top of page
  • Duxbury Beach Reservation

Conservation & Recreation on Duxbury Beach: The Role of a Predator Management Program

Photo by Mass Audobon


The mission of DBR is three-fold – preserve the landform for the protection of the communities behind the barrier beach; protect the species that use the beach and promote a naturally functioning barrier beach ecosystem; and work to support public access and enjoyment of the property. It is not always easy or possible for all of these to succeed at once or to meet the expectations of every stakeholder group that uses Duxbury Beach.

In the case of predator management, there are two sticking points when it comes to our mission:

  1. First, there are several species in MA with populations that have thrived alongside humans – many like coyotes only came into the state because of human impact on other native species. Now we have huge populations of these species that prey on native, protected species like the piping plover and least tern. Conversely, there are species whose populations have been adversely impacted by human activities and who require more protection, and part of that is control of predator species for a limited time each year.

  2. Second, the permit that we need to allow most of the beach access during the nesting season requires predator management as mitigation.

Access & Predator Management

The biggest source of access during the nesting season has been participation in the state’s Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). The HCP has “covered activities” which are different ways to get some flexibility for recreation during the nesting season. They are: use of roads and parking lots in the vicinity of unfledged chicks; recreation & beach operations (includes reducing fencing around nests, deterring nesting in certain areas, and moving nests); and OSV use in the vicinity of unfledged chicks. DBR’s permit includes all three covered activities and allows us to expose more pairs of birds to potential risk than any other beach in the state. 

The only form of mitigation that USFWS will accept from the state is predator management. Simply put, the state has to make sure that statewide, they are receiving enough mitigation in the form of predator management to account for ALL of the mitigation from sub-permittees. DBR is required to hold an onsite lethal predator management program to allow the existing recreational access on Duxbury Beach. 

If you look at DBR’s permit and the mitigation plan, you’ll see that it contains a whole list of different activities – ranging from predator management to summer education programs. In the past, the state has been flexible and allowed additional mitigation options for DBR in addition to predator management, but the state was making up DBR’s deficit. With the increase in take exposures DBR has requested, the state can no longer do so, and onsite predator management and paying into offsite mitigation for predator management will both be necessary going forward and are DBR’s only option for mitigation. 


If the HCP permit is optional, doesn’t that mean DBR has the option to not do predator management?

It is true that having this permit is optional and if the town decides that it does not want to participate in the HCP then DBR would be able to reduce the scope to only include Duxbury Beach Park and reduce the covered activities and number of pairs we impact from 24 to only a handful or to back out of the program altogether. However, at this point the town has indicated that they want the optionality the HCP offers during the summer - including access to parking lots and portions of the back road where birds may cross from oceanside to bayside, escorting, deterrence, barriers, herding, etc. Without the flexibility the HCP provides there would be a huge decrease in recreational access to the beach during the nesting season. The state has made it clear that to implement the Duxbury Beach permit as it is proposed we have to mitigate through an onsite lethal predator management program.

How many animals are removed as part of the predator management program each year?

On Duxbury Beach, the most commonly removed predators are American crow and eastern coyote. Over the past 13 years, an average of 9 crows and 3 coyotes are removed each year. In 2018, foxes were removed and in the past three years, grackles, a blackbird and a raccoon have been removed as well. 

This targeted removal during a limited time of year has been successful in providing two rare and protected species, the Piping Plover and Least Tern, a window of opportunity to nest and raise young. It has also afforded thousands of visitors the chance to come and enjoy the beach. 

Why can’t wildlife be relocated?

Unfortunately, relocation of individual predators is not an option for multiple reasons: 

  • It is illegal under Massachusetts law to capture and relocate wildlife off your property 

  • Conflict, stress, or death caused due to intrusion into an existing individual’s territory 

  • Harm to the individual as it is out of its known territory and may struggle to find food and shelter. Humans do not always recognize appropriate habitats for wildlife and put them in bad locations. 

