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  • Duxbury Beach Reservation

Deterrence on Duxbury Beach: A Proactive Approach to Expand OSV Access in 2024


It is no secret that the piping plover population in Massachusetts has been steadily increasing and has impacts on beach management, recreation, and conservation work. The statewide population increased by 77% in the last ten years and 14% from 2022 to 2023 alone. A similar trend is true on Duxbury Beach with over a 100% increase in the last ten years. Piping plovers, a state and federally-protected species, and least terns, a state-protected species, nest throughout the beach - north to south and oceanside to bayside. Both species have specific rules set by MassWildlife and US Fish & Wildlife Service for their protection resulting in limited space for recreational activities (OSV, parking, driving, kites, drones, walkers, etc.). 


In a nutshell, we’re dealing with two Endangered Species Acts (federal and state) and two species (Piping Plover and Least Tern).

So is there anything we can do to maintain some level of access on Duxbury Beach during the nesting season? Fortunately, yes! The state developed a Piping Plover Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) in 2016 to procure an “Incidental take permit”* from USFWS – a permit under the US ESA. MassWildlife in turn approves Certificates of Inclusion in the state’s HCP for piping plovers as well as the state equivalent permit (Conservation & Management Permit - CMP) for least terns. DBR got its first Certificate of Inclusion (COI) in 2018.

*”Take as defined by the ESA means “to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.” Incidental take is take that is incidental to, and not intended as part of, an otherwise lawful activity.” (Habitat Conservation Plan) 


Duxbury Beach is fortunate that the HCP came around when it did – when the number of piping plovers and least terns was increasing beyond what we could manage under the guidelines while maintaining some level of access. The HCP allows for three “covered activities”, which are actions we can take beyond what the state/fed guidelines allow to increase flexibility for recreation and/or access. One of the options is commonly called deterrence— we leave a nesting habitat unfenced and/or actively deter plovers and terns from nesting. 

Typical deterrence methods include using pallets or coverboards, flagging, and raking to disturb nesting areas and discourage pairs from trying to nest. However, the HCP limits the number of pairs able to be deterred and the area (2 acres on Duxbury Beach). If eggs are laid despite deterrence efforts, the nest must be immediately fenced and normal restrictions put in place. Chicks cannot be deterred on the beach per federal and state law.

This winter DBR and Duxbury Beach Operations met weekly to plan and prep for the summer season, including building a plan for deterrence. Over the last few weeks, staff and volunteers have worked to set up a deterrence area 300m (almost 1000ft) south of Crossover 2 (see map). A special thank you goes out to Save Duxbury Beach for working to rally volunteers, helping prep materials, and assisting with delivering over 1,000 pallets to the beach. Deterrence efforts will continue throughout the season. Beach Ops and DBR staff work daily to maintain deterrence areas, rake the beach, monitor for birds, and hand rake areas higher up on the dune. 


Why this year?

Previously, we’ve attempted to deter plovers from the overflow parking lot at Duxbury Beach Park with flagging and hand raking (unsuccessful), we used flagging and raking for short-term deterrence at the Resident Beach in 2023 (successful), and we reduced fencing around least tern scrapes between the Resident Lot and DBP (successful).

There are a lot of challenges associated with implementing a deterrence program on Duxbury Beach, not least of which is the manpower needed to do the work and the density of the nesting activity. However, given the huge increase in the number of plover pairs over the last few years, it was decided that it is prudent to see if deterrence can be successful on Duxbury Beach.

Will this harm conservation efforts for piping plovers and least terns?

Deterrence is only implemented on Duxbury Beach following discussion and approval by MassWildlife to ensure it meets all of the requirements under the HCP. To have these “exceptions” to the guidelines (the covered activities) plan participants have to show that they are managing to the guidelines in all other ways – this includes discussions of how dogs, kites, kiteboarding, etc. are dealt with on the beach. The HCP does not provide a license to do whatever we want – rather it is a commitment to exemplary management of listed species in exchange for permission to make some exceptions to the usual rules. The goal of the state’s HCP is a net benefit to conservation efforts and so we need to show the same in our request for inclusion and our implementation.

