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Field naturalists issue "call to action" to oppose plan to till and rake Sauble Beach

posted Mar 15, 2018, 11:58 AM by FSB Information   [ updated Apr 10, 2018, 8:33 PM ]

Field naturalists issue "call to action" to oppose plan to till and rake Sauble Beach

By Denis Langlois, Sun Times, Owen Sound

Thursday, March 15, 2018 10:35:26 EDT AM

Sauble Beach after the town used a bulldozer to remove thick vegetation at north end of beach in August. Photo was shared by South Bruce Peninsula Mayor Janice Jackson on her Facebook page.

Sauble Beach after the town used a bulldozer to remove thick vegetation at north end of beach in August. Photo was shared by South Bruce Peninsula Mayor Janice Jackson on her Facebook page.

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The Owen Sound Field Naturalists has issued an “urgent” call to action in response to the mayor of South Bruce Peninsula's assertion that the town will till and rake Sauble Beach this spring before the endangered piping plovers return.

The 300-member group is asking people to e-mail the municipality's council members in an effort to prevent the work, which it says would put the tiny shorebirds and long-term health of the Lake Huron beach in peril.

People are being asked to copy their e-mails to provincial officials, including those at the Ministry of Natural Resources & Forestry (MNRF) and all the way up to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.

“Basically, it's whoever you can think of that might finally influence this mayor and council to do the right thing. I honestly don't know what else we can do other than stand in front of bulldozers and it may come to that,” Kate McLaren, president of the Owen Sound Field Naturalists' board of directors, said in an interview Wednesday.

“We have a lot of concerned people that are just enraged by this attitude. And especially given all of the work that's gone into plover habitat to try to keep them safe.”

Tilling the beach, she said, will remove and kill grasses and sedges that are part of dune ecology and help to stabilize the dunes and prevent erosion. The vegetation provides habitat for plovers, she said, which require grass cover to, among other things, hide from predators.

Mayor Janice Jackson told The Sun Times late last month that the town will “absolutely” be tilling the beach this spring, despite the MNRF advising against it.

The plan, she said, is to cultivate the town-owned portion of Sauble between the water's edge and 30 feet west of the historic dunes, as per the town's beach maintenance policy, after the ground thaws but before the plovers arrive.

Asked Wednesday about the campaign by the field naturalists group, Jackson said the town is “certainly not going to alter our position” regarding tilling the beach.

She said regular beach maintenance is required to prevent the sand from becoming overgrown with weeds and other vegetation. Not keeping the sand “clean,” she said, harms tourism and, in turn, Sauble Beach's economy as tourism is its top industry. It also negatively impacts residents' enjoyment of their beach, she added.

She said the town has done plenty of research that proves tilling the beach actually benefits the plovers, which she said prefer a clean shoreline to nest.

Jackson said she heard from multiple people last year that were concerned about the condition of Sauble Beach. The town undertook a “considerable amount of work” in August to “reclaim the beach,” she said, but the vegetation will quickly return this spring if the root systems under the sand are not removed.

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.

But, so far, Jackson said the agency has refused to sit down and discuss such an agreement with the town.

However, she said she feels more encouraged now that an agreement can be reached after the town received a letter last week from the ministry in which Natural Resources Minister Nathalie Des Rosiers says she has instructed her staff to set up a meeting with the town to try to resolve the issue.

"That's what we've been asking for all along. We have had the door continually shut on us by the local office," she said.

MNRF spokesperson Jolanta Kowalski has told The Sun Times that spring raking at Sauble Beach is not advised. The ban, she said, is in place to maintain important habitat features for the plovers, including natural material on the beach.

The MNRF launched an investigation into a complaint last year regarding the disruption of piping plover habitat at Sauble Beach. Jackson has 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.

McLaren said the MNRF should have the power to “step in” and prevent the town from tilling the beach this spring.

“Really the pressure, I think, has to come to bear on the minister of natural resources and our local ministry office,” she said.

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