A growing population of the federally listed piping plover (Charadrius melodus) in Massachusetts led to increased conflicts between these beach-nesting shorebirds and recreational beach users. Both federal and state guidelines restrict recreational beach usage to prevent human disturbance of nesting birds and trampling of nests. The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife (DFW) worked with the consultant ICF to reduce conflict through development of an HCP that is responsive to changes in the state plover population. This plan provides greater flexibility to beach managers and enhanced recreation opportunities as the state population increases, and conversely limits these flexibilities if the plover population decreases for any reason. This is accomplished through a mechanism that ties the level of exposure to potential “take” of plovers in a given year to trends in the Massachusetts breeding population of piping plovers over time. As the statewide population increases, more exposure to take will be authorized and a greater number of broods of chicks, nests, and breeding territories may be exposed to potential take. Conversely, if the plover population declines, less exposure to take will be authorized, and if the statewide population drops below 500 pairs, no take exposure will be authorized. In all cases, only a small proportion of Massachusetts breeding pairs will be exposed. The result is wildlife conservation that is highly protective, and that also incentivizes participants to work collectively and proactively to maintain or increase populations of piping plovers in Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts Statewide Piping Plover Habitat Conservation Plan and its associated NEPA compliance was completed and permitted in only 1.5 years – pretty much record time for a regional HCP of this nature. The HCP is also intended to function as an umbrella plan whereby incidental take coverage can be extended via Certificates of Inclusion to approved landowners and beach managers that agree to implement the Plan and required permit conditions; six certificates of inclusion were issued to Massachusetts beaches for the 2017 beach season. As of the last census, the number of breeding pairs was holding steady.

Piping plover HCP website


Paola Bernazzani, ICF paola.bernazzani@icf.com