Pairs of piping plovers have increased to 689 in Massachusetts. Protection efforts now target chicks.
By David Abel BOSTON GLOBE STAFF JANUARY 22, 2016 (Globe staff file image)
Fences that have barred beachgoers from prime spots along the Atlantic surf may come down this summer as the federal government prepares to relax restrictions designed to protect the piping plover in Massachusetts.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service this week released a draft plan — the first of its kind along the East Coast — that would allow state and local beach officials far more flexibility in managing the increasing number of the sand-colored birds that have taken up residence on shores along Massachusetts, often throughout the summer.
The plovers, which were deemed threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1986, have riled many beachgoers, as officials in recent years fenced off increasingly large swaths of beaches from Cape Ann to Cape Cod to protect the tiny birds.
The draft plan, likely to be approved this summer, would grant the state a 25-year permit to allow beach managers to open roads and parking lots where some birds may roost, authorize off-road vehicles to be escorted past nests, and, in rare cases, let officials move nests from sensitive areas.
“This effort is vital to plover conservation,” said Meagan Racey, a spokeswoman for the US Fish and Wildlife Service. “As plover numbers increase, tensions can rise as beachgoers [and] residents seek to share the beach with the plover and other shorebirds. We are planning ahead to find a solution that works for people and plovers.”
When federal officials designated the region’s plovers as threatened 30 years ago, there were just 139 breeding pairs in Massachusetts. Since then, after spending $150,000 a year to help avert the extinction of the birds, the state has seen a resurgence of plovers, with an estimated 689 pairs nesting last year.
David Abel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davabel.