have not come to the Ferry Beach/Western Beach area over the last few years, in part due to loss of habitat due to beach erosion.

McCollough said the Fish and Wildlife Service has hope for the beach.

“We think the habitat is improving and they could indeed nest there in the next couple years,” McCollough said.

A dredging project this fall on the Scarborough River may change those conditions. The Army Corps of Engineers will be in the area this fall to dredge the river channel to improve boat navigation conditions. The 100,000 cubic yards of sand taken from the river will be deposited on Western Beach to curb beach erosion and provide additional habitat for animals and birds like the piping plover.

The project is out to bid. Bid documents are expected to be opened Monday, Sept. 23 and be awarded sometime in mid- October. Work would start right away and be completed as soon as possible. Town Manager Tom Hall said it would take two or three months.

It is work that cannot be pushed back any longer, he said.

“Frankly, the Army Corps wouldn’t be in here if there were not hazards to navigation,” Hall said.

Town Councilor Richard Sullivan said in a letter to the town, the Army Corps of Engineers indicated they wanted the animal control ordinance amendment resolved before work begins.

Town Councilor Judy Roy is optimistic this can happen.

“Hopefully we can come up with a compromise which means people can still bring dogs to the beach,” Roy said.

Want to comment on this story? Login to our website at leader.mainelymediallc.com and let us know your thoughts.

Return to top