2015-02-06 / Front Page

Neighboring town grapples with plover rules

By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer

Last spring the Scarborough Town Council was able to reach a compromise and adopt an animal control ordinance that both protected the piping plover, a shore bird that is endangered in Maine and federally threatened, and allowed dogs to roam free during certain hours throughout the summer.

Although town officials applauded the efforts, officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) are still reviewing it to determine if it meets federal endangered species standards.

The need to change the ordinance was compounded in July 2013 when an unleashed dog killed a piping plover on Pine Point Beach. The USFWS fined the town $12,000 for not having a strong enough ordinance to prevent such a killing – or take – from occurring. After reaching an agreement with the town, the fine was reduced to $500.

Scarborough changed its ordinance in September 2013, but that decision was overturned by a citizens referendum in December, forcing the council to start fresh. An ad hoc animal control advisory committee was formed and, by May, the council adopted yet another animal control ordinance.

Although the council’s final ordinance fell short of the federal agency’s desire to see dogs leashed during the entire piping plover season, which runs from April to October, Town Manager Tom Hall said the council’s action, like the Endangered Species Act requirements, were “intended to promote the protection of the species.”

“With the benefit of one plover season behind us, we are completing our review of the adequacy of the town’s new Animal Control Ordinance regarding the potential for take of threatened piping plovers,” Meagan Racey, a spokesperson for the USFWS wrote in an email to the Leader. “We recognize this has been a contentious issue in town and recognize the new approach was developed in good faith. We maintain a genuine interest in continuing to work with the town and others on efforts to conserve the threatened piping plover.”

Laura Minich Zitske, director of Maine Audubon’s Piping Plover and Least Tern Recovery Project, told members of the Kennebunkport Town Council, who are looking to update the town’s animal control ordinance, that Scarborough could still be held liable.

“Having dogs off leash, even for an hour or two, during the piping plover season, is exposing the town to significant threat. There is a potential for a violation for the Endangered Species Act that the town could be responsible for,” Minich Zitske told councilors.

Kennebunkport’s animal control was last updated in 1976.

Hall said he has not heard from either the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, or the USFWS, since the ordinance was passed in May.

“We met with them either shortly before, or right after the council passed the amendments. The point of that meeting was for them to understand the rational for our policy decision. They requested the meeting and we were pleased to meet,” Hall said.

Hall added that the ordinance may be tweaked for next summer, but he doesn’t expect to council to readdress the issue when prompted.

“I think it is fair to say for the councilors who were on the council at the time there is not much of an appetite to revisit this anytime soon. I think everyone was impressed with the results. There are improvements we can make, really fine tuning, with signage and monitoring,” Hall said.

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