Provincetown Life Information

Piping Plovers and environmentalists close Provincetown and National Seashore beaches

Published: Mon June 19, 2006
By: Straight Dope in Life > Beach & Ocean
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For thousands of lotion-lubed drivers over sand, the meccas of Cape Cod are going off limits.

The off-road vehicle destinations also are maternity wards for endangered piping plovers.

In what are being called unprecedented closures on multiple fronts, many of the Lower Cape’s ocean beaches have been, or will soon be, closed to off-road vehicle traffic to protect the bird.

For the first time ever, all vehicle access to the Cape Cod National Seashore’s off-road vehicle corridor has been temporarily closed to protect piping plovers. The approximately 8-mile lane runs from Race Point Light in Provincetown to Longnook Beach in Truro. The Seashore sells 3,000 annual and 400 weekly permits for access, which could be closed for three to four weeks.

Last week, police closed most of Chatham’s portion of Nauset Beach to traffic - south of Trail 7 - for an undetermined amount of time.

And Wednesday night, Orleans officials announced they’ll soon close the entire south end of Nauset Beach because two plover nests were found in the area. Orleans’ ORV corridor along Nauset, called the Outer Beach, will be closed from the time eggs hatch - sometime between June 21 and June 25 - until the chicks fledge or move out, which could take a month.

‘’This is a very big deal,’’ said Paul Fulcher, Orleans parks and beaches superintendent. ‘’The last thing you want to do is shut down a recreational area that thousands and thousands of people look forward to going to every year.’’

The town’s hands are tied, Fulcher said, because they must adhere to stringent state and federal endangered species laws.

Vacationers upset

‘’This is like pulling the rug right out from under my summer vacation,’’ said Tony Dawes of Los Angeles, who has frequented the Outer Beach for years in early July with his brother and nephews.

‘’The Fourth of July is magical out there, but I guess they put the kaputz on that.’’

Parts of the Seashore and Nauset Beach usually close each year to protect the shorebird, but there usually has been a designated trail that ORV drivers could use to detour around the nesting plovers.

Not this year.

‘’The birds have a fair degree of tolerance, and we set up safety buffers for vehicles while they’re on nests,’’ said Carrie Phillips, the Seashore’s chief of natural resources. ‘’But once they hatch and we have chicks, the concern becomes about the possibility of a chick getting run over, so the buffers that we put around the areas where the chicks are get significantly bigger.’’

This time, those bigger buffers linked together in ways that made a complete ORV shutdown necessary.

Word of the closures yesterday stunned dozens of off-road vehicle drivers, especially those who have frequented the Outer Beach for decades.

The 8-mile Nauset Beach that runs from Orleans to Chatham is a crown jewel, drawing more than 1 million people a year. Orleans sells about 6,000 ORV permits generating about $400,000 in annual revenue. Now the beach can only be accessed on foot.

‘Cotton balls on toothpicks’

Erosion over the past few years has for the first time forced the closure of the entire width of Nauset Beach after piping plover chicks have hatched, said Scott Melvin, senior zoologist at the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, who coordinates plover conservation efforts.

Plover chicks - which he described as ‘’cotton balls on toothpicks’’ - leave the nest within hours of hatching then scramble to the water’s edge for food.

For about 35 days after hatching, chicks can run mad-cap all over the beach, making them vulnerable to vehicles, Melvin said. The erosion at Nauset has narrowed the beach, meaning the chicks can move back and forth across the entire beach from the shoreline of the open ocean to Pochet Inlet to the west, Melvin said.

Robert Prescott, director of Massachusetts Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, said Nauset has been the most under-performing beach for plover nesting pairs across the Northeast this year.

‘’The piping plover is telling us something. Either we’re mismanaging the beach, there are too many people (using it), or there is something else (at work),’’ he said.

Those who own camps along the Outer Beach in Orleans will have to boat or walk to their properties, while Chatham camp owners will need an escort to drive on a pre-designated path.

While Orleans is planning for the closures, Fulcher said the nests are still susceptible to predators and other external factors.

Closures come with cost

The closures pose a threat to Orleans’ town coffers. Fulcher said the town could be out $125,000 if fewer people buy permits this year.

Area businesses, too, could lose money if people are forced to stay away from a very popular section of Nauset Beach in the height of summer.

Steve Burd, co-owner of Eldia Marketplace and Coffeehouse, said he depends on Nauset visitors who pick up snacks and drinks before and after their beach excursions.

‘’That beach is what I live for, and to take that away is unbelievable,’’ said Tony Stetzko, a commercial surf fisherman, who added the Outer Beach is a key source of his income.

Stetzko said the town should investigate more equitable beach management techniques, such as increased fencing or hiring full-time staff to guide traffic away from nests.

Others - including out-of-towners who paid $180 for a Nauset ORV permit - said the town’s no-refund policy is unfair.

Town officials said the possibility of closures is clearly spelled out in videos applicants are required to watch and handouts before permits are issued.


On Mon June 19, 2006, Straight Dope wrote:

When will the National Seashore learn that humans and business are more important than some useless bird that no one cares about?

Your tax dollars at work folks!

On Sat July 15, 2006, Response to Straight Dope wrote:

Straight dope - your name says it all; dope seems to fit your comment.

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