The National Park Service has relented on some of the buffers to protect shorebirds during the nesting season in its recently released Final Environmental Impact Statement.
But it hasn?t budged an inch ? so to speak ? on the 1,000-meter buffers to protect unfledged piping plover chicks.
Buffer distances were reduced from the draft EIS, issued last March, for American oystercatchers, least terns, and other colonial waterbirds.
?After review of public and agency comments, the Park Service did make some adjustment to the buffer sizes under Alternative F,? according to its response to comments on buffer sizes in Appendix C on Page C-72.
In the DEIS, two buffer distance were offered for two different levels of management ? ML1, which called for larger buffers with less intense management, and ML2, which has increased management and monitoring that allows for smaller buffers.
- American oystercatcher breeding and nesting buffers were reduced from 300 meters to 150 meters, and buffers for unfledged chicks were reduced from 300 to 200 meters.
- Least tern breeding and nesting buffers were reduced from 300 meters to 100 meters, and buffers for unfledged chicks were reduced from 300 meters to 200 meters.
- Other colonial waterbird buffers were reduced from 300 meters for all breeding and nesting stages to 200 meters.
However, it should be noted that the buffers for these birds in the FEIS ? even though reduced from the draft ? are still the same distances the seashore has been using for the past three years under the consent decree.
Buffer distances for piping plovers have not changed. They remain the same as in the DEIS and as in the consent decree ? 75 meters for breeding and nesting and 1,000 meters for unfledged piping plover chicks.
The size of the buffers for plover chicks has been a major issue for beach access advocacy groups and for many individuals who live or vacation at the seashore.
The 1,000-meter buffer extends in all directions from the nest. A thousand meters is about the equivalent of 12 football fields. A thousand meters is about 745 acres. And that is a lot of real estate to protect chicks and is considered unjustified and excessive by many, including some who submitted public comments on the DEIS.
The Park Service declined to change these buffers, it said the Appendix C response, because piping plover chicks at the seashore have been ?regularly observed/documented to have moved 500 meters or more and sometimes even further than the 1,000-meter buffer.?
The response then cites some examples of chicks moving these distances ? one each in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2009, and four in 2008. That a total of eight ?observed/documented? instances.
Here they are:
2005. A chick on South Beach moved during the night about a half mile (about 844 meters) closer to the Point from its nest.
2006. A brood on Ocracoke moved 644 meters from its nest a soundside foraging area.
2007. Four chicks on Ocracoke moved 610 meters from their nest behind the dunes on the ocean side to the soundside mudflats.
2008. Three chicks from Ocracoke brood moved 1,000 meters from their nest to tidal flats. A brood at Cape Point moved 800 meters to forage near the Salt Pond. Another brood at Cape Point 800 meters to a foraging area near the Salt Pond. On Ocracoke, the adults and a chick traveled 1,500 meters to the soundside mudflats.
2009. A plover chick was observed to have moved as many as 1,200 meters from its nest.
So that is eight examples, and in only three of them did the chicks move 1,000 meters or more.
These are anecdotes ? and anecdotes only. They hardly present enough evidence that the buffer around every nest should be 1,000 meters in all directions.
Furthermore, in every case, the chicks moved in the direction of a better foraging area around ponds or mudflats or tidal areas. Surely, the Park Service biologists could make a really sound assumption that if a brood moves, it will move in the direction of better foraging opportunities.
Also, why couldn?t the buffer be reduced ? to say 500 meters ? and then enlarged when the chicks decide where they want to go? Five-hundred meters would still be about six football fields.
The Park Service?s answer to that question can be found in the last line of its response to buffer distances in Appendix C.
?Because piping plover chicks at the seashore have a history of moving quickly and can range at distances in excess of 1,000 meters, the 1,000 meter buffer is supported at the seashore.?
So they move too quickly to have a smaller buffer and expand it when they decide where they are going?
And they ?can? range in distances in excess of 1,000 meters?
Three examples don?t seem to me to be enough on which to make a science-based decision.
But then when you raise the issue of ?science,? then you have to ask, as many of us have, where this magic 1,000 meter buffer comes from.
The Park Service and environmental groups point to an assessment of threatened and endangered species at the seashore by U.S. Geological Survey?s, which are also known as the Patuxent Protocols. The environmental groups are fond of calling the participants in this exercise ?the Park Service?s own scientists.? To be more precise, they were scientists working under contract to the NPS.
They also point to the 1995 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service?s Piping Plover Recovery Plan.
Both of these documents do mention 1,000 meters but neither says exactly how the scientists arrived at that number ? as in what kind of scientific methods they may have used.
In fact, the recovery plan mentions 1,000 meters only once — in the appendices on managing motor vehicles. But the plan also includes a table, ?Summary of Chick Mobility Data,? that cites six sources or studies. None of them mentions 1,000 meters.
Anyway, I have written more than one blog on the science of the Park Service?s plans, mostly focused on the 1,000 buffer issues.
Is this really sound, peer-reviewed science?
They tell us that it is.
But I?ve never heard a really good explanation about how all those scientists got to the 1,000 meter magic number.
Meanwhile, if you want to read more about science and the 1,000 meters, you can see my bog from March, ?Keep asking them to show us the science.? In fact, there were several in March about the science of this exercise. Look in the archives to the left on the blog page and choose the month of March, 2010.
(Editor?s Note: You may have noticed that there is a new photo with my blog. I got tired of looking at the old one, so I thought maybe you had also. It was time for a change. I want to thank hairstylist Nicole Jennette, makeup artist extraordinaire Kim Martin, and a very talented photographer and good friend, Buddy Swain? and, of course, Photoshop ? for helping me shave just a few years off my face!)