Where the bull­dozer hits the beach

Toronto Star - - OPINION - KELSEY SCARFONE OPIN­ION

In a pop­u­lar Lake Huron beach town, a war wages on be­tween a bull­dozer-wield­ing mu­nic­i­pal coun­cil, and a tiny en­dan­gered bird. The con­flict has pro­gressed into a drama of shock­ing brazen­ness that poses a se­ri­ous risk to the sur­vival of the pip­ing plover, a species so en­dan­gered there were only eight nest­ing pairs in On­tario this year.

The pip­ing plover was nearly lost to On­tario com­pletely un­til it re­turned to the prov­ince in 2007 and nested on Sauble Beach, in the Town of South Bruce Penin­sula.

The rare and frag­ile bird has re­turned ev­ery year since and Sauble Beach is one of only two lo­ca­tions the birds con­sis­tently call home. Over the years, plovers have slowly re­turned to more lo­ca­tions in the Great Lakes and suc­cess­fully fledged chicks on other On­tario beaches, con­tribut­ing to a mi­nor come­back for the species.

In most cases, the com­mu­ni­ties that plovers nest in wel­come them with open arms. Un­for­tu­nately, this is not the case in Sauble Beach, where a strong dis­like of their nest­ing needs has meant townordered bull­doz­ing and the il­le­gal de­struc­tion of their beach dune habi­tat.

The town mayor has pub­licly framed pro­tec­tion of the bird’s habi­tat as in­com­pat­i­ble with tourism, and claimed that in or­der to main­tain the beach, rak­ing and bull­doz­ing is nec­es­sary.

How­ever, re­mov­ing beach veg­e­ta­tion in pip­ing plover habi­tat is harm­ful to the birds, il­le­gal un­der On­tario’s En­dan­gered Species Act, and def­i­nitely not the so­lu­tion to co-ex­ist­ing with an en­dan­gered species in a pop­u­lar tourist desti­na­tion.

As a re­sult, the Town of South Bruce Penin­sula is now fac­ing not one, but two charges un­der the En­dan­gered Species Act and is sub­ject to a stop work or­der from the Min­istry of Nat­u­ral Re­sources and Forestry.

The ex­perts have weighed in, and their com­bined decades of ex­pe­ri­ence and knowl­edge are in stark con­trast of the mayor’s as­ser­tions. Through the provin­cial hear­ing process bi­ol­o­gists and ecol­o­gists col­lec­tively and un­equiv­o­cally demon­strated that the work done on Sauble Beach has put the plover’s sur­viv- al at risk. They state clearly that the beach dune ecosys­tem is not only a provin­cial trea­sure, but is in­ter­na­tion­ally sig­nif­i­cant habi­tat for a bird on the brink of ex­tinc­tion.

Sadly, the ex­perts also noted that the dam­age that has al­ready been done may have cre­ated long term im­pacts to plover habi­tat. The dune re­moval will lead to in­creased ero­sion risk for the sand, which is a fi­nite re­source that will not re­plen­ish.

The dune re­moval has also led to fi­nan­cial risks for the town, which is fac­ing po­ten­tial fines of up to $1 mil­lion for each En­dan­gered Species Act charge. The town was due in court last Novem­ber to face these charges, how­ever, after they failed to ap­pear the court date was moved to Feb. 13.

When the re­sults do come, they need to be clear: threat­en­ing en­dan­gered species’ sur­vival will not be tol­er­ated in On­tario. The gov­ern­ment should up­hold the stop work or­der to pre­vent fur­ther dam­age be­ing done, and we hope that the fines lev­elled by the court next month will be a real de­ter­rent, not just a slap on the wrist.

The re­sponse that the new provin­cial gov­ern­ment takes to­ward this case in the com­ing months will serve as a lit­mus test for how it will treat en­dan­gered species go­ing for­ward. Will the En­dan­gered Species Act be up­held with in­tegrity, or will noth­ing be done when peo­ple clearly set out to vi­o­late its re­quire­ments to pro­tect the most vul­ner­a­ble species in our prov­ince?

MARK PECK

Sauble Beach’s de­ci­sion to de­stroy the pip­ing plover’s beach dune habi­tat is il­le­gal and not the so­lu­tion to co-ex­ist­ing with an en­dan­gered species, Kelsey Scarfone writes.

Kelsey Scarfone is the wa­ter pro­grams man­ager for En­vi­ron­men­tal De­fence.

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