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Protect the Rare Birds of Long Beach with a Modestly-Sized Boardwalk

'We think that a much smaller boardwalk than the 1,320-feet long proposal would be more than adequate,' says Milan Bull, representing the Connecticut Audubon Society.

Editor's note: Milan Bull is the Connecticut Audubon Society's senior director of science and conservation, as well as a member of the commission that has been reviewing , which includes a 1,320-foot-long boardwalk. 

By Milan Bull

It will come as no surprise to Connecticut residents that unspoiled natural habitat on Long Island Sound is rare.

We have miles and miles of shorefront development -- condos, houses, subdivisions -- that put the squeeze on our remaining natural areas, the small patches of salt marsh and strips of beach and mudflat. And in the warm weather most of those beaches are crowded with people.

That makes it important to protect, as much as possible, beaches that provide first-rate habitat. And that's why Connecticut Audubon Society is against a proposal to build an excessively large boardwalk on Long Beach in Stratford.

A barrier beach that stretches for a mile from Stratford to Bridgeport, Long Beach is an important part of a mosaic of habitats near the mouth of the Housatonic River. That mosaic includes 1,500 acres of salt marsh, vast mudflats, the dunes and beaches at Milford Point and Stratford Point, and the Housatonic estuary itself.

Tens of thousands of birds nest and feed there. Diamondback terrapins nest there. Fish swim upriver to spawn, use the marshes as nurseries, and feed on the millions of tiny plants and animals that make up the rich mass of plankton at the river's mouth. Oysters spawn there and the river's current helps shellfish beds in other parts of the Sound.

Much of the area is part of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, and the natural habitats that aren't technically in the refuge are nevertheless an important part of the whole.

Long Beach fits into that category. Among other things, the barrier beach helps protect the Great Meadows salt marsh and it provides excellent habitat for Piping Plovers, which are listed as threatened under the federal and state Endangered Species Acts, and therefore afforded the exact same protections as endangered species.

Piping Plovers nest in only 14 of the 25 towns and cities along the Sound in Connecticut, and they nest only on untrammelled beaches -- the more that people (and dogs) use a beach, the less likely Piping Plovers are to successfully nest. Over the last 22 years, Piping Plovers have done OK at Long Beach: 144 pairs have nested there, an average of 6.5 pairs a year. In a state where only 748 pairs have nested in total over that same period, that's a significant percentage.

A committee formed by the Town of Stratford has been debating the future of Long Beach, and the most contentious issue is the boardwalk. Some members want a boardwalk that stretches 12 feet wide and 1,320 feet long -- a replica of a popular boardwalk at Silver Sands State Park, in Milford. Others want no boardwalk.

Connecticut Audubon Society recognizes that there are legitimate competing uses for the Long Island Sound waterfront, and we know that public access to the Sound is important for maintaining support for the expensive Sound cleanup that is now underway.

We think that a much smaller boardwalk than the 1,320-feet long proposal would be more than adequate. It will give the public access that's appropriate for a sensitive conservation area while also helping to protect the beach and its nesting birds.

Having collaborated for many years with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, we are confident they can collaborate to design and locate an appropriately-sized boardwalk that makes it easier for people to use Long Beach while also providing Piping Plovers and other sensitive wildlife the habitat they need.

Mike April 10, 2012 at 01:33 PM
There it is, boys and girls. People will be confined to the boardwalk. The beach may be used by birds only. And did anyone notice that the article refers to the natural habitat. without mentioning that the natural habitat here is man made?
Walt April 10, 2012 at 02:30 PM
Put it in, the piping plovers and whatever else that lives there will either coexist or move on to somewhere else. So it'll be 13 instead of 14.
JohnDavies April 10, 2012 at 05:43 PM
Build it!!! The world will survive with one less piping plover or maybe they'll adjust as did other species as the world has aged.
Eileen Rafferty April 10, 2012 at 06:11 PM
This is one of the few remaining marsh areas for nesting and shore birds. Please keep it away from development.
Jennifer April 11, 2012 at 02:44 AM
Where does it say that people will be confined to the boardwalk? Presently we can walk for miles down the beach and the birds can and have nested. Who's being excluded?
Jennifer April 11, 2012 at 03:10 AM
Some residents previously voted to sell this beautiful beach forever to the Fish and Wildlife (federal gov't?), because they thought that this was necessary to preserve it. Wasn't the F&W, volunteer groups, and Eagle Scouts, etc. doing this anyway for free, before some sought to sell this treasure for a pittance? Couple this with the issue that we still don't exactly know what Bpt. is planning on doing with their end. A boardwalk would bring with it a host of problems, excessive litter among them. The habitiats would be disrupted by the hoards of people it will entice, which conflicts with the desire of the folks and others who thought that's why it should be sold. Who would pay for clean-up, maintainance and patrolling? People have been enjoying this vast, beautiful stretch of beach for years, without a boardwalk, while the birds have nested in a relatively small area restricted from humans. Where's the conflict? One doesn't need a boardwalk, to walk in the woods.. Remember, that if this land had been sold, we couldn't be having this conversation.
Mike April 11, 2012 at 01:20 PM
So far, no one has been excluded. But the bird people have tried. It has even been suggested that one of these groups help with "crowd control" on Long Beach West. Has anyone ever seen a crowd on Long Beach West? Is the defination of "crowd control" something other than "controling how many people can enter an area?" There are other beaches that Fish and Wildlife got their hands on, and about a year later, the bird people went to court and got a judge to exclude people from the beach, as it was bad for the birds. Long Beach West is abeautiful beach, and I don't want it to become only a memory.
Mike April 11, 2012 at 01:31 PM
I think people voted to sell it because they never set foot on it, and only saw dollar signs. And the birds there are nasty. They will attack you as you walk by. They dive at your head, and they poop on you. Anywhere else, when animals attack people, they are put down. Here, they are protected. Can anyone explain that? Nobody, least of all the bird people, wants to talk about the fact that Long Beach West is man made. Pleasure Beach used to be an island. Long beach West was built with dredges and bull dozers. Nothing grows there that wasn't planted there. I'm tired of hearing how nature formed Long Beach West. Nature's name must be Caterpiller.
Jennifer April 11, 2012 at 02:48 PM
The dive bombing is to let people know, that the birds feel their nests are being threatened. You could be innocently walking too close, when this happens. How does a mother of any species (humans included) re-act when it feels it's young are in peril? There is plenty of room to walk else where if a bird is annoyed. What do we do if people disturb us? I agree that it seems some of people reacting to this situation, have never stepped foot on Long Beach West. Is it relative now, how this land was formed? Homes have been built on what was once swamp land, lakes have been man made, etc.What things become after they are created, are in a state of evolution,whether natural and/or man-made.

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