Vandal(s) repeatedly attack plover beach fence

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Piping plovers have had a productive nesting season along the west end of Westport's Cherry & Webb Beach despite the best efforts of an unknown vandal(s).

Week after week this summer, someone has attacked the fencing that marks the plovers' nesting area. The orange string has been sliced, the tomato stakes snapped and sometimes the informational signs have vanished.

The barrier is "symbolic fencing" designed not to keep people or animals from entering but rather to "inform beach-goers that plovers are present in these areas," said Lauren Miller-Donnelly, property manager for Mass Audubon.

"This is generally the habitat above the high tide line where the birds chose to nest as well as where the chicks will forage and hide when walkers and especially when dogs come by."

This year, Ms. Miller Donnelly said a pair of plovers nested there and produced three chicks on July 20 — a good-sized brood that last week was nearly ready to fledge.

That is a critical time for their survival since the young birds are out and about but still unable to fly away from predators.

"Since their hatch the fencing has been ripped down often, possibly exposing broods to harassment as this line is an important indicator for beach walkers and people that chose to walk their dogs — although dogs are not allowed on the beach in the summer out there,"Ms. Miller Donnelly said.

Mass Audubon staff have repeatedly replaced the fence and signs only to return and find it cut again. Staffers say they can't imagine what is prompting someone to do this.

The fence is located on both private property (with the landowner's permission) and public property in an area that town police do not typically patrol.

Mass Audubon say the fence cutters are likely committing a variety of crimes — from vandalism to trespassing (violating the wishes of a landowner) or harming an endangered species.

And the town may also have legal reason to want to prevent the attacks. "Should the town fail to adequately protect state and federally listed species, it risks violating regulations and jeopardizing future permits for beach use, including recreation and deposition of dredge spoils," said Mass Audubon's Gina Purtell.

Ms. Purtell said that Mass Audubon asks people on the beach to keep an eye out for suspicious activity and to report any sighting quickly.

They'll keep repairing the fence but doing so is time consuming and keeps staff from other important work, she said.

 

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