“Yes” vote on Question 6 on June 12 ballot would protect endangered piping plovers in critical habitat
Maine Audubon is urging Kennebunkport residents to vote “yes” on Question 6 on next Tuesday’s municipal ballot in an effort to protect piping plovers, a migratory bird species of which there are only 43 known nesting pairs in the state.
Of the few sandy beaches along the Maine coast, the ones in York County and in particular around Kennebunkport are critical nesting locations for piping plovers. A “yes” vote would ban the sale and use of consumer fireworks by individuals in the town.
The appeal comes in the wake of last Sunday’s severe rain storm that destroyed 20 existing piping plover nests and killed approximately a dozen chicks. It also follows an unfortunate incident in 2011 in which three chicks died when a pair of nesting adults abandoned their nest in the midst of a beach celebration by individuals at Hills Beach that included the launching of fireworks.
Piping Plovers are listed in Maine as endangered and listed as threatened at the federal level. Like many animal species, piping plovers are afraid of loud fireworks displays and may interpret them as a mortal threats requiring immediate evacuation of the nest, leaving behind unhatched eggs or defenseless chicks.
Officially sanctioned public fireworks displays can still be enjoyed with minimal disruption to the piping plover, however. The Town of Ogunquit has for the last two years staged beachfront fireworks displays that took into account nest locations and which followed guidelines issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It is specifically the unplanned and random nature of individual fireworks displays that Maine Audubon advocates against in urging Kennebunkport residents to approve the fireworks ban on June 12.
Piping Plovers are shore birds that nest along beaches and have been on Maine’s endangered species list since 1986. According to the Maine Department of Inland fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW), only 7 nesting pairs could be found in Maine as recently as 1981. Through intense conservation efforts like those undertaken by Maine Audubon and MDIFW, their numbers – while still critically low – are only now starting to rebound.
Piping Plovers typically arrive on the southern Maine coast in late April and a breeding pair will produce three or four eggs, each of which has a gestation period of about one month. After hatching, another month will pass before the chicks are ready to take flight.
If a nest is disturbed or destroyed, whether by human neglect or natural phenomenon such as last week’s storm, the birds may attempt to create a new nest and lay more eggs. Thus fireworks displays around the July 4th holiday often take place just as adult birds are attending to chicks or are incubating their eggs, a task shared by both the male and female in a breeding pair.
According to federal law, people may face serious legal action including potential jail time of up to one year and fines of up to $25,000 for intentionally killing or harming piping plovers and their nests.