Much of Beach Restricted Due to Piping Plovers

 

The entire off-road vehicle section of Duxbury Beach, a majority of the resident’s pedestrian beach and much of the public bathing beach at the Duxbury Beach Park will be closed this week and may remain so until mid-July because of a larger than usual number of piping plovers nesting all over the beach.

 

The closures take effect Friday, June 7 at 11 p.m. and were announced Monday by the Board of Selectmen. They are expected to last until July 15.

The beach will be closed at the first, second and third crossovers, thereby eliminating any vehicle access. Chains will bar these entrances. The resident’s beach will remain open but it is narrowed to a small swath with restrictions on both sides. Facing south, much of the pedestrian beach will be closed to the first crossover, and facing north, a large section that reaches to Duxbury Beach Park (Blakeman’s) bathhouse will also be closed.

The bay side beach north and south of the bridge will be closed in the same areas as the ocean side beach is. The public beach at Duxbury Beach Park will also be closed in front of the main parking lot but a small section remains open in front of the bathhouse/ restaurant. There is also a portion of the beach to the north of the bathhouse in front of a small satellite parking lot that will be accessible.

Duxbury residents with either parking lot or over-sand stickers will be allowed to park in the residents’ pedestrian lot. Non-residents may not park there. The Gurnet/Saquish access road will remain open but the speed limit will be lowered to 5 mph and drivers will be warned to expect delays if piping plovers get into the roadway.

It is expected that the July 4th beach party and bonfire will be cancelled, although that will depend upon on how long the closures last.

The cause of the closures are the 18 nesting pairs of plo- vers that have decided to call almost all of Duxbury Beach their home this year. The piping plover is a shorebird that is classified by both the state and federal governments as a threatened species. It cannot be disturbed during the nesting, hatching and fledging of its chicks.

According to Harbormaster Don Beers, whose depart- ment oversees the beach and the birds, there are usually 12 or fewer nesting pairs of plovers every early summer on Duxbury Beach. This year there are 18 breeding pairs with a possible 19 total, so far. Every year, a part of the beach is closed to people and often to vehicles, but this is the first year that so much of the beach will be closed.

The harbormaster’s En- dangered Species Officer Mike Pforr attributes the increase in birds to the conditions wrought by the severe winter storms that flattened sections of the beach and also built up other areas, creating “a perfect habitat” for the plovers.

“Areas that were once covered in rock are now a sandy mix, making a perfect habitat,” said Pforr. Birds are nesting near all three crossovers and near the entrance to Duxbury Beach Park. 

Once piping ploers chicks hatch, they begin to run around looking for food and can cover wide distances. They have no protection from predators because it takes between 25 to 35 days before they fledge, or fly. Because of this, the state requires a 200-yard buffer for the birds centered on their nests. With the high number of plovers this year nesting at or near the crossovers, this means most of the beach must be closed to vehicular and human access. 

The beach is owned by the Duxbury Beach Reservation Inc., which leases it annually to the town. The Reservation gives back $200,000 to the town for protection of the plo- vers, paying for the 25-30 plover monitors who sit and watch the plover chicks closely during this pre-fledging time to keep them safe.

Pforr is estimating the beach could be closed until July 15, but he’s hoping that is a worst-case scenario.

“It’s tricky to set a date, because certain things happen, but a safe date would be July 15,” said Pforr.

While it sounds like a paradox, the beach has to be closed during the hatching season in order to keep it open for people to use the rest of the year, Pforr explained.

“It’s what we have to do to maintain any type of access there,” he said. “I work very closely with Mass Audubon, and the state and federal au- thorities.”

“This is the first year, despite all the money and the monitors, that we can’t overcome that there are so many nests so close together,” said Reservation president Marga- ret Kearney. “It’s unfortunate, but it’s only going to be four weeks. We ask for the public’s patience and support of what the harbormaster’s department has to do.”

“If we all co-operate we’ll get through this,” Kearney added.

“If it wasn’t for the cooperation between the Reserva- tion, the town and this department, the access to the beach would have ended long ago,” said Beers. “We are obligated to manage the birds and protect them.”

New Town Manager Rene Read had been on the job less than two weeks when internal talk of the beach closures be- gan, making this the first town crisis he has had to face. He read from a statement at his first selectmen’s meeting, call- ing the restrictions temporary and explaining that the town is committed to making sure the public knows which areas are closed and which are open because access can change daily.

Read said that the public can call 781-934-2866 ext. 5 for beach updates. This is the harbormaster’s phone number. It will be updated twice daily at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Signs will be placed at entrances to Duxbury alerting motorists of the beach closures. Read said he is meeting with Marshfield and Plymouth officials to update them about the closings and to work with them to place mobile signs out of town. Because of the birds' actions, the public's access to the beach may change unexpectedly. 

“Once they hatch, we don’t know what will happen,” said Selectman Shawn Dahlen, who is also a member of the Duxbury Beach Reservation. “If they pack up and move from a closed area to another area, we must close that spot. It’s a bit of a chess game.”

“This is a moving target and this situation can change hour by hour,” said Beers. “As soon as we can open these areas for access, we will do that.”

Don Reed of the July 4th Committee said the committee was prepared to hold the holiday celebration at the beach if access changed. However, he added: “We do have a contingency plan.”

There are tentative plans to hold the July 4th party (without the bonfire) on Train field behind the town pool. The date is Saturday, July 6.

So far, 2013 has been a memorable year for Duxbury Beach. The blizzard of 2013 and subsequent winter storms badly damaged the beach, causing many areas of overflow and necessitating quick action by the Reservation to bring in heavy equipment to rebuild the dunes and protect the beach from breaching. Powder Point Bridge was closed for months for its first round of repairs, and now the piping plovers have forced beach closings.

These conditions have added up to lower than nor- mal beach permit sticker sales for the town. Finance Director John Madden said that as of May 29, parking lot stickers sales were down 10 percent from last year’s numbers while resident over-sand permit sales were down 12 percent. Non-resident beach stickers have increased by one percent over last year, he said. The town usually collects between $1.5 to $1.7 million in beach sticker revenue. Madden said he is not worried about any negative effects on the town’s budget, because when doing his annual budgeting he always estimates conservatively.

"The last three weeks of tickets sales have pretty much made up for the bridge closure," he said. "And when budgeting, we back off 15 percent of prior years' actuals. Revenues have been budgeted conservatively enough to take the brunt of the blow."