November 13, 2019
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Scarborough weighs new beach rules to protect endangered birds from unleashed dogs

Photo courtesy of Maine Audubon
Photo courtesy of Maine Audubon
Maine's population of endangered piping plovers is at an all-time low according to the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

SCARBOROUGH, Maine — Compromise could be on the horizon in the dogs-versus-plovers debate.

The Scarborough Town Council considered a proposal Wednesday from the ad hoc committee considering new animal control ordinances. The plan would maximize time dogs are allowed off leash throughout the year, while also protecting the habitat of the endangered piping plovers, particularly during their nesting season.

The proposal, presented in a workshop by councilor and committee member Bill Donovan, would establish two zones on all three affected town beaches.

One zone would be “protected areas” for the plovers, where no dogs would be allowed from April 1 to the Tuesday after Labor Day. The other would be “nonprotected areas” situated a secure distance away from the plover habitats, where dogs can be off leash and not pose risks to the plovers.

The committee considered data on areas where plovers nest in separating the beaches, Donovan said.

At Higgins Beach, the area from Champion Street to the Spurwink River would be off-limits to dogs during the April-September period. All of privately owned Western Beach already does not allow dogs, and it will also be deemed a “protected area.” All of Ferry Beach will stay an “unprotected area.”

Pine Point Beach would be an exception to the rule: It will have a “protected area” north of Hurd Park, but dogs will be allowed on leashes in the area.

All other areas of these beaches are considered “nonprotected areas,” where dogs may be on the beach, leashed or not, under new, proposed time-and-date restrictions:

• From April 1 to June 14, dogs may be off leash from 6 a.m.-11 a.m. and 2 p.m.-dusk. They must be on leash from 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

• From June 15 to the Tuesday after Labor Day, dogs may be off leash from 6 a.m.-9 a.m., they must be on leash from 5 p.m.-dusk, and would be banned from the beaches between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Exceptions to these restrictions would be if and when plover chicks are present on the beaches.

The current ordinance allows dogs to be off leash on town beaches from Sept. 16 to June 14. Between June 15 and Sept. 14, dogs are allowed off-leash from dawn to 9 a.m., are banned from town beaches between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., and then allowed on leashes from 5 p.m. to dusk.

The proposal also suggests a rule that dog leashes be no longer than 12 feet.

Revisions of beach and townwide animal control ordinances began last September when the U.S. Forest and Wildlife Services had proposed fining the town $12,000 for insufficient regulations protecting the birds after a plover was killed by a dog about 7 a.m. July 15, 2013.

The agency has refused to release the incident report it used to create the notice of violation served to Hall. Hall negotiated a consent agreement reducing the fine to $500, as long as the town created a stricter animal control ordinance and hired a “piping plover coordinator” for the next five years. The agency is allowed to reopen the agreement and seek the original fine if it feels conditions are not met.

Although councilors and residents alike on Wednesday echoed the opinion that the proposal outlined is not perfect, everyone who spoke agreed that they could accept it.

The proposal “comes miles from where we were. Do I love it? Of course not, but that’s compromise,” Councilor Jessica Holbrook said. “You find what you can live with. I think we’re much closer to resolving some issues for everyone.”

Anticipating public response to the proposal, Chairman Richard Sullivan said “If people don’t see this as a compromise, I don’t see how else this can be done.”

Given that no councilors had any major objections, the ideas outlined in this proposal are likely to move forward. But it was unclear whether the elements of the proposal will end up in ordinance amendments.

Town Manager Tom Hall also ran through more than 20 additional recommendations from the ad-hoc committee. These included establishing an ongoing temporary committee to continue working on beach issues pertaining to dogs and plovers, outlining plans for new signs at beach access points with clearer language, and education and outreach efforts, none of which would require ordinance amendments.

The committee also suggested establishing standards for “Responsible Dog Licensure” annually for dog owners, which would require an ordinance amendment.


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