Endangered Species News
Endangered Species News reports on federal protection for endangered species, rare plants and rare animals that face a potential population crash or extinction. While the Endangered Species Act does help these critters recover, it always angers someone.
Excess, Expedience and Choosing Sides
Piping Plover Problems Part ll 11.6.12
Tuesday Sept. 23 was supposed to be my graduation from hopeless tree hugger to open-minded arbiter of all things environmental. I was going to go before a federal judge and argue my case that the director of the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island in northeast Massachusetts was a naturalist Nazi. That he ruled with an iron first and little thought the roughly 5 square miles of pristine marsh and oceanfront under his charge, without regard to the recreational needs of those who paid his salary. All to protect the piping plovers, a shore bird smaller than a baseball fighting an increasingly uphill battle against natural selection. How does a self described militant environmentalist find himself linking arms with the cause of the “Piping Plover-tastes-like-chicken” crowd?
Thanks to Dave Granlund for use of the cartoon
That’s a story that’s already been told. What I have to explain now is why I folded like a deck chair before the administrative onslaught of the federal judicial system. It’s a story with some intrigue starting with the federal “prosecutor” that day who was also the conservation cop who ticketed me for trespassing on regions of the refuge closed to protect piping plovers. I was going to plead “not guilty” because Massachusetts law guarantees the public’s right to go fishing on all shorelines in the state. No matter who owns them. Since I was lobstering in the closed area, I was clearly innocent by state law. In the process of my plea, I was also going to present a handful of other arguments, also already made, that the refuge director is grotesquely over zealous in closing Plum Island beaches to protect the plover and that he could easily open up some sections without endangering the nesting plovers. Trust me, I had a great case to make. So why did I abandon it?
Let me start by saying that I thought something was fishy when the conservation officer-cum-prosecutor pulled me—and none of the other half dozen or so people answering tickets for trespassing on the same beach—outside of the courtroom for a conference. Not once, but twice! He told me that the federal laws protecting the plover superseded the state law allowing access to the beach for fishing and such. Strike 1. He said that if I went ahead I’d have to stand trial. Strike 2. Moreover, if I was found guilty, the judge could technically hand down any fine, or sentence, she wanted. Heck, I could go to jail for trespassing. Strike 3? Not so fast. I suspected this conservation office has a loose relationship with the truth. He told me while writing the second of two speeding tickets I also got this summer, that he clocked me doing “35 in a 25” but the ticket said “31 to 40.” So not only did he have no idea how fast I was going, but he didn’t even have his radar on.
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_2011 Endangered Species News Archive
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I pled guilty to both speeding tickets because technically, I was speeding. It was clear to me those pleas would come up in our conversations before the judge. But that’s not why I didn’t stand my ground when the judge asked for my plea. I swear it isn’t. It was the out-of-court comments of the conservation cop. They weighed heavy on my mind as had my plan to fight the ticket for the past few weeks. He noted that the piping plover is recovering much faster on the closed beaches than at other beaches not-so severely restricted. He matter-of-factly added that the discovery of a colony of similarly scarce Least Terns on the island this year meant closures would likely be more extensive next year. This guy was not only unsympathetic to my arguments, he was adding insult to injury. The point is the conservation cop, and no doubt his boss, the refuge manager, are just soldiers in a cause that is becoming a war in this country and there are always excesses in war. Yes, absolute power corrupts absolutely and yes, my ticket for enjoying the pastime such refuges are in part specifically created for is the collateral damage in this war. Nonetheless, I now side with the refuge manager.
Kildeer adapt to man a lot better than plovers.
I started to feel foolish for even being in that court that day. Nothing succeeds like excess and that’s what is needed the world over if we’re ever to protect for our grandchildren the ecosystems we know and enjoy today. When I first wrote about this ticket, NBN got more comments than it has for the entire previous year, from people just as angry over the overzealous protection of tiny birds that are probably going to go extinct anyway, along with a whole lot of other animals, from global warming. Yes, the director at Plum Island is overzealous in protecting piping plovers. Yes the public is asked to sacrifice more than may be necessary for his rigidity in his beliefs. But if we don’t jealously defend the rights of ecosystems that can’t defend themselves, the biodiversity of places like Plum Island will erode into the ecological equivalents of parking lots.
