May 11, 2010
A Reprieve for Cape Cod Crows
At least for now, a plan to poison crows is cancelled
In the wake of enormous public opposition to the proposed plan, the National Park Service (NPS) recently decided to not poison crows on the Cape Cod National Seashore.
The agency attempted to justify using the poison as part of an effort to protect a federally threatened shorebird, the piping plover, and it claimed that use of the poison was authorized under an existing shorebird management plan.
Piping plovers have always been an integral part of the Massachusetts environment and were once abundant on Cape Cod beaches. In 1985, however, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Atlantic coast population of piping plovers as a Federally-Threatened Species. Since then, nesting plovers at Cape Cod National Seashore have increased from only 18 pairs to 87 pairs in 2009.
Cause for decline
The original cause of decline and subsequent recovery is attributed to human disturbance. NPS has closed off portions of the Seashore with fencing around nests and constructed exclosures around nests to protect eggs from predators. While these recovery efforts have achieved measurable success, the NPS recently determined that closing off portions of the Seashore where plovers are found nesting interferes with the desire of beachgoers to recreate.
To accommodate increased recreation, NPS proposed a program to poison crows. Seashore shorebird biologist Mary Hake told the Cape Cod Times, “[e]liminating crows would… allow the Seashore to reduce its protection of plovers at certain overcrowded beaches in exchange for an overall increase in plover pairs throughout the park.”
The decision-making process
Incredibly, the public was left entirely out of the decision-making process and was not permitted to review and/or comment on the proposed shorebird management plan. The proposed crow poisoning was being advanced even where an existing program had been effective and far less controversial.
The Seashore held two public information programs on February 25, 2010 and on March 3, 2010 to share information about the new approach to shorebird management using selective removal of crows. Over 200 people attended, many of them opposed to the poisoning plan. The existence of a number of alternatives was noted during the meeting, but it was clear from comments made by NPS managers that the Park Service considered the meetings only informational in nature and not intended to give the public any real voice in the matter.
A prudent and right decision
Then, just days after the NPS made public its intentions to proceed, the agency released a press statement reversing that decision. This decision is both prudent and right, but we fear, only temporary. The trend in wildlife conflict management within federal agencies today, even those as esteemed as NPS, is toward solving problems by killing. The HSUS will remain vigilant on this and other management issues, to remind NPS and others that they should not sacrifice animal protection to recreational interests. Animals should come first in our national parks. Isn’t that why they are there?
Stephanie Boyles is Wildlife Scientist, Wildlife and Habitat Protection, for the Humane Society of the United States.