  • Spread of disease 

  • Disruption of ecological processes by introducing a new species or more individuals to an area 

  • The problem is not solved, but moved to a new location 

Why don’t you use non-lethal methods to deter predators from nesting areas?

While lethal predator management onsite is currently our only option for mitigation, DBR does have a robust non-lethal management program as well. Some of those methods include:

  • Trash management (including removing cans from the front beach, purchasing better closed barrels, hosting cleanups, and paying folks for year round cleanup)

  • Exclosure permits (several DBR staff have extensive experience putting up predator exclosures at other beaches and have state approval to erect them at Duxbury Beach if suitable)

  • Managing habitat to reduce denning potential

  • Game cameras and extensive data collection (to target and improve lethal and non-lethal efforts)

  • Staff presence (staff presence early in the morning and into the evening in nesting areas can help deter predators)

  • Anti-perching efforts for avian predators

  • Review of non-lethal options annually

There are many other non-lethal options to try to deter predators from nesting areas or limit their presence onsite. There are considerations for each – non-target impacts (and potential impacts to protected species), current suite of predators on site, staff effort and cost, nest habitat/location, colony configuration, site characteristics (width of beach, sediment, vegetation, proximity to beachgoers, etc.). DBR discusses each option internally and with USDA APHIS to see if any new or existing non-lethal methods would be productive on Duxbury Beach. For example, DBR and APHIS discussed the use of non-lethal taste deterrents for coyotes this winter, however, the taste deterrent targets canines. Given how narrow and accessible Duxbury Beach is and the number of dogs that visit the beach, APHIS and DBR were concerned about dogs finding the bait stations and becoming sick.

Why don’t you use wire enclosures or electric fencing to protect nests from predators instead?

Many have questioned why Duxbury Beach does not use “wire cages” around plover nests as are sometimes seen on other beaches. These cages are called predator exclosures and use is highly dependent on beach, nesting site, and predator suite. They usually consist of wire fencing encircling the nest with netting overtop. DBR staff have the experience and state permission necessary to put up exclosures and they are considered each season. However, most nest locations are not appropriate for exclosing. In addition, this tool can be unsuccessful and harmful. Unfortunately, predators (including fox, raptors, crow, and others) can target exclosures and kill adults when they switch off the nest. This is more detrimental to plover conservation than losing eggs or chicks because of the loss of future reproductive potential of the breeding adult. It is also important to remember that exclosures are only useful in protecting eggs - once the chicks have hatched they leave the nest site and are vulnerable to predators. Exclosures are not used for Least Tern nests because they are colonial nesters and fly to and from the nest. 

In some cases, electric fencing can be used around plover and/or tern nesting areas. While this is only helpful in detracting large, mammalian predators, it does work on some beaches. They are most useful in areas with little risk of overwash where several piping plover nests and/or least tern colonies are clumped. On Duxbury Beach the nests of both species are strung out along 4+ miles (picture beads on a necklace) and are located east and west of the sand fence. Unfortunately, given the span, configuration, and location (dynamic beach), electric fencing is not feasible on Duxbury Beach. 

As with all other non-lethal predator management methods, implementing these tools would NOT replace the current mitigation requirement for lethal predator management to participate in the state’s Habitat Conservation Plan for Piping Plovers (permit we need for recreational access).

Do other beaches have predator management programs?

Yes. There are 10 organizations that participate in the HCP program and each has to either implement an on-site predator management program or pay into a state fund to implement predator management elsewhere (please note, these funds do NOT fund predator management on Duxbury Beach). In addition, there are organizations across the range of the Atlantic coast population of piping plovers that implement selective predator management programs (lethal removal), both in MA and in other states.

What are the removal methods and are they harmful to non-target wildlife, pets, or people?

