Plovers vs. People on North End Beaches in Barnegat Light

Sand Fenced Off As Birds Scope Out Nest Sites
May 16, 2018
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

All that fence on the Barnegat Light beach is for the birds. What you mean by that depends on whether you’re the government agencies roping off the spots that endangered piping plovers are considering for their nests ... or whether you’re borough crews trying to plan where the people will sit.

Beach patrol leaders attended the May meeting of Barnegat Light Borough Council to ask what could be done about the fact that large stretches of the town’s beach space are now fenced off, despite the fact that the plovers haven’t built nests there yet; they’ve only been scoping out the spots.

For the moment, borough council officials answered that they don’t have control over the state and federal actions to protect the endangered species, but the mayor said they will find out whether another determination can be made.

Also, as Councilwoman Dottie Reynolds said, “By the time the beaches are opening, the nests should be set and a lot of this will disappear, hopefully.”

But the situation right now leaves territorial questions open. The piping plover is protected by both state and federal agencies.

“Due to its precarious existence, the piping plover remains one of New Jersey’s most endangered species,” says the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection’s Fish and Wildlife Service website. “The threats that it faces, including increased beach recreation and predation, continue to act as serious impediments to the recovery of this species. Without intense protection and management, it is unlikely that the piping plover would survive in New Jersey.”

In his public works committee report, Councilman Scott Sharpless had mentioned the beach fencing: “The entire beach is pretty much roped off because of the plovers, from about 28th Street.”

When the public comment portion of the meeting came, Barnegat Light Beach Patrol leaders stated their point of view.

Said Beach Patrol Supervisor Don Adams, “We took a ride on the beach the other day – 15th to 17th (streets) is blocked off for the birds with a pathway at 16th Street. I don’t know where the people are going to sit at high tide; there won’t be any place for them. And 21st to 23rd Street, it’s the same thing ... and at 27th to 29th Street.”

Municipal Clerk Brenda Kuhn answered, about the borough, “Unfortunately, we don’t have any control over that ... they’re really strict with it.”

She said she had talked to a wildlife protection official, asking if the barriers are going to be pulled back, and was told “That’s the way it’s going to stay right now.”

Added Scott Caffrey, “My concern as captain of the beach patrol is we’re selling all these beach badges, but there is no place for people to sit, especially on the most popular beaches.

“People live down here for a reason, and they come down here to enjoy the beaches, the fishing industry. But when we’re handcuffed ... my concern is we still have to function as a beach patrol and keep the beach safe,” Caffrey said.

The lifeguard leaders also talked about the fences leaving a lack of space for trucks to drive down the beach from one end of town to another if they get a call for help. An emergency responder in the audience agreed.

“The problem is we only have two beach accesses,” added Caffrey.

Kuhn said exceptions are made for emergencies if crews have to pass through on the beach.  “They will forgive that.” But she added their concerns would be brought up in a coming meeting with the DEP.

“They’re anticipating where these birds are going to nest; they don’t know if they’re there,” Caffrey added.

One nest has been established. “But they’re waiting to see where they’re going to nest,” Kuhn said she was told. “They’re flying back and forth between here and Island Beach State Park.”

She added that the borough was in fact required to adopt a Vehicle Use Management Plan for the beaches “so we can have our permit for coastal activities.”

“When you’re ready to pass that resolution, I’m voting no,” put in Councilman Frank Mikuletzky. “And I’m letting everyone know it.”

“I’ll tell you a story,” interjected Mayor Kirk Larson, a commercial fishing fleet owner. “Two years ago, federal people came to a scallop meeting ... and said the scallop fishery is going to be shut down from May 1 to November 1 ... because there were loggerhead turtles which were being discussed for being endangered. If they had gone on the endangered species list, the scallop industry would have been shut down.

“So instead of just crying and complaining, we figured a way around it. We hired an environmental attorney,” Larson said, and figured out what actions the fishing industry could take to negotiate the problem. “And we finally won. We did it and got a little leniency and learned to live with the turtles, and we’re going to learn to live with the piping plovers.

“What I’m getting at with council is if an environmental attorney could tell us, with the other beaches in New Jersey, how much power these people really have.”

Larson said there might be a chance to learn “what is the real rule” rather than the state saying “this is how we interpret it, adding, “nobody means any harm to these birds.”

Contacted by The SandPaper again the day after the meeting, the mayor said he had talked to a couple of sources to ask what could be done. He said he was steering away from the thought of hiring an attorney, as he talked to one in Washington, D.C., who had taken on a similar issue on Martha’s Vineyard but was high priced “out of my league.”

“I was told by a couple people maybe give Congressman LoBiondo a call to ask what choices do we have,” Larson said, or look for an expert on the subject. “We’ll look around and keep looking, and see what can be done.

“I just want to make sure they’re putting the fences up right and everything is where there is a standard of not overkill, just enough to help save the piping plovers.”

The NJ DEP Division of Fish and Wildlife has a website explaining its protection measures. “Every spring, scores of beach nesting birds return to the New Jersey shoreline. They have just a few months to set up territories, incubate nests, defend chicks and successfully produce the next generation.

“The birds nest during the late spring and summer, coinciding with the tourist season at the shore. The conflict between the birds’ nesting needs and the public’s love affair with the shoreline present a constant challenge to the Endangered and Nongame Species Program. We work to protect the birds by delineating nesting areas with fencing, monitoring predator activity and educating the public. The race for space is on ...”

— Maria Scandale

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