Conserving the Nature of America
Press Release
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Town of Orleans, MA, complete plan to conserve plovers while increasing beach access for over-sand vehicles
First town along the Atlantic Coast to have plover conservation plan and permit

April 21, 2015


Division of Public Affairs
External Affairs
Telephone: 703-358-2220

Piping plovers are protected as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. Once common, plovers now number less than 3,800 along the Atlantic Coast. Credit: Kaiti Titherington/USFWS
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As a result of the long-term success in conserving threatened piping plovers in Massachusetts, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has permitted the Town of Orleans to increase access for over-sand vehicles (OSV) on Nauset Beach South. The town in return has committed to take steps to avoid and make up for effects to plover chicks.

“The nearly 30 years of committed efforts by partners and resulting six-fold increase in Massachusetts’ plover population are allowing us to find ways to better balance conservation and recreation, ” said Tom Chapman, supervisor for the Service’s New England Field Office. “As the first town along the East Coast to have a plover conservation plan and permit, Orleans’ efforts have paved the way for us to provide flexibility to other Massachusetts landowners while still maintaining recovery of this threatened shorebird.”

A habitat conservation plan is needed because OSV operation in the vicinity of flightless piping plover chicks can accidentally injure or kill them. The plan includes measures to protect chicks on a nearly one-mile stretch of Nauset Beach, including a pedestrian escort walking in front of each vehicle, limiting vehicle access to four hours per day, and continuous monitoring during those windows. In addition, the town will implement a number of measures to benefit piping plovers in Massachusetts, including educational outreach, experimental management to deter plover nest predators, and funding for targeted predator management at plover sites outside Orleans.

"I would like to thank the dedicated volunteers, Orleans residents and other Cape Cod towns who helped us and gave their support to make this a success," said Orleans Selectman John Hodgson. "This groundbreaking habitat conservation plan provides a model for other coastal towns to give the plovers the protection they need while allowing us to enjoy the beaches vital to our Cape economy and our way of life."

Now that the plan is complete, the Service has issued a three-year incidental take permit under the Endangered Species Act, which authorizes the potential effects of escorting OSV past two broods (up to eight chicks) per year after  July 15. The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife (MassWildlife) issued a parallel state endangered species permit last year.

“This permit demonstrates that continued advances in piping plover conservation can go hand-in-hand with maintaining and increasing recreational opportunities on our beaches,” said Jack Buckley, Acting Director of MassWildlife. “We look forward to continuing to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to possibly extend this opportunity to other Massachusetts beaches.”

The Massachusetts piping plover population has increased from around 140 pairs when the species was listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1986 to a preliminary estimate of over 650 pairs in 2014. During that time, partners worked together to develop and implement beach management practices that have been vital to this increase, including installing symbolic fencing around nests, requiring dogs on leashes, posting warning signs and keeping human activities outside fenced areas. The state’s population alone has exceeded the New England recovery unit goal of 625 breeding pairs of plovers the last three years, thanks to decades of efforts by federal, state, town, and private landowners, agencies at all levels of government, and organizations. No other recovery unit along the Atlantic Coast--Eastern Canada, New York-New Jersey, and Delaware to North Carolina--has been able to consistently reach its goal in the last 10 years.

Habitat conservation plans are one example of the flexibilities provided under the Endangered Species Act to help people conserve rare wildlife while moving forward with projects and other activities that have the potential to harm these species. The conservation goal of this plan is to increase recreational access while taking steps to ensure the plover population at Nauset Beach South contributes to a stable or modestly growing Massachusetts plover population.

The Service and MassWildlife are currently working closely with a group of towns, conservation organizations and other agencies to provide more Massachusetts recreational beach managers the opportunity to improve recreational access while advancing piping plover conservation. The result, a statewide programmatic habitat conservation plan, will streamline future permits and provide coordination at the statewide level.

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