Fishermen, beachgoers work to loosen plover closures

Fishermen, beachgoers work to loosen plover closures

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A nesting plover and her chick. — Photo Courtesy Mass Audobon

Although winter still has us in its icy grip, it won’t be long until the bluefish and the striped bass are biting, the piping plovers are nesting, and beaches across the Cape and Islands are closing.

Striving to find a balance in the increasingly contentious battle between residents and state and federal agencies over mandated beach closures to protect the endangered piping plover, a group of representatives from the Cape and Islands recently gathered at the Dennis Senior Center for the inaugural meeting of the Regional Beach Access Coalition (RBAC).

The Vineyard was represented by Chappaquiddickers Fran and Bob Clay and Ron Domurat of Edgartown, founders of the Martha’s Vineyard Beach Access Coalition (MVBAC). Chris Kennedy, Martha’s Vineyard Superintendent at The Trustees of the Reservations (TTOR), also attended.

“We’re not saying the plovers are the problem,” Mr. Domurat said in a phone call with the Times. “It’s all the state and federal regulations and the way they’re enforced. The towns have no say at the table. The people from Plymouth at the meeting said they spent more money on legal fees fighting environmental groups than their entire Council on Aging budget.”

Plover progress

Since it was designated as a threatened species under the Federal Endangered Species Act in 1986, the piping plover has seen a significant surge in population from 790 nesting pairs in 1986 to 1,890 by 2011. The 1996 Atlantic Coast Piping Plover Revised Recovery Plan, prepared by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, established a goal of 2,000 breeding pairs for a minimum of five years, distributed across four regions. The regional goal for New England, 625 pairs, was exceeded in 2008 with 711 pairs, due in large part to growing populations on the Cape and Islands. But growth has stagnated. A massive June storm in 2012 wiped out nests all along the Atlantic Coast, resulting in the lowest number of fledged chicks in 25 years.

“The good news in Massachusetts is plovers have increased in numbers of breeding pairs,” said Jonathan Regosin, Chief of Conservation Science for the Massachusetts department of Fish and Wildlife. “The bad news is there’s been a pretty alarming decline in productivity.  They’re not producing enough young for a stable population. Weather has been one cause. The other big cause is predators. There’s lot of evidence that the number of scavenging predators like skunks and raccoons and crows increase with the waste created by human activity.”

“Last year we fledged 20 chicks on Chappy,” said Chris Kennedy of TTOR. “That’s unheard of. But at Norton Point we had zero. With several thousand nesting terns, each one with two to three eggs, it’s a massive food source and predators like to spend the least amount of energy possible. They know where the food is.”

Beach egress

Each spring, public and private land managers erect hundreds of feet of rope barriers to fence off likely nesting sites on the Vineyard. Last year, Norton Point  was closed to over-sand vehicles (OSV) for 61 days. There were running closures on Chappy, and stretches of Leland Beach were closed for three weeks. “We’ve got some flexibility that the Cape towns don’t have,” said Mr. Kennedy. “If we didn’t have the option of running vehicles along the [Cape Poge] bay side of Chappy, those beaches would have been closed for quite a few days.”

Plover closures on the Cape have been much more severe. In Orleans there have been total beach closures every year since 2006. Last year, roads leading from Nauset Beach parking lot to Chatham were closed for 83 days, from June 2 to August 23. Toward the end of the summer, one chick kept the trail closed for 21 days.

Responding to the growing outcry, this fall Orleans Selectman John Hodgson and Chatham Selectman Sean Summers spearheaded the Outer Beach Coalition (OBC) with other beachfront towns and concerned groups to appeal to state and federal officials for a way to reduce the closures. This year the OBC expanded to become the RBAC.

This past Tuesday, Mr. Hodgson and the RABC scored a significant victory when the Orleans board of selectmen unanimously approved their proposed Habitat Conservation Plan — a 361-page proposal that will allow for a more balanced approach to plover protection.

In the plan, escorted vehicles would be allowed past a maximum of two broods of piping plovers, and up to eight chicks in total. A maximum 200 vehicles per day will be allowed on the beach.  Vehicles would be grouped in caravans of up to 66 cars and each caravan will have escorts, on foot, at the front and sides to look for plovers and their nests. The caravans would leave in the morning between seven and 10 am and return between three and six pm. In a telephone interview with the Times, selectman Hodgson said parents of cranky kids who want to leave before the returning caravan will be out of luck. “We’ll be very upfront about the rules,” he said. “We’ll make exceptions for severe weather and emergencies, but otherwise, this is the deal.” The cost of the three-year plan is estimated to be around $78,000 in the first year and approximately $89,000 the second year.

