June 27, 2014

UPDATE:  Park Service closes more beach
in north Avon for tern breeding activity

The National Park Service has expanded the resource closures for least terns in front of oceanfront houses in north Avon.

The newest closure includes two 75-meter buffers for least terns that are making "scrapes" in the sand, which is considered breeding activity.  There are no new nests yet.

The park also established two "corridors" to the water so that people have access to the ocean.

The total amount of beach now closed for the birds is 200 meters -- or about 656 feet.  That's more than the length of two football fields.

The oceanfront closure in front of the village houses started on Sunday after a newly established least tern nest was discovered very near the northern Avon boundary.

Although, there is a pre-nesting closure north of the village, these birds nested just south of it.

On Sunday, the park established a 100-meter buffer around the nest, which cut off about nine houses on Pamlico Court from the ocean.  Access to the beach that was open to the south was via a narrow pathway in heavy sand between the toe of the dune and the string and posts marking the closure.

On Wednesday, Superintendent Barclay Trimble exercised his discretion under the off-road vehicle plan and final rule for the seashore and reduced the buffer to 50 meters after a park biologist determined that was the distance at which the bird would fly off the nest when approached.

The Park Service's Final Environmental Impact Statement on the off-road vehicle plan says that the park can "reduce those buffers in the immediate vicinity of paved roads, parking lots, campgrounds, buildings, and other facilities, such as within the villages or at National Park Service (NPS) developed sites." It also says that "the NPS retains the discretion to provide resource protection to the extent possible while still allowing those facilities to remain operational.”  

On Thursday, the scrapes were discovered by the Park Service south of the 50-meter closure and plans were made to close off that area.

The new resource closure now begins on the village boundary with the 50-meter closure for the tern nest.  There is no access along the water in this area.

At the end of the 50-foot closure, there is now a 3-meter corridor to take people down to the water.  Going south into the village after that is a 75-meter closure for birds exhibiting breeding behavior.  Just south of that is a 20-foot corridor to take people to the water.  And, finally, just south of that is another 75- meter closure for breeding behavior.

In the two 75-meter closures, people are allowed access right along the water -- after they get down there through one of the corridors.

This information on lengths of closures was provided by a manager for a property management company who got them from the Park Service.  This afternoon, Cyndy Holda, Park Service public affairs specialist, said the distances were approximate.

The new closures mean the houses from the village boundary south to Nova Drive do not have oceanfront access directly in front of the house.

Occupants of the houses behind the oceanfront homes also use beach accesses in the area, so a good number of houses now have much reduced and more complicated access to the ocean beach.

July 4 week traditionally sees one of the highest rental volumes of the summer, so property management companies will be busy filling in visitors who have rented houses in the area on the new closures.

Presumably, if a nest is established in the new closures, the 100-meter buffer comes into play. It is not clear how long the closures will remain in place if a nest is not established.

The average time for least tern nest incubation is about 21 days.  If the nest is lost, the closures remain for two weeks to see if the birds will re-nest.

If the nest hatches, the buffer for unfledged least tern chicks is 200 meters and the chicks fledge in about 19 or 20 days.

"We do understand that they (the closures) are in front of these rental units," Holda said.

She said the Park Service tries to be "as reasonable as possible" while still carrying out its responsibility to protect the seashore's natural resources.

She added that intentional violations of the closures are punishable by heavy fines in federal court.


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