SCARBOROUGH — With the common threats identified, members of the ad-hoc committee discussing animal control issues were expected to began looking for solutions at a Thursday night meeting.
Whether those solutions should include increased regulation was a point argued earlier in the week, during a two-hour meeting Monday night, by Town Councilor Bill Donovan and Dog Owners of Greater Scarborough leader Katy Foley.
Donovan said he has studied Maine Audubon materials detailing local ordinances on East Coast beaches used to protect habitats.
“We as a town cannot have a permissive ordinance,” Donovan said. “This is what the body of the scientific evidence is and it is cited time and time again.”
Foley said she does not read the data the same way.
“This number is not enough for me to tell 2,000 people they can’t have a couple of hours (on the beach) in the morning,” she said.
With Town Manager Tom Hall as moderator, the seven-member committee of Foley, Donovan, Glennis Chabot, Daniel Ravin, Noah Perlut, Marot Hodgkins and Lucy LaCasse is expected to report to the Town Council on possible methods to protect piping plovers and other species, while providing access for dogs on town beaches.
The committee faces a Jan. 21 deadline for its report, but Foley said Monday she is confident councilors will extend the deadline if necessary.
Monday’s meeting began with a brief lesson on piping plovers from Perlut, an assistant biology professor at the University of New England in Biddeford.
The migratory bird, which arrives in mid-spring, is a mobile species that can quickly leave areas fenced off for its protection on town beaches. It can also be difficult to track.
“They are incredibly sensitive to being banded,” said Perlut, who added it is not always clear when the birds depart.
Hall then asked committee members to outline what they had learned in independent research and what they might have for expectations. The materials used for committee research are also available at Town Hall.
Hodgkins said she is unconvinced revised leash laws are needed.
“We need to look at all the threats we have,” she said. “There are so many different factors that come into why they are surviving.”
LaCasse, Perlut and Donovan signalled they support trying a fresh revision to the animal control ordinance.
“Our job is to think about plovers and leashes,” Perlut said, adding he had a compromise in mind to discuss Thursday.
LaCasse said leash lengths should be discussed, but the provisions of the federal Endangered Species Act surprised her.
“I didn’t appreciate the full definition of a take,” she said. “I think times have changed, we need to find a way to give space to these creatures. I’ve had to change my attitudes of how I walk on the beach with my dog.”
What Hall called a “laundry list of threats and how many we can control” was discussed Monday. It includes municipal beach raking practices that can remove food sources; people riding horses on the beaches and flying kites; pesticide use, and trash barrels containing food that attracts other predators.
Tidal events and roaming cats were eliminated from the list of hazards that could be managed.
The first effort to amend the ordinance by ending “voice control” of off-leash dogs from sunrise to 9 a.m. between June 15 and Sept. 15 drew strong opposition through the early fall, as did the ultimate revision of a town-wide leash law.
The leash law was repealed Dec. 3 by a 2,880 to 1,059 referendum vote, but could mean the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service will reopen its case against the town, citing a lack of regulation as a contributing factor to the July 15 death of a piping plover on Pine Point Beach.
The bird, considered threatened or endangered by state and federal standards, was killed by an unleashed dog near the water line and away from areas set aside for protecting the birds.
The agency notice of violation cited the death as the second “taking” by a dog in 10 years, but Foley and Hall said it has not been fully confirmed the first death was caused by a dog.
The notice of violation brought a proposed $12,000 fine, which was reduced to $500 in a consent agreement negotiated by Hall.
The Fish & Wildlife Service has not provided copies of the July 15 incident report, despite federal Freedom of Information Act requests filed by Hall and The Forecaster.
Opponents of the leash laws continued to criticize the committee composition and objectives this week. In a letter to councilors, Holmes Road resident Liam Summers said having Hall select the members and including Donovan showed town councilors are not listening to the constituents who rejected the leash law.
“I am honestly flabbergasted at how difficult and Draconian this process has become, all because the vote did not align with the council’s wishes,” Somers said.
The ad-hoc committee will meet again at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 13, in Town Hall.