Section 10

A key to a new plover policy for a beach town is getting a section 10 permit, also known as a take permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This permit allows for a certain number of accidental nest damage or plover deaths without federal prosecution. A specified number of birds could be harassed or killed, in exchange for measures that improve the success of the plover population elsewhere.

Mr. Kennedy said that under current federal law, without a Section 10 permit, he could go to jail and be fined up to $100,000 if a plover was run over on TTOR land under his purview.  “If Orleans doesn’t get a section 10, and a plover gets run over, the selectmen could be prosecuted,” he said.

With the exception of one section 10 permit issued to another state agency, no federal or state permits have been approved anywhere on the Atlantic coastline. But Mr. Hodgson is optimistic that that will change in Massachusetts with the help of state fish and wildlife officials. “We’ve had some positive success with state on this,” he said. “State fish and wildlife has bent over backwards, calling us on weekends and nights, and doing a lot of hand holding.”

Mr. Regosin said that the option of applying for a state-wide section 10 permit is being discussed.

Bob Clay of the Martha’s Vineyard Beach Coalition is optimistic that the right balance can be struck on the Vineyard, regardless of the section 10 approval. “I think what happened last year on trustees property was reasonable,” he said. “They [TTOR] got the state to allow them to move around birds easier. In the past they would close a whole beach  It’s like every problem, it just needs to be managed. We just need to use common sense.”



    2 ¼ cups plover broth, defatted
    3 cups cooked and chopped plover breast (probably have to kill a whole nest just to get this much scrawny meat…)

    ½ cup chopped celery
    ¼ cup chopped onions
    2 medium carrots, coarsely chopped
    3 tablespoon cornstarch
    1 ¾ cups evaporated skim milk
    1 cup frozen peas, thawed
    ¼ cup snipped fresh parsley
    ½ teaspoon dried sage
    3 sheets fat-free phyllo dough

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a saucepan, combine 2 cups of the broth, the celery, onions, and carrots. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat. Cover and simmer roughly 5 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

    In a large measuring cup, stir together the remaining ¼ of broth and the cornstarch until smooth. Slowly stir the cornstarch mixture into the broth-vegetable mixture. Then stir in the milk.

    Cook and stir over medium heat until the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce the heat. Cook and stir for 1 minute more. Then stir in the plover meat, peas, parsley, and sage. Transfer the mixture to a shallow 2 quart casserole.

    Lay one sheet of the phyllo dough on top of the plover mixture you just created. Spray the dough with no-stick spray. Repeat layering and spraying the phyllo two more times. Fold or crumple the edges of the dough and tuck them inside the casserole dish.

    Bake 35-40 minutes or until crust is golden brown.


  2. Ouch man this recipe is hugely politically incorrect and you would pay dearly if earth worshippers knew who you were. Worshipping the creation rather than the creator is a religion on MV. Beach closings everywhere is silly but there are people who don’t want us to enloy the land for fear we will harm some creature.

    1. Every summer we close large sections of our own beach to protect these fragile creatures untill they fledge. Then they head down to South America where they are considered a delicacy and are eaten. I will continue to do my part and shoot every skunk I can.

      1. Piping plovers do not spend any time in South America nor are they eaten anywhere within their range. The farthest south they go for their winter migration is the Caribbean and Bahamas. The reason we close the beaches during the summer is because of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 which means that there are federal regulations REQUIRING for us to do so. As mentioned, penalties for killing a plover could be jail time and $100,000 fine.

        You can learn more about plovers here:

        1. We don’t want to know more about plovers. They are protected beyond common sense and are usually eaten long before they come in contact with anyone who now can’t access a beach.

          1. The point is that the people who close the beaches here don’t do so because it’s a decision they’ve made, it’s an action they’re required to do by the federal government. I agree that there is a problem with this system, but coming to a solution will take a lot more effort than berating those people and making jokes about eating plovers.

          2. The article doesnt mention Sea Gulls as one of the greatest predators of plover eggs. So if you dont want the MV tactical unit to pick them off theres not much you can do about it. Overland vehicles never was a threat. Figure a way to get rid of the predators and problem solved.

          3. why is it that the same people that are opposed to cape wind because it MIGHT kill a few birds ignore the fact that cats kill birds all the time, then point to a natural predator as reason to not be concerned if humans kill them with their trucks . ?
            Either way, boys, if you are concerned about windmills killing birds, you should be concerned about trucks killing birds..

        2. Plovers are exported to S. American countries from Mexico and Central America and they are eaten according to some friends from Guyana.

