Statewide Habitat Conservation Plan Could Be Delayed

450910609ORLEANS – Local and state officials are concerned that a delay by the federal government could hamper plans for a statewide habitat conservation plan, allowing for increased beach access and better management while protecting endangered shorebirds.

State and local officials have been working with the federal government since 2014 to create the framework proposal, but now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has indicated that the plan might not be in place for the 2016 beach season.

“The promise that would made was that this would be ready for this coming beach season, and unfortunately what we are starting to hear is ‘well, we don’t think we can do it, we’re not sure, we don’t want to promise,’ and that’s unacceptable,” said Orleans Selectman John Hodgson. “They need to step up and get this to public comment.”

MassWildlife submitted the final draft public comment version of the plan to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in September.

In a letter to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Director Wendi Weber, MassWildlife Director Jack Buckley called on federal officials to take action on the proposed habitat conservation plan.

“I firmly believe that an inability to complete the regulatory review process prior to the passage of yet another beach season undermines the credibility of your regulatory process and is a blow to endangered species and Piping Plover conservation,” Buckley said

Any potential delay by the federal government would not impact the first-of-its-kind access plan implemented in Orleans last year, which allows ORVs to be escorted past endangered piping plovers.

If the plan were implemented, however, it would give Orleans additional flexibility when it comes to beach management, according to Hodgson.

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