2014-09-12 / Front Page

Group offers plover ideas

By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer

The summertime rules and regulations on canine access to Scarborough beaches have come and gone, and while town officials consider the summer a success, a citizen’s group has a few recommendations on how to improve next summer.

The canine education and enforcement ad hoc committee was formed several months ago to work with the town’s community services department to develop educational material and evaluate the need for dog parks; work with the Department of Public Works to develop signage; work with a beach monitor coordinator on beach monitoring program for Higgins, Pine Point and Ferry beaches and determine essential habitat for piping plovers, as well as evaluate the idea of a off-leash tag program.

Liam Somers, a member of the five-member group, which also included Cathy Rogers, Cheryl LaRou, Pam Rovner and Katy Foley, told the Town Council last week the quantity and placement of the signs were “adequate, if not overabundant,” but recommended that the town opt for a more welcoming sign next year and clarify the off-season leash regulations.

Now through May 15, dogs are permitted to be off-leash on any beach, except from 1 to 3 p.m., when they need to be leashed.

The committee, which concluded its work on Sept. 1, recommends delisting Ferry Beach as an essential habitat for piping plovers, a state endangered bird that nests and raises young on Maine beaches every summer. Somers said the beach has not had piping plovers for several years, plus delisting the beach would allow the state to “have no further impediments to things like dredging.”

The group does, however, advocate for designating small sections of private beach just north and south of Scarborough Beach as essential piping plover habitat.

“We spent a lot of time looking where plovers were, where the successful breeding grounds for plovers were and where our designated areas were,” Somers said.

Furthermore, the committee recommends eliminating restricted areas on Higgins Beach and Pine Point Beach next summer, in part because many of the piping plovers that did nest on Scarborough beaches, do so outside the restricted areas.

The committee was not in favor of constructing dog parks in Scarborough because of the cost of upkeep — an average of $25,000 to $50,000 a year — and the laundry list of things needed for a successful dog park.

“It was the committee’s feeling that there is still no appetite for dog parks in town and would face stern opposition from the public,” Somers said.

Similarly the idea of a dog tag program did not sit well with committee members. The idea would be to have out-of-town visitors buy a dog tag and sign paperwork stating they understand the animal control regulations in town before they can use town beaches with their dog. Residents would sign similar paperwork when they obtained their dog licenses, but would not be required to buy a dog tag.

According to the committee’s report, “The cost of a tag program is not in the best interests of the citizens of Scarborough and would provide no appreciable gain in compliance with our ordinances or additional impact to the plover population.” The report later states, “It would be unfair, unenforceable and opening our town to lawsuits to craft a tag program that only applies to certain people” and recommends monitoring the current ordinances for one to three years before adding something like a dog tag program.

“The committee felt the resources used to develop a new tag system could better be used on educational materials,” Somers said. “Scarborough sees no appreciable gain. The cons of doing so would far outweigh the gains.”

Committee members felt the beach monitoring program, led by beach monitor coordinator Ryan Wynne, was successful, but could use a few tweaks, including better training for the volunteer monitors and introducing codes of conduct for both monitors and dog owners.

Councilor Kate St. Clair was impressed with the report from the ad hoc committee.

“They were given a big task and handled it well,” she said.

Wynne told the Leader last week seven pairs of piping plovers nested on Scarborough beaches, including four on Pine Point and three at Higgins Beach.

Councilor William Donovan, who lives in the Higgins Beach neighborhood, said that beach had the highest piping plover productivity in the state.

“I saw a real difference at Higgins Beach,” said Council Jean-Marie Caterina, who lives on Gorham Road, but has relatives who live at the beach.

According to Laura Minich Zitske, director of the Maine Audubon Piping Plover and Least Tern Recovery Project, there were 97 piping plovers fledgings statewide, the third-highest ever recorded in the state. Fledging occurs when chicks develop wings large enough and strong enough for flight.

“This was our best year and that is something we should be proud of,” said Council Chairman Richard Sullivan.

Sullivan said the council will take a look at the recommendations and possibly implement them sometime when the new council is elected this winter.

“We learned a lot and I think we will learn a lot again next year,” he said.

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