      2. plovers are indigenous — skunks are not..
        I drown skunks– they are different than plovers..
        Just because you are willing to kill one species, does not mean you should kill all species.

        1. Drowning skunks because they are different? Drowning is the most inhumane way to kill any species. They may not be indigenous, but it is not their fault and no species deserves to be tortured. I have witnessed and hopefully have stopped this horrible practice at the Lake Street Landing.

          1. there are plenty of more inhumane ways to kill an animal rather than drown it. How about running it over with truck ? You might think that would be quick, but the sand is soft, and many small birds might just be injured and take hours if not days to die..

    2. First off, the beaches aren’t really closed. You can walk on them all you want –at least the one % or so that the 1% doesn’t own. If you really want more beach access how about trying to change the laws and open all beaches to everyone…….
      The problem here is vehicles. And let’s be clear, vehicles do run over the baby birds. And where is the logic behind going to church and worshiping the “creator” in the morning and then going out in the afternoon and carelessly killing what She has created.

      1. no one is talking about needless killing. the discussion is about closing beaches to public–no you cant walk on them, for a few plovers who get eaten anyway. Ask the bridge opener at Eastville beach who sees the plover eggs and babies being eaten by ospreys all the time. This is not about driving on beaches. You are misinformed. people here on MV don’t want you drowning skunks nor killing a mouse but they want you to take it one mile away and release it. I am not making this up. How is the warming thing going? Nothing in 15 years but you still don’t believe it.

        1. they fence off areas, and you have to stay away from them, but entire beaches are not closed to foot traffic because of plovers.

          And what are you talking about with “the warming thing” . “Nothing in 15 years” ?

          do you get your information from bubble gum wrappers ?

          According to N.O.A.A. , which actually keeps track of this stuff :

          “All of the top 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 1998. The warmest year on record was 2010, NOAA reported.”

          Global temperature records go back to 1880.

          This was one of the warmest years on record that did not include the warming influence of an El Nino climate pattern, according to Thomas Karl, director of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center.

          Australia recorded its warmest year on record, while both Japan and South Korea endured their hottest summers on record.

          While most of the world had warmer-than-average year, some areas were cooler than average last year, Karl said, including parts of the central USA, which was the only land area where that occurred.”

          here is the link to the full story.

          I mean, what proof do you need ?

          and don’t believe what you read on bubble gum wrappers– Bazooka Joe is not real, and certainly doesn’t know anything about the climate.

        2. What are you talking about on “the warming thing” the last 15 years have seen the 10 warmest years on record.

          Japan had it’s hottest summer ever this year, and Australia had it’s warmest year ever. The central U.S was the only land mass in the world with lower than average temperatures in 2013.
          Nasa studies this stuff –here is their opening line in a recent study

          NASA scientists say “2013 tied with 2009 and 2006 for the seventh warmest year since 1880, continuing a long-term trend of rising global temperatures. With the exception of 1998, the 10 warmest years in the 134-year record all have occurred since 2000, with 2010 and 2005 ranking as the warmest years on record. NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) analyzes global surface temperatures on an ongoing basis. The analysis of 2013 data shows how Earth continues to experience temperatures warmer than those measured several decades ago.

    1. is it “common sense” to just kill anything in the way of humans hedonistic desires? I think not.. It’s common sense to preserve the reason we are here. if you want to kill everything and live in an urban world, move to New Jersey , or New York city.. trust me , the plovers are not a problem there..

  3. 61 days with no beach access on Norton Point and NO chicks.
    I hate the plovers!

  4. A few things that don’t make sense to me:

    You can put a fence up around each plover nest that allows the parents and chicks to come in and out but does not allow predators to reach the eggs and chicks; this seems like a simple solution to help increase the population, why is this not being done?

    One you fence in the nest why not erect a no drive or walk zone within 10 feet of the nest, some yellow caution tape on a few sticks.

    There are a couple of Bald Eagle nest where I fish frequently. The naturalist type government people had a hard time fathoming the fact that Bald Eagles could get used to people, they actually thought the Eagles would abandon their nest if someone walked under the tree. Bald Eagles get used to people and so would plovers.

    I think people would get behind such simple solutions. Mark C

  5. does this mean I “kill or harass” A specified number of any species , in exchange for measures that improve the success of the {species in question} population elsewhere?
    WOW.. ..
    can we apply that to such “endangered species” as lumberjacks ?
    Culling a few thousand of them in the pacific north western forest would provide a steadier work flow for those that would be left..

  6. Poor fluffy little plover, who would want to eat it? Must be a boney mess, honestly, why bother? Live and let live.