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Overprotecting Piping Plovers? 07.10.12
How can anyone criticize people volunteering an entire day to keeping others from wandering onto the nesting grounds of adorable, endangered baby birds? You can’t. Even if those nesting grounds happen to be empty at the time. So, let me just start this story by saying the piping plover warden on the beach on the southern tip of the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge July 7 is hardly at fault. Anyone assigned to such a task should be alarmed if they see a man with a 50-foot section of rope and bulging black mesh bag heading toward potential plover nesting grounds. And I was walking really fast. The rope I had unwound from the rocks off the beach while diving for the lobsters which filled the black bag. I was walking fast to avoid the green flies turning my naked back and legs into a collection of welts the size of sugar cubes. Still, as I emerged from the water at 9 am, I must have looked like the piping plover warden equivalent of Khalil Sheik Mohammad hopping the Monday morning commuter flight from Boston to LA. With a black carry-on.
The piping plover warden in less stressful times.
The reason I was on this protected section of beach was to restore feeling to my hands and feet which were completely numb from 50 minutes of wrestling lobsters from underneath rocks in 63-degree water without a wetsuit. I got so involved in the dive that I was too cold to swim back to where I could legally exit the water onto unprotected beach. So I hauled out and walked back along a section of refuge beach closed to protect piping plovers. I saw the khali-clad warden standing at the boundary of this beach, hands on hips facing me in his best let’s-get-ready-to-rumble posture. Then, he breaks off and starts mingling with some of the beach-goers. I’m starting to think he’s just hanging out. Then I see he’s talking into his radio with his back to me. “This is not good,” I think.
So I make a bee-line for him hoping to dispel any notion that I’m trying to get away with anything. But as I cross into the unclosed beach the warden doesn’t come near me. Hopeful once again, I pick up my beach towel and, walking really fast to avoid the greenflies, head up the sandy path to the parking lot. I get to that path and I’m besieged by greenflies, so I start to run. I get into my car and get ready to leave when the warden arrives. (This is exactly how it happened.) He doesn’t say a word to me, but slowly walks past my car staring at my license plate. “This really is not good,” I think to myself as I start the car. Some 10 minutes later I’m a few miles from the park exit starting to think all the cloak-and-dagger stuff was just my own paranoia. Then a white compact car with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife door emblem slows way down as it passes me. He, too, stared at my license plate before heading down the road. I’m starting to envision a federal reception a-la David Koresh amassing at the park exit when a white Suburban SUV passes me. “This is really, really not good,” I say to myself as the vehicle does a U-turn and pulls behind with lights flashing.
Generic Google images conservation officer.
A US Fish and Wildlife conservation officer, complete with gun and Batman utility belt, walked up to my window. He told me a report came in of some guy in the plover protection zone who was apparently “digging” something. I told him I’d been diving, got too cold to return by water so I walked a short distance along the closed beach. I showed him the lobster, told him I had a license which I didn’t have with me and then crosses my fingers as he headed back to the Suburban to sort out a “whole bunch of things” I’d apparently done wrong. In my ever-optimistic assessment, I violated the letter of the law but not the intent. There was no way that I was jeopardizing fledgling plovers where I was walking. Moreover, I was diving in a wildlife refuge. That’s federal land principally set aside for: “six wildlife-dependent recreational uses” including fishing. I was doing exactly what my tax dollars were collected to allow me to do. My crime was walking on the wrong beach for about 500-feet.
A $1,100 bowl of lobster?
When I explained all this to the officer deciding my fate he was very understanding, almost apologetic, as he wrote me a $100 ticket. What else could he do? I suspect the plover warden set off alarm bells that stopped just short of the Pentagon. The officer had to show something for all that federal activity: the radio chatter, two cars and a $100 ticket that will probably cost tax payers $1,000—you bet I’m taking this to court. This is going to court because there were no plovers nesting on that 500-yard beach and it’s by far one of the most popular beaches on the refuge for fishing, snorkeling and swimming. Every year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service inventories the six miles that make up the refuge’s Atlantic beaches for plover nesting sites. Yet if there are no plovers, this prized section of beach is closed off nonetheless. Moreover, the state owns the beach right next to this one and it fences off plover nests and still lets folks use the shoreline. When you have a federal agency willing to go to such lengths to enforce a flawed law when it could much more easily exercise a little discretion, it gives conservation a bad name. And in today’s political climate that’s bad for plovers and people. Assigning SWAT teams to protect nesting sites that could as easily be fenced off leaving the beach open, particularly such an amazing beach, is the kind of pointy-headed bureaucracy that will get the Endangered Species Act, which compels the federal beach closures and has been a lifeline to other endangered species, repealed.