US District Court Judge Sandra J. Fuerstein ordered the US Army Corp. of Engineers not to begin work on Fire Island’s dunes project at Smith’s Point County Park and Fire Island Lighthouse Park because it will imperil piping plovers by destroying their nesting grounds. Her restraining order, however, does not affect third phase plans to rebuild dunes that protect communities on the barrier island.
According to Christopher Grant of the Army Corp., they had intended to create new dunes ranging from 13-15’ high along a 19-mile stretch of the Island in order to protect it from storm erosion. However, a suit filed on behalf of the birds by the Audubon Society of New York contends that the new sand barriers would be too high for newly hatched plovers to navigate so that they could forage in the Atlantic. Adult birds are only 7 inches long.
“Our concerns center around work planned for the parklands, which provide rare nesting and foraging habitat that is essential to the survival of the Atlantic coast piping plover,” stressed the Organization’s executive director Erin Crotty, who added that the plover population plummeted by 32% last year leaving only 397 pairs of the birds in the New York-New Jersey area. As a results, the birds are now listed as a threatened and endangered species by the federal government in both states. The birds are also listed as endangered in Maine, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa.
Although the birds lucked out when Superstorm Sandy actually created approximately 400 acres of overwash on Fire Island, creating additional wide flat beaches ideal for nesting, 207 of those acres are where the Army Corp. of Engineers plans to create the new mountains of sand. Despite this, the Corp. contends that it also has plans (approved by the US Fish & Wildlife Service, which is also being sued by the Audubon Society) to create a separate area consisting of 100 acres of new nesting grounds as “temporary pools for the birds” nearby. However, Crotty added that her group’s lawsuit against them maintains that the “agency’s final report approving the project failed to include its original objections that the plans were ‘too experimental’ to be considered dependable.”