Provincetown Life Information

Options discussed for 2007 Provincetown Seashore piping plover closures

Published: Thu December 14, 2006
By: Straight Dope in Life > Beach & Ocean
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By Pru Sowers | Provincetown Banner

Hoping to placate irate off-road vehicle permit holders, the Cape Cod National Seashore proposed three options for helping keep them on the beach during piping plover nesting season.

Access to local beaches was severely curtailed early this past summer, including two weeks in late June and early July when the beaches were completely closed to ORV drivers, who had paid $150 for a seasonal permit. Seashore officials predicted that beach closures next summer could continue and are trying to develop a back-up plan that will keep stretches of beach open to ORV drivers.

“Is it possible to have total closure in 2007? Yes. Hopefully, these alternatives will get us to a better place in ’07 than ’06,” said Steve Prokop, chief ranger for the Cape Cod National Seashore.

The three options include opening up access to Coast Guard Beach in Truro for ORV day use; opening up access at High Head south to Head of the Meadow prior to the normal July 1 opening day; and opening up access at High Head north to Exit 8 prior to the regular July 21 opening day.

In addition, in the event of near or total closure to ORVs, those with ORV permits will be allowed free entry to beach parking lots at Race Point, Herring Cove and Head of the Meadow. Also, overnight access for self-contained vehicle pass holders will be provided at the Province Lands Visitors Center and Pilgrim Heights during an SCV closure.

If the piping plover nests force a total closure of the local beaches – defined as limiting access to a half-mile stretch or less – only one of the three primary proposed options would kick in, not all three. But even the alternatives have limitations, Prokop said.

“One caveat is if there is nesting activity, all bets are off,” he said. “The Park Service by law must honor the [piping plover] recovery plan.”

The overflow crowd at Saturday’s public hearing had no specific objections to the proposed options. However, tempers flared again over the concept of any restrictions at all. The passionate audience, many members of which have fished and camped on local beaches their entire lives, implored park officials to reconsider the need for a plover recovery plan, which has been in existence at the Seashore since 1998, when ORV drivers, environmentalists and the Park Service finished negotiating a set of rules that restrict beach access during the plover nesting season, which can last until July 22.

Instead of triggering the corridor access restrictions for drivers, one attendee suggested, why not restrict where the birds can nest?

“Is there any way we can make spots for us instead of the birds?” asked Joe Mele. “What about the endangered humans act?

The piping plover, which is on the endangered species list, has been the target of a recovery plan in New England for a decade. While other areas report success, only the National Seashore has met the targeted productivity rates. Since 1985, when there were 18 plover pairs in the park, the population has grown to 73 pairs in 2005, according to Carrie Phillips, chief of natural resources for the Seashore.

“We’ve been doing good in New England but we’re going to have to sustain that,” she said.

Sustaining recovery efforts, however, was not the objective of most of the attendees at Saturday’s public hearing. Tom Murphy, who was on the original negotiated rule-making committee, formed in 1995, urged the audience to reopen the rule-making.

“We didn’t have clear enough heads on the last one. We didn’t understand the rules. First of all, we need to address the dumb decision to designate a plover nesting area,” he said, to applause from the overflow audience. “We can’t be talked down to like we’re senseless, mindless villains. We know how to run this beach.”

Other attendees said they were worried about the loss of revenue to local businesses, such as tackle, ice and provision shops, when the beaches are closed. Many of the ORV and SCV permit holders have been vacationing in the area for generations, said Patrick Patrick, president of the Provincetown Chamber of Commerce.

“We’re going to lose these families permanently. We’re going to lose an integral piece for the park and so will local business,” he said, adding, “Just like we need to keep the plovers, we need to keep these people.”

Additional ideas were made to the Seashore’s ORV subcommittee members, sponsors of the public hearing, who said they will take feedback from Saturday’s public hearing and make a recommendation to the National Seashore Advisory Committee, which, in turn, will make a recommendation to Seashore Supt. George Price.

ORV permit holder Tony Chiarappo said the Park Service should consider extending the ORV season past its traditional Sept. 1 closing date, when the plovers and tourists are gone.

“We can live with the birds. But when they’re gone, why can’t we use the beach?” he said.

Speaking in favor of protecting the plovers was Provincetown resident Sandra Larsen, who thanked park officials for their enforcement of the plover protection program.

“Your efforts are an inspiration to the generations to come, teaching the lessons that others have lost sight of in their pursuit of recreation which comes at a cost too high to pay,” she said. “Thank you for taking an unpopular stance and please do not yield to those who cannot see that your demonstration of respect for the existence of the plover exemplifies a most profound respect for the rest of us.”


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