Feds Say They Remain Dedicated To Statewide Habitat Conservation Plan

450910609ORLEANS – Federal officials say they remain committed to a compromise statewide habitat conservation plan that would give towns increased beach management flexibility while also protecting endangered piping plovers.

The comments from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service come after state and local officials expressed frustration and concern last week that a new policy might not be in place by the 2016 beach season. The two sides have been working on the proposed habitat conservation plan since 2014.

“We continue to be enthusiastic about this project and have dedicated a lot of staff time to keeping it move forward,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Spokeswoman Meagan Racey. “As our agency has emphasized, we’re looking for a way to balance long-term conservation for a recovering piping plover population while allowing needed flexibility — and we feel strong that this [proposal] could be it.”

Racey said the agency is working to get the plan ready for public comment. MassWildlife officials submitted the final draft proposal for review in September. Racey added that U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials are preparing the plan for environment assessment, a requirement under federal law.

But state and local stakeholders are getting antsy.

“They need to step up and get this to public comment,” said Orleans Selectman John Hodgson last week.

Federal officials say it is possible the comment period may have to be extended, based on public requests. An extension would delay any potential implementation of the plan.

“We do have quite a few steps ahead of us,” said Racey. “We’re going to move as quickly as possible through them all.”

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.

By MATT MCCARTHY, CapeCod.com NewsCenter

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