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OPINION: Leave piping plover, heron nesting habitat undisturbed

The downy piping plover was hunted in the late 19th century for its feathers, which were used in decorations for hats. - Photo courtesy of Island Nature Trust.
- Photo courtesy of Island Nature Trust. - Contributed

Leave piping plover, heron nesting habitat undisturbed

Rosemary Curley

Guest Opinion

In response to Scott MacNeill, who demanded restoration of public access to Boughton Island and removal of a gate at the end of a road, there are additional points to consider.

First, Mr. MacNeill has erred in stating that there are no piping plovers on Boughton Island beaches. In 2017, a pair fledged three chicks. In 2018, they nested unsuccessfully, and this year piping plovers are already present. This is truly an endangered species with numbers continuing to decline. In 2002, there were 274 pairs in Atlantic Canada but only 181 pairs in 2018 – a 34- per-cent decline over 16 years. Even worse, declines approach 50 per cent in P.E.I. So, every undisturbed piping plover habitat is important.

In 1988, a cottage subdivision on Boughton Island was approved by the P.E.I. government, leading to challenges by three private litigants and the Natural History Society of Prince Edward Island (also known as Nature P.E.I.), which defended the nesting colony of great blue herons. We have only a few islands that provide undisturbed nesting habitat for herons. Approval for the subdivision was reaffirmed with the caveat that the heronry be fenced to curb public access.

It is ironic that people are referring to Boughton Island as a public beach when it has been acquired for purposes of conservation. The province owns Boughton Island because the Nature Conservancy of Canada purchased the property for over $2 million and conveyed it to the province. The province is required to conserve the Island and it is protected by covenant under the Natural Areas Protection Act. Protection of piping plovers and herons are stated goals.

Vehicle use in the protected area is prohibited, and it is a concern that people on ATVs access the island and drive through wetlands and dunes. This spring you can see where snowmobile and ATV use has damaged the dunes during the winter, restricting marram grass growth.

Many roads on P.E.I. end at a beach where there is no public parking. This one ends in a low dune and people park on dunes, though a sign notes it is illegal. Until recently it was not possible to walk to Boughton Island, but now it is. Walking is the recommended mode of access to the Island and people can still park on the road and do that. We suggest the best time of year to visit is after the bird nesting season.

The province is right to resolve a question of access, but its first responsibility is to maintain the island as a publicly-owned protected area rather than promoting it as a public beach. We ask – how will the province of P.E.I. respect the donors and covenant to ensure protection of wildlife and wildlife habitat on Boughton Island?

Local people have always used the island. This is different from promoting it as a public beach/tourist attraction when really it is a publicly-owned conservation area purchased with significant funding of a private conservation organization.

Rosemary Curley is president of Nature P.E.I.

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