State Approves ORV Plan on Nauset Beach

DunesORLEANS – The State has approved a plan that would allow off-road vehicle traffic on Nauset Beach in Orleans, despite the presence of piping plovers.

The endangered birds closed down a section of Nauset Beach for 83 days last summer.

Orleans Selectman John Hodgson said, under the plan, if it is approved, town staff would have to escort vehicles out on the beach to protect the birds.

Hodgson said the approval is a two-part process, getting approval from the state, which happened this week, and, secondly, approval from US Fish and Wildlife Agency officials.

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The 460-plus page plan is now under review with the federal regulators and in the next week or two, feedback is expected.

“The federal government has more of a process and we’re waiting for their approval,” Hodgson said.

But, Hodgson said, the only matter still undecided are the details of the escort plan.

What has been approved to date by the state is escorting a line of 60 vehicles near broods of piping plovers all at once, while additional monitors watch the birds.

But an alternative method has also been discussed that Hodgson said would be easier than the current 60-vehicle escorting plan.

“We’re pursuing both of those with the feds right now,” Hodgson said.

Hodgson said that after US Fish and Wildlife spent time on the beach with the Orleans beach director and a member of the beach buggy association, the alternative plan emerged.

The member of the beach buggy association suggested using a plan that is used on ORV beaches in Rhode Island, Hodgson said.

In the alternative plan, there are at least two people in the vehicle and when passing the nest, one person gets out of the car, and the vehicle slows to a crawl. Then once past the nest, the person gets back in the vehicle and it proceeds down the beach.

The process would reduce the amount of staff needed, Hodgson said.. “It would be a much smoother process and also a process that will inevitably protect the birds better than an escort of 60 vehicles,” he said.

The federal regulators are aware of the secondary plan and are willing to amend their approval, he said.

If the secondary plan is approved, it needs to go before the Orleans Board of Selectmen, Hodgson said.

“They can choose between plan A and plan B,” he said. That will then be the plan that is officially submitted to the federal government.

Currently the south side of the beach, which is the area being considered for the escort plan, has been closed because of plover nests.

Probably mid-August is when we’re expecting that to open back up,” he said.

Hodgson says they hope the new system can be up and running by next summer.

“People need to be patient. It is a long process,” he said. “In the meantime, the work we’ve done has sparked off an awareness between the state and the feds that the process has become too onerous. The state is working to put together a state-wide conservation permit that towns could then apply to. It would speed the process up.”

That way, the state and federal regulators would have already signed off on the plan, he said.