Those wanting to bring their dog on the beach in Saco this summer must leash their four-legged friends. FILE PHOTO

SACO — Summer is just around the corner, and those who want to enjoy the warm weather by bringing their dog on the beach must leash their four-legged friend.

In September, the Saco City Council approved an ordinance change that requires dogs to be leashed and under control of their owners from April 1 to Sept. 30 on beaches in Saco where piping plovers or least terns are present or have traditionally nested. If dog owners fail to keep their dogs leashed and under control on the beach during that time, they may be prohibited from taking their dogs to the beach from April through September, per the ordinance.

Previously, dogs only had to be on leash on the beach from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in July and August.

If a person lets a dog run loose in violation of the ordinance, violators can receive a fine between $50 and $250 for the first offense and a fine between $100 and $500 for subsequent offenses, according to Deputy Police Chief Jack Clements.

The current ordinance aligns with regulations put forth in a beach management plan Saco signed last summer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries.

The signed agreement ensures protection of endangered and at-risk wildlife, including piping plovers, a small, sandy colored shorebird that is listed as an endangered species by the state and designated by the federal government as threatened.

Unleashed dogs can  disturb courtship and incubation and prey on the tiny birds, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

“The amended ordinance intends to protect endangered and at-risk wildlife, not restrict dogs. Our beaches are dog friendly; however, please respect the requirements during this time of year by keeping dogs on an 8-foot leash while visiting Saco’s beautiful beaches,” said City Administrator Kevin Sutherland.

The beach agreement plan was signed last year as a prerequisite by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to move forward with a beach replenishment project using sand dredged from the Saco River to nourish Saco’s eroding coastline.

Saco is one of many coastal communities that has beach agreements in place to protect plovers.

Laura Minich Zitske, who leads the Maine Coastal Birds project reported last year a record number of piping plovers on Maine’s coast — 68 total nesting pairs and 128 fledged birds.

This is a dramatic increase from Zitske’s first year on the project in 2009, when there were 27 nesting pairs

Zitske credited the increase of plovers in part to partnerships the program has with Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service work with landowners, volunteers, and municipal and state agencies that strive to create safe nesting conditions for plovers and to educate beach goers on how to best share the beach with these sand birds.

“Without engaged landowners, dedicated volunteers, and proactive public works folks in these seaside towns, we could never hope to have the sort of reach we’ve achieved together. We have volunteers that are out at dawn walking the beaches, looking for birds, and talking to people. A healthy dose of luck in terms of good weather always helps, too,” said Zitske in a 2018 written statement.

In Saco, volunteers are currently being trained by the Parks and Recreation director, Ryan Sommer, to start daily beach visits to monitor for nests and educate the beach patrons about the amended ordinance.

Staff Writer Liz Gotthelf can be reached at 780-9015 or by email at [email protected].

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