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Article from Wiarton Echo on Mayor's planned beach raking this spring

posted Mar 5, 2018, 4:32 PM by FSB Information

South Bruce Peninsula will “absolutely” be tilling Sauble Beach this spring before the endangered piping plovers return, despite the province advising against it, says Mayor Janice Jackson.

Not even the Ministry of Natural Resources & Forestry telling the town last year that they could be fined because of similar work will stop them, she said.

“There's no way that this town, after spending that much in time and effort and finances to rehabilitate the beach in August, that we're going to allow it to go back to that condition within six weeks by ignoring the spring conditions of the beach. That won't happen,” Jackson said Monday in an interview.

South Bruce Peninsula, she said, will be sending a letter this week to notify the MNRF of their plan to cultivate the town-owned portion of Sauble, between the water's edge and 30 feet west of the historic dunes, as outlined in the town's beach maintenance policy.

The work will be done as soon as possible after the snow melts but before the first plovers arrive, which usually happens in mid- to late April.

MNRF spokesperson Jolanta Kowalski said the ministry has been providing the town with “consistent guidance and advice” to help them comply with the Endangered Species Act since the plovers returned to Sauble after a 30-year absence in 2007.

The MNRF has informed the town, she said, that spring raking is not advised without authorization under the ESA.

“Spring raking applies to the time when the beach is clear of winter snow and ice and continues until the birds have established nests for the season,” she said in an e-mailed response to questions.

“This ban is in place to maintain important habitat features. Winter/spring storms will have replenished the natural material on the beach that was lost during the previous late season’s raking activities.”

Asked about the ministry's comments, Jackson said this is the first time she has heard about the option to seek authorization under the ESA for spring raking.

“We would have applied years ago had they ever advised us to do so,” she said. “If we were turned down, we would have taken further action.”

Jackson said cultivating the beach in the spring is too important to not go ahead.

“They can threaten us with a second fine if they care to, although they've never even levied a first one. The bottom line is, our beach is an economic driver for our town and they're harming the community by not letting us maintain the beach,” she said.

Jackson said Sauble Beach was not tilled or raked from 2010 to 2014.

After the municipal election, she said the town and MNRF came to a verbal agreement to allow South Bruce Peninsula to till the beach before the piping plovers arrive at Sauble to nest and after the chicks fledge in mid-August, but not between those times.

But she said the MNRF refused to put it in writing.

She said the town tilled the sand, as per the agreement, in both 2015 and 2016. No concerns were expressed by the MNRF.

Then, last year, Jackson said the ministry threatened to fine the town up to $300,000 for its decision to till the sand in early April before the plovers arrived.

The MNRF, at the time, would only say it was investigating a complaint regarding the disruption of piping plover habitat at Sauble Beach, but no fines had been issued.

In early July, Jackson took to Facebook to voice her frustration with the condition of Sauble Beach, saying the rain that spring had caused the weeds in the sand to grow rapidly and wiped out all of town's maintenance efforts from April.

She told The Sun Times that she felt the MNRF had “taken over our beach” by not allowing the town to clean it because of the presence of piping plovers.

After the plovers left, Jackson said South Bruce Peninsula spent about $10,000 to cultivate the sand and remove most of the vegetation that was not on or near the dunes.

In a Facebook post last week, Jackson urged South Bruce Peninsula residents, business owners and Sauble Beach visitors to write to the MNRF to show their support for the town's efforts to rehabilitate and maintain the beach.

“As we approach springtime at Sauble, rehabilitation of the beach must continue,” it says.

“There was a considerable amount of work undertaken to reclaim the beach last summer however the root systems are still beneath the sand and if they're not removed this spring, the vegetation will quickly return.

“The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry still believes substantial vegetation is required to support the plovers but time and again, a clean sandy beach has proven to be their true attraction.”

She said the ministry has only heard from people opposed to the town's beach-maintenance activities and it's time “for the other side of the debate to be clearly heard.”

She said hundreds of people have written to the ministry to voice their support since she posted her plea on Facebook.

Cleaning the beach is a controversial topic, with some people saying raking ruins important beach habitat.

Jackson said she believes at least 95 per cent of Sauble Beach residents support the town's efforts to clean the beach.

She said she wants the town and MNRF to come to an agreement, in writing, that says South Bruce Peninsula can cultivate the beach before the plovers arrive and after they leave and rake the sand – a safe distance from any plover nests – throughout the summer.

Kowalski said as an endangered species, people cannot kill, harm or harass piping plovers or damage or destroy their habitat, as outlined in the Endangered Species Act.

“In circumstances where it is not possible to avoid adverse impacts to species at risk or their habitat, proponents may seek an authorization, or permit, under the ESA that may allow an activity to take place.”

Along with advising the town against spring raking, the MNRF has also said that the town should avoid raking or tilling in piping plover habitat – within a 500-metre radius around the nest and from the water’s edge to the back of the dune – while the shorebirds are present.

Only light raking outside the habitat can be undertaken, she said. That means raking that does not remove vegetation or impact natural features like dunes or hummocks.

Jackson said the town has never breached the Endangered Species Act.

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