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SCARBOROUGH — Town Council Chairman Ron Ahlquist said he has a “soft spot” for piping plovers and is ready to take a harder line on dogs on town-owned beaches.
After a dog under “voice control” by its owner killed a piping plover chick on Pine Point Beach, Ahlquist said he will ask councilors to reconsider the rules regulating dogs when the council returns to its full working schedule in September.
“It is wrong for dogs to be running at large there. I think the time has come for a leash law on the beach year round,” Ahlquist said Tuesday.
Sgt. Tim Spahr of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife said Wednesday the young plover was killed around 7 a.m. July 15 by an off-leash dog.
Spahr was called when the dead bird was taken to the Maine Audubon visitor center on Pine Point Road by a witness. He and department spokesman Doug Rafferty issued a press release that brought responses from witnesses and the dog owner, who has not yet been publicly identified.
Because piping plovers are considered endangered in Maine, the dog owner could face state and federal charges. Spahr said he forwarded his findings to Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson, but office spokeswoman Tamara Getchell Wednesday said she could find no record of charges being filed.
As defined by the town ordinance, “voice control” means a dog when called must return immediately to a “responsible party” and stay there. Ahlquist, who is a dog owner, said he has little use for the term.
“I don’t believe in voice control, it doesn’t work,” he said. “I believe in leashes. People can be intimidated by dogs running on the beach.”
The existing ordinance allows dogs under voice control on beaches from Sept. 16 through June 14, and from sunrise to 9 a.m. from June 15 through Sept. 15.
During the summer period, dogs are not allowed on beaches after 9 a.m. through 5 p.m., and must be kept on a leash no longer than 30 feet after 5 p.m. through sunrise.
Fines for violating the dog ordinance range from $100 to $500. Violating the town ordinance that protects piping plovers can lead to fines from $50 to $250. “Taking” an endangered species can result in fines of $50,000, with up to six months imprisonment.
Councilors are likely to face opposition if they take up amending the dog ordinance.
“I don’t think it is right, all they care about is the tourists,” Pine Point-area resident Charlie Maynard said as he walked his Maltese, Tianna, on Wednesday.
Tianna was on a leash, but Maynard said he likes to let her off leash for more exercise.
“There’s not a bad dog down here,” Maynard said.
Elsewhere on the beach, Leigh Greenberg’s golden retriever, Jakobi, damp from a swim, stayed close by as she talked about letting him run off leash while avoiding areas where plovers are nesting.
“I probably would not want to walk down here if he were on a leash,” she said. “I have my tricks to get him back to me.”
The death of the piping plover means the only pair of nesting piping plovers at Pine Point will not have any offspring this year, Maine Audubon Communications Director Michelle Smith said.
The nesting pair is one of 45 found by Maine Audubon staff on beaches from Ogunquit to Georgetown this year, up from 42 nesting pairs counted last year. Four eggs were discovered and three went unhatched at Pine Point, Smith said.
The plovers, small, migratory birds not much bigger than a baseball, return to Atlantic seacoasts after wintering in the Bahamas, Smith said. In late April and early May, Maine Audubon staff begin the annual search for nesting areas.
The nesting areas are fenced off and posted with warning signs, but Smith said the “exclosures” are intended to keep predators out, not to contain the birds. A fledgling piping plover chick may fly a mile or two from the nesting area.
At the same time, nesting pairs can be frightened from nesting areas by predators and people, endangering unhatched eggs and chicks.
Smith said Maine Audubon staff wants beach visitors to stay aware of the shared environment.
“We encourage people just to read the signs and be conscious plovers are out there,” she said.
Ahlquist said he is concerned for more than plovers. He said turtles, rabbits and beach visitors can be harmed by dogs left off leashes and under voice control.
“If we change this, I’m going to insist this is enforced by police,” he said.
Maine Audubon staff identified 45 nesting pairs of piping plovers in sand dunes on beaches from Ogunquit to Georgetown this year, including one on Pine Point Beach in Scarborough. On July 15, the only fledgling chick to hatch was killed by a dog, leading Town Council Chairman Ron Ahlquist to call for full-time leash laws on town beaches.
Scarborough resident Charlie Maynard said he will fight to keep “voice control’ for dogs on town beaches because owners are careful and the dogs enjoy playing together. “There’s not a bad dog down here,” he said.