Our COI is lengthy and a lot of it details the impact minimization measures – basically,  how we are going to implement the covered activities with as little risk to the birds as possible. This includes things like signage, staff training, barriers, escorts, increased monitoring, etc.

Last but not least is the mitigation plan – we don’t get this all for free! The state must provide mitigation to USFWS for each pair that is exposed to take under their incidental take permit. To do so, the state has to collect that mitigation from COI participants, like DBR. DBR implements mitigation on site to benefit conservation including habitat management, predator management, education, and increased enforcement.

Why Crossover 2? 

We’ve learned from our efforts on Duxbury Beach, as well as, from other beach managers that it is extremely difficult to deter plovers from nesting – especially from an area where they previously nested. Plovers have high site fidelity and will come back to nest close to (sometimes within a couple feet) where they nested in past years. Least terns are easier to disturb but they will also lay eggs quickly and in greater numbers than piping plovers on Duxbury Beach. Therefore, our first step was to look at nesting locations over the past three seasons for both plovers and terns and find areas with the lowest density of nesting. We looked specifically at the areas around each OSV crossover to better facilitate maintenance of deterrents and any possible access scenarios.

Another consideration was habitat – with only 2 acres to work with, more narrow strips of habitat will allow deterrence over a greater linear distance on the beach. Part of the intended deterrence area for 2024 is in front of High Pines which has dense vegetation, unsuitable for nesting. In contrast, many areas north of Crossover 2 and south of Crossover 3 have habitat that extends from the oceanside beach, up and over the dune to the road, or on the bayside. Areas with more habitat east to west reduce the distance north to south that we are able to deter with a 2 acre limit. The distance we can deter has impacts on the likelihood of how successful deterrence will be in gaining OSV access.

Why only south of the Crossover?

We considered deterring for a limited distance north of Crossover 2 in addition to the area south but decided against it for a couple of reasons. 

  • We have other options to keep the crossover open if a nest is laid close by to the north. If a nest is laid within 50m of the crossover we could use the covered activity “recreation and beach operations – reduced symbolic fencing around nests” to keep the crossover open.

  • It would reduce how far we can deter overall. The habitat is wider (east-west) north of crossover 2 so any deterrence north of the crossover would mean less distance we could deter overall (remember, we have a 2 acre limit).

  • Why do we want to maximize distance? Chicks are the primary concern when it comes to OSV crossovers and space on the beach – we would need to deter at least 200m from the crossover to keep it open post-hatching. This is why we’re looking to maximize linear distance for deterrence.

  • We can use escorting* if needed to get OSVs over the crossover if chicks are close by north of crossover 2 as long as there is an area available for parking (again, this is why we need to maximize the length of the deterrence area). *The covered activity “Oversand vehicle use in the vicinity of unfledged chicks” allows OSVs to drive past a limited number of unfledged piping plovers and/or least tern chicks at certain times of day with an escort.

  • North of crossover 2 has more piping plovers and least terns nesting than the area to the south. Greater chance of failure or running up against pair limits.

Will this get us more OSV access?

We don’t know. It may sound like a broken record, but we’re dealing with wild animals. The goal of the deterrence south of crossover 2 is to create a space free of bird activity to benefit OSV access. However, there are A LOT of birds nesting on Duxbury Beach and they are spread all down the beach (picture beads on a necklace). And, we have a 2-acre limit for deterrence. If deterrence is successful it will create a space free of nests but it won’t stop chicks from moving into the area after they hatch from other areas of the beach.

Chicks require larger setbacks from OSV areas compared to nests and those setbacks extend outward as the brood’s range expands. The risk with deterrence is that the pairs you have deterred (or other pairs on the site) will nest close beyond the limits of the deterrence area. Once those nests hatch, the setbacks from the chicks will reduce the size of the OSV beach. They may cause such a large reduction that the deterrence area will be inaccessible to OSV use. While we hope that an area will remain free of chicks and beyond the required setbacks so that a section of the OSV can remain open where we’ve deterred birds, it is also possible that this won’t be the case. But with some luck, it may increase the likelihood of a shorter closure.

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