Owen Sound Sun Times: Jackson frustrated after MNR plover talk

Leah Articles, Local News

Article originally posted July 19, 2011

By Paul Jankowski, Owen Sound Sun Times

A meeting with Ministry of Natural Resources officials on Tuesday to discuss the impact of piping plovers on Sauble Beach left South Bruce Peninsula Coun. Janet Jackson “frustrated.”

“They keep going around in circles,” she said after an MNR delegation, which included species at risk biologist Suzanne Robinson, appeared before council’s committee of the whole.

“They recommend or advise certain practices” but, when push comes to shove, demand the municipality act according to MNR’s wishes, Jackson said.

Jackson asked last month what the municipality can do to clean up part of the beach near two piping plover nests. The birds are listed federally and by the province as endangered and their habitat is protected by law.

In a letter to council dated June 20, MNR Midhurst district manager Mark Shoreman said “the habitat piping plover requires and uses at Sauble Beach is protected under Section 10 of the Endangered Species Act. This Ministry advises that beach raking and the removal of woody debris north of Sixth Street to the north end of the beach (ending at the Sauble River) at this time would be detrimental to the species and would damage or destroy the habitat required for nesting, feeding and raising young.”

The letter also said “the MNR does not dictate activities that can and cannot happen in an area” but provides information “to enable the Town to act in accordance with the legislation.”

It also included a reminder that “everyone,” including municipalities, must be in compliance with the law. “Should the piping plover or its habitat be harmed, damaged or destroyed by beach maintenance or other activities, this would be considered a violation” of the Endangered Species Act.

Robinson said in an interview Tuesday that there are still adult and juvenile piping plovers at the beach — near a nest just south of Eighth St. and at a another nest further north, closer to the river.

At one nest, the juvenile birds “are starting to take short flights.” The young birds at the second nest are a couple of weeks behind.

While it’s difficult to say when they will leave Sauble Beach, Robinson said her “best guess” it would be a minimum of two weeks before the first group starts migrating south.

Jackson said the municipality can’t clean up the habitat for another two or three weeks after the birds leave – nor is the town allowed to clean up in the spring before they arrive – meaning the debris deposited on the beach over the winter will remain there almost all summer.

“Residents are up in arms” over the state of the beach and it is also having “a huge impact on tourism,” she said. “I’m hearing all the time … people are not happy paying $15 to park at a dirty beach.”

Asked if she had any sympathy with the town’s concerns over any impact on tourism, Robinson said “a lot of change has occurred at the north end of Sauble Beach.” There are always “differences of opinion,” she added, but she hoped residents and other beach goers would learn to enjoy “a different kind of beach” and a balance could be found to allow for both plover and human use.

“Everyone is willing to compromise,” Jackson said, but many do not want “to let plovers take over the whole beach.