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Municipality charged for raking beach, destroying piping plover habitat

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In Council Watch
Apr 11th, 2018
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Mayor Janice Jackson

Mayor Janice Jackson

MNRF files charges, issues stop work order against South Bruce Peninsula regarding raking Sauble Beach

By Denis Langlois, Sun Times, Owen Sound April 4 2018

The Ministry of Natural Resources & Forestry has charged South Bruce Peninsula for allegedly damaging piping plover habitat last April and issued a stop order against any further town-sanctioned beach maintenance this spring.

Mayor Janice Jackson said the municipality has now called off its plan to cultivate the beach “until further notice” and will fight the charge in court.

“We essentially can’t do anything more than pick up garbage on the beach for an indefinite period of time,” she said Wednesday.

“This could take two to three years to resolve in court. So that stop work order, unless we can get some immediate relief, we will not be maintaining that beach for several years, which will cause insurmountable damage.”

Ontario Nature weighs in 

The ministry’s actions are “incredibly frustrating,” she said, because the town has tried for years to hammer out a plan with the MNRF, that is satisfactory to both sides, for maintaining the sandy shoreline. But she said the ministry has refused to come to the table.

“The charges and the stop work order was a clumsy and expensive way to communicate with us,” she said.

The MNRF says it issued the stop order last week against the town “to ensure ongoing protection of the piping plover,” which has been nesting annually at Sauble since 2007.

The ministry has said the ban on spring raking is in place to maintain important habitat features for the endangered shorebird.

Owen Sound Field Naturalists president Kate McLaren said “it sounds like the MNRF is doing the right thing” by issuing the stop work order.

The 300-member group put out an “urgent” call to action in mid-March that asked people to e-mail municipal and provincial officials in an effort to prevent the work. The group said tilling the beach would put the shorebirds and long-term health of Sauble in peril.

Last April, South Bruce Peninsula tilled the town-owned beach between the water’s edge and 30 feet west of the dunes, as per its beach maintenance policy. Jackson said north Sauble Beach had become overgrown with weeds, roots and other vegetation.

The ministry received a complaint and launched an investigation into allegations that the work disrupted plover habitat.

Jackson said the ministry threatened to fine the town up to $300,000.

The town cultivated the sand again in August and had planned to do the same this spring before the plovers arrive to prevent regrowth.

However, the MNRF issued the stop order against the town regarding any beach maintenance activities planned for this spring, spokesperson Jolanta Kowalski said.

The ministry filed a charge March 23 under the Endangered Species Act against South Bruce Peninsula “as it relates to activities on Sauble Beach” that took place last spring.

The charge, filed in Provincial Offences court in Owen Sound, alleges the town violated, on or about April 13, 2017, the section that prohibits people from damaging or destroying the habitat of an endangered or threatened species on the Species at Risk in Ontario list. The piping plover is mentioned in the charge.

South Bruce Peninsula received a summons to appear in court June 23.

Kowalski said the ministry has also launched an investigation into the town’s beach maintenance activities from last fall.

South Bruce Peninsula said in a news release that it’s “surprised and disappointed” by the summons and stop order.

It had been consulting “with another branch of the ministry,” as it works to develop an annual beach maintenance plan, the release said. The draft includes provisions to “enhance and preserve the dune ecosystem and provide protection to the piping plover and its habitat.”

The town says it is interested in working with the ministry “to develop practical and successful approaches to support recovery of the piping plover, maintain appropriate habitat and balance human activity on an 11-kilometre beach that draws more than 800,000 visitors every year.”

Jackson said it’s her hope that, by defending itself against the MNRF charge, the court will rule in its favour and outline what the municipality can and can’t do to maintain the beach. That information could then be used to develop a plan to regularly maintain the beach without fear of fines from the ministry.

“As much as going this route is going to be expensive for our town, it’s the only option that we have to make our case and then move forward with a practical beach management plan,” she said.

Jackson has said it was her hope that the town and MNRF could come to an agreement, in writing, that allows the town to 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.

Jackson said no beach maintenance was done at Sauble from 2010 to 2014.

After the 2014 municipal election, she said the town and MNRF worked out a verbal agreement that would allow South Bruce Peninsula to till the beach before the piping plovers arrive at Sauble in mid-April and after the chicks fledge in mid-August, but not between those times. But she said the MNRF refused to put anything in writing.

The town tilled the beach in 2015 and 2016.

Jackson said the town did a considerable amount of work last August to remove overgrown weeds in the sand. She said it is “imperative” that the town remove the roots soon.

She said after that work is done, the town would likely only have to rake the beach twice a year to maintain it.

Not keeping the sand “clean,” she said, harms tourism and, in turn, Sauble Beach’s economy.
Jackson said the town does not believe it has ever harmed piping plover habitat and maintains that the shorebirds actually prefer to nest on a clean beach.

She said in the same season that the town bulldozed the beach in April, seven plover chicks fledged, making it one of the most successful years for the species’ recovery program at Sauble.

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