Tuesday, April 28, 2009


For the past few years a section of Goose Rocks Beach, where I live, has been roped off as a preserve for piping plovers, small birds whose population has dwindled down to numbers that have set off extinction alarms among preservationists. The ropes have been accompanied by stern signs warning people (and any of their pets that can read) to stay away from the birds. Thus we and the plovers have settled into an uneasy truce: You stay on your side of the ropes, we’ll stay on our side, and we’ll all get along.

This year the truce was broken. The birds’ advocates, seeing that the plover count continues to wane, declared war on animals they deemed predators. Raccoons, foxes, and skunks were among those targeted. We have to act quickly, said a fish and wildlife biologist, because “once a predation act occurs, it is too late.” The overseers of the nearby Rachel Carson Wildlife Preserve, having declared raccoons, foxes, and skunks an Axis of Predation, were stymied by their lack of weaponry, so they subcontracted the job to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and soon a USDA truck was seen roaming Goose Rocks, loaded with traps. “What happens to the animals you trap?” asked one local. The USDA hired gun answered that they “euthanize” them. He also acknowledged that they sometimes shoot them.

The story was front-page news in the local paper, and Plovergate was born. Many Goose Rocks residents were outraged that their tax dollars were being used to kill animals whose only sin was trying to feed their young. I was one of the outraged. A few weeks ago a family of foxes took up residence in sand dunes near my house. Papa fox, mama fox, and three tiny kits. Foxes lived in the same foxhole last year, and my children and grandchildren loved to watch them. (The photo above was taken by one of my daughters.) We looked forward to having the new family as neighbors this year. But then, one night a week or two ago, a volley of shots rang out, and the foxes haven’t been seen since.

The piping plover, as even its supporters admit, is not a genius among birds, and it is easy prey for all manner of predators that roam this area. In time the bird will probably become extinct, a prospect that appalls the fish and wildlife folks. But species do become extinct, because that is the way things are in nature. If the fish and wildlife crowd wants to prolong the plovers’ existence, then they should build a plover preserve (Ploverville?) somewhere far away from humans, their pets, and all the other animals that somehow get along without Government assistance.