What is the Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP)?
The HCP is a state-run procedure allowing beach managers to apply for additional flexibility for managing beach access and recreation around nesting Piping Plovers, a state- and federally protected shorebird.
The HCP allows beach managers to apply for permission to permit the exposure of a limited number of plover pairs to potential risk if certain precautions are implemented (through an impact avoidance and mitigation plan) for: 1. Use of Roads and Parking Lots in the Vicinity of Unfledged Chicks, 2. Recreation Management and Beach Operations and 3. OSV Use in the Vicinity of Unfledged Piping Plover Chicks.
Do The Trustees participate in this program?
Yes, this year we have implemented the HCP on Norton Point for OSV use in the vicinity of unfledged chicks. This means we are able to provide continued OSV access in areas where chicks are active—areas that would otherwise be closed to OSV traffic under state and federal laws/guidelines.
This access requires OSVs be escorted through areas where plover chicks are active and where each exposed brood has a dedicated monitor. The Trustees is limited to impacting no more than two broods under the terms of the HCP. Putting the HCP in place requires additional staffing, and mandated weekly reporting to the state of Massachusetts on several factors including:
- The total number of vehicles that have gone through the restricted beach corridor that week,
- The locations of the nesting pairs, and reports of any incidents.
A daily implementation log is also required by HCP, to document staffing, frequency of brood monitoring, and compliance with OSV escorting procedures, to be made available to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service upon request.
How does this work and how can I take part?
For summer 2022, The Trustees has approval to operate the HCP at Norton Point Beach. This means The Trustees can provide chick monitors and escorts for public OSV access at the following times on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays (and sometimes Mondays, depending on staffing) for permit holders on Norton Point Beach during shorebird season:
- One escorted entry time: 10AM. Queuing on the Norton Point Beach entry trail begins at 9 AM.
- Two escorted exit time options: 1:30PM and 3PM
This HCP access will continue on Norton Point Beach until the shorebird chicks fledge, expected in early to mid-August. (Updates are posted on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @thetrusteesMV).
Under the terms of the HCP, this process is highly regulated including the time The Trustees is allowed to have OSVs on the beach, between 10 AM and 4 PM. Vehicles with permits can begin to queue up on the beach entry OSV trail beginning at 9AM on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. At 10AM, shorebird-trained rangers on an ATV will escort vehicles at a speed not exceeding 5 mph over the dune to the beachside OSV trail. Meanwhile, a second (and if necessary, third) Trustees shorebird-trained ranger serves as Brood Monitor. The Brood Monitor(s) and ranger remain in constant communication via VHF radio throughout the escort period. The Brood Monitor(s) remains with the plover brood and radios updates on chick locations regularly to the Chief Ranger or property Stewardship Manager, who are both on-property. OSV operators are asked to keep no more than one vehicle length between their vehicle and the one in front of them during this escort.
Vehicles are then escorted back off the property, using the same procedure outlined above, at one of the two designated times, 1:30PM or 3PM.
Why does this program allow any cars in a brood or sensitive nesting area during shorebird season?
Because Piping Plover populations are reaching certain state targets for nesting pairs, the goal of the HCP is to balance the federally- and state-mandated protections with allowing some degree of public access. The goal is still to protect this struggling species, while finding a low-impact, carefully monitored way to continue to allow some recreational activities to take place. Access during this time is an important opportunity for the public to learn more about this bird and the work underway to protect their struggling species.
How many vehicles are allowed, and how frequently?
Currently, we can accommodate three escorts a day (one to get on the beach at 10AM and two to get off the beach at 1:30PM and 3:30PM) Friday through Sunday and sometimes Monday (depending on staffing). We allow as many vehicles as can fit in the established parking area on the beach and can be safely managed. On our busiest days, we have been able to escort over 100 vehicles on and off the beach.
Even when OSV access has reached capacity, pedestrians are always welcome on the beach.
Follow The Trustees MV on social media for more updates. You can find us on:
To learn more about this program and the state population of Piping Plovers visit https://www.mass.gov/service-details/ma-piping-plover-habitat-conservation-plan-hcp