Groundbreaking Management Plan Approved For Nauset Beach

NausetBeachOrleansSunriseORLEANS – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has approved a groundbreaking plan that will allow increased access to Nauset Beach in Orleans for off-road vehicles during the nesting shorebird season.

The habitat conservation plan creates a way for vehicles to be escorted past piping plover chicks.

Nauset beach has been closed to off-road traffic for many years during the prime summer weeks once the birds hatch. The area remains off-limits until they fledge – which usually doesn’t happen until mid-to-late August.

The new plan includes measures to protect chicks on a nearly one-mile stretch of Nauset, including a pedestrian escort walking in front of each vehicle.

Access will be limited to four hours per day, with continued monitoring during those windows. Orleans will also engage in educational outreach, experimental management to deter nest predators, and funding for targeted predator management at plover sites outside Orleans.

“I would like to thank the dedicated volunteers, Orleans residents and other Cape Cod towns who helped us and gave their support to make this a success,” said Orleans Selectman John Hodgson.

He calls it a “groundbreaking habitat conservation plan” that will provide a model for other coastal towns to give plovers protection they need while allow people to still enjoy the beaches.

“What we’re asking for is common sense, and that simply means we believe, and now they believe, that we can protect the species and we can have access to the beach and those two things need not be mutually exclusive,” said Chatham Selectman Sean Summers, who worked on the plan with Hodgson and other Cape Cod selectmen for several months.

The lack of off-road access in recent years has drastically reduced the amount of permit revenue Orleans collects, impacting their yearly budget.

“This permit demonstrates the continued advances in piping plover conservation can go hand-in-hand with maintaining and increasing recreational opportunities on our beaches,” said Jack Buckely, Acting Director of Mass Wildlife.

The three-year incidental take permit under the endangered species act authorizes the potential effects of escorting vehicles past two broods per year after July 15. The state issued a parallel endangered species permit last year.

According to state wildlife officials, the Massachusetts piping plover population has increased from around 140 pairs when the species was listed under the endangered species act in 1986 to a preliminary estimate of over 650 pairs in 2014.

The Massachusetts Beach Buggy Association is planning an event for Saturday at Nauset Beach to mark approval of the plan.
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