The removal methods used by the contractor, USDA APHIS are specific to the site and predator to make sure efforts are as safe and targeted as possible to avoid human, pet, and non-target wildlife impacts. On Duxbury Beach, the primary methods of removal are firearm, bait stations, and trapping. All are done by experts with proper training, equipment, and permits and communication with both DBR and Duxbury Police Department. 

The use of bait stations for crow removal has come up as a concern and the possible impacts it could have on pets and other wildlife. The following is not a complete description of the analyses performed by UDA but an overview and additional questions should be directed to experts at MassWildlife or USDA APHIS. In terms of direct impacts, bait stations are not accessible to pets, people, or larger mammals. Available data shows that the toxin does not impact mammals. The largest risk is to certain other bird species through direct consumption. Trained staff and contractors monitor the bait stations daily and make note of any tracks or species present to make sure non-target species are not accessing the bait. In addition, the set up of the bait station is designed to target and take advantage of specific behaviors of crows, making it less likely that non-target avian species will consume the bait. In terms of secondary impacts - the toxicant breaks down quickly when consumed so there aren’t impacts to wildlife who consume carcasses of impacted crows.

The only type of trapping currently done on the beach is for grackles - a setup that is not accessible to any pets that make their way to the trap site. Should any other trapping be done onsite it would include careful monitoring to ensure no impacts to non-target species. Use of firearms for removal is done by trained experts, after beach hours, away from any human activity, and with proper notification to Duxbury Police Department.

Why did DBR leave juvenile coyotes on site in 2023 after the adults had been removed?

Juvenile coyotes were never knowingly left onsite to suffer. Two adult coyotes were removed by USDA APHIS from Duxbury Beach during two nighttime visits made in May. During the second visit on May 24, a lactating female was removed. USDA APHIS’ protocol when a lactating animal is removed is to do an initial search for a denning site or juveniles. Locating the juveniles immediately is difficult as the home range of coyotes is so large so their typical course of action is to wait for observations of juveniles onsite and then to respond. This is what happened in 2023. DBR staff first observed juvenile coyotes on June 5, notified USDA APHIS, and APHIS responded on June 6, 7, and 8. Steps have been taken to reduce the likelihood of this situation reoccurring and to reduce the amount of time between steps. Any concerns about wildlife on the beach must be immediately brought to the attention of DBR so that steps can be taken quickly. Following proper protocols is vital for the safety of wildlife, staff, and visitors. Please reach out to with any concerning sightings and/or inform a Beach Operations or DBR staff member who have been instructed to relay information to the appropriate DBR staff.

What is DBR doing to improve the program?

In terms of the mitigation requirement to have a predator management program, DBR is participating in the state’s HCP Working Group to explore potential changes and improvements to the HCP. One of the task groups DBR is involved in is the mitigation task group. 

Concerning the issue that arose in summer 2023 regarding juvenile coyotes being left on the beach for ~1.5 weeks after the parents were removed, everyone at DBR was extremely upset with how that situation went down and that we were not prepared to fix the problem more quickly. Through this incident, we learned what questions to ask and what the existing USDA APHIS protocols are. We had many conversations with MassWildlife and APHIS while it was happening last summer and again this fall to try to figure out a better system. Both MassWildlife and DBR met with USDA APHIS this fall and winter to require changes to the communication and response. We’ve increased staff training,  refined protocols to discourage denning on the beach, and are concentrating efforts to remove denning individuals earlier. All to prevent this type of issue and if that is not possible, to locate any juveniles quickly. We’re communicating with Beach Operations about the importance of notifying DBR any time there is a wildlife concern on the beach. Communication and following protocols is key. Last summer, well-meaning individuals tried to trap the juveniles independently – unfortunately, this creates a dangerous situation for wildlife and people, when multiple groups are not communicating and some may not have proper approval by DBR or the state for removal efforts.. Our goal at DBR is to try to balance the needs of many different stakeholders and conduct a predator management program that is humane, effective, and safe for everyone out on the beach.


7 views0 comments


bottom of page