A Walk and Talk about the Endangered Species Act

Last week brought what could be the most comprehensive attacks to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) we have ever seen. Legislative proposals in Congress and proposed rule changes from the Executive Branch would do everything from bar specific animals from being listed as endangered for a decade, to removing text in the ESA that specifies that economic impacts cannot be considered when considering whether to list a new species. The inspiration for these proposals does not come from the American people and it does not come from Mainers. The proposals need to be stopped and Maine Audubon and our friends from the Endangered Species Coalition took a step toward that outcome last week.

In my work as Director of the Piping Plover and Least Tern Project, I have seen the ESA work as a tool to bring people together to protect precious beach environments and the birds that need them. When the Trump Administration’s attacks on the ESA became public, we worked fast to demonstrate to Maine’s Congressional delegation that the ESA unites–not divide–Maine people.

With one call, Scarborough beachfront landowner Edith Iler happily agreed to host a gathering with staff members from Senator King and Senator Collins’ offices to discuss what it’s like to be a landowner with an endangered species. In a couple days we were out on the beach, along with Higgins Beach volunteer coordinator Glennis Chabot, and long-time Maine Audubon member and birder Lucy Lacasse.

We met on the Iler’s porch overlooking Scarborough Beach and talked about the threats to the ESA and how we experienced working with the ESA. We shared that we talk with hundreds, if not thousands of people every year to educate them about our endangered beach-nesting birds, including Piping Plovers. Volunteer Coordinator Glennis and folks from the coastal birds crew (Sam Albright, Zac Fait, and Ashley Price) discussed how much support we regularly hear for plovers, our efforts to protect them, and endangered species in general. Mrs Iler talked about how much she has enjoyed watching the success of plovers in front of her home. I shared my story of showing tourists visiting Ogunquit the nesting plovers, and their announcement that although they had initially been disappointed to not see a moose on their trip to Maine, they were fulfilled after seeing an adorable endangered species –“even better” than a moose!

After chatting, we walked down a stormy Scarborough Beach to find Piping Plover chicks. We walked past a nest site (directly in front of the Iler’s home) and down the beach, where we saw other birds that rely on the beach, like Common Tern fledglings, Least Terns, and migrating Semipalmated Sandpipers. We talked about how the protections secured by the ESA end up protecting habitats that non-listed species need, as well, and that other species (humans in particular!) benefit from good beach management. We reached the plover chicks being tended by one adult. The babies were 23 days told, they were soon to fly, be independent, and start the long migration down to the southern US and Bahamas.

As a biologist, I don’t always feel comfortable dabbling in the policy realm. But when I see biological issues like the Endangered Species Act being thrown under the bus I realize that scientists like me need to engage. There is too much at stake.

Thank you to Senator King and Senator Collins’ staff for taking the time to hear their constituents’ stories and to learn what the ESA looks like on the ground. We will rely on them, as well as Representatives Pingree and Poliquin who we also hope will join us on the beach, to fight back against attacks to the ESA. We’re also going to need your help. Stay tuned for how you can join Maine Audubon in protecting the ESA. The threats are real, they are big, and we’re going to need all hands on deck. Thank you in advance.