Even in their heyday, menacing lines of Hells Angels astride their hogs couldn’t keep people from using Revere Beach. But nine mating pairs of piping plovers — each adult bird weighing about 2 ounces — are tougher customers. No one is allowed to cross into their territory.
Bumper stickers declaring “Piping Plover Tastes Like Chicken” reflect indifference about the fate of these tiny shorebirds, which appear on the threatened species list under both the state and federal Endangered Species Acts. Signs are cropping up in coastal communities in the South that depict a fist with middle finger raised and the message, “Hey! Audubon. Identify This Bird!” It’s not just nitwits, however, who are questioning the extent of the governmental protection efforts for the piping plover nests.
It required a federal court ruling, $5 billion of public funding, and almost 30 years of ongoing engineering feats to restore Boston Harbor beaches to a state of swimmability. This week, a group of elected officials and civic activists — some of them veterans of the harbor cleanup — released the state Metropolitan Beaches Commission report on the progress and challenges at 15 Boston Harbor beaches. The commission is urging the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, which manages the beaches, to minimize the string and post fencing around plover nesting areas and find ways to redirect the birds to less popular sections of the beach. People want their beaches back.
Wildlife advocates argue that the plovers have nowhere else to go. But the people who flock to beaches in Winthrop and Revere aren’t exactly swimming in options, either. Revere Beach is a big draw for modest families who can’t afford summer cottages. For decades, they endured one of the dirtiest harbors in America. It’s clean now. But bathers face fines and possible arrest for coming too close to the nesting plovers. And the restrictions are likely to remain in place at least until July when the chicks are capable of taking flight.
The Massachusetts Audubon Society, which monitors the plovers under a state contract, said that information kiosks and beach educators will be on hand to explain the plover protection efforts later this summer. For now, however, the public makes due with a ratty DCR poster on the wall of a restroom near a large fenced-off area toward the northern end of Revere Beach. The poster plants the idea that anyone who disrupts a nest is inviting another round of egg laying that could drag out through August. It reads like a threat, not public education.
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