August 9, 2013

Scarborough moving to keep dogs leashed on beaches

A proposal would eliminate a voice-control allowance during piping plover nesting season after an unleashed dog killed a chick last month.

By John Richardson
Staff Writer

SCARBOROUGH — Scarborough is moving to ban unleashed dogs from its beaches from April 1 to mid-September in the wake of a piping plover chick's death on Pine Point Beach last month.

A Town Council subcommittee on Thursday endorsed a proposal to require beach-going dogs to be on leashes at all times during the nesting period for plovers, which are classified as a threatened species by the federal government and considered endangered by the state. The current rules allow for dogs to be under voice control during certain morning hours, even during the nesting season.

On July 15, an unleashed dog killed a fledgling plover. The incident triggered a state investigation of the dog's owner, although no punishment is expected because the rules allowed the dog to be off leash, according to Town Manager Tom Hall.

The incident also triggered a continuing federal investigation into whether the town was adequately protecting the birds.

Hall said he is hopeful the new proposed rules will satisfy federal and state wildlife officials. "I know that their greatest concern was the voice control piece and this certainly addresses that," Hall said.

Current rules say that from June 15 to Sept. 15, dogs are allowed on beaches -- on leashes or under voice control -- from sunrise to 9 a.m. Dogs are prohibited on beaches from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. After 5 p.m., they must be on leashes.

The new proposal eliminates the voice control provision and expands the restricted season.

The full council will take up the proposal Aug. 21, and will make a final decision at a subsequent meeting.

The protection of the small migratory shore birds is an issue at sandy beaches throughout southern Maine. Some other Maine communities simply bar dogs from beaches during the nesting season.

The birds nest in the spring in sandy areas just above the high tide line, then raise the chicks on the beaches through the summer, the same time people and their pets flock to the shore for recreation.

Pets are a well-known threat to the birds.

Last year, game wardens found two dead adult piping plovers on Goose Rocks Beach in Kennebunkport. A video camera later helped to identify the culprit as a house cat prowling near the nesting site.

Maine's Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife recorded an estimated 47 pairs of piping plovers in the entire state this summer.

The chick that was killed in Scarborough was hatched from one of four eggs seen on Pine Point Beach in the spring, according to the Maine Audubon Society. The other three did not hatch, and the lone chick had fledged and was moving around on the beach when it was killed.

John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

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