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Lake Shore Road could close for birds

A road closure near Wisconsin Point could have national significance if a project to restore the piping plover on the Great Lakes takes hold.

And last week, the Superior City Council approved the partial-year closure of Lake Shore Road to give it a chance.

Now it’s up to Douglas County to determine whether the road closes.

At 4 p.m. today, the county’s Land and Development Committee will consider the closure that would run April 15 to June 15 to protect the county-owned Schafer Beach — the project site where hope rests for restoring nesting areas for the endangered shoreline bird.

The sandy Schafer Beach, away from the trees, is an ideal location for the project, said Kris Eilers of the St. Louis River Alliance. She said the goal is to restore nesting pairs of piping plover on Lake Superior. Less than 70 pairs can be found on the Great Lakes and only seven pairs are found in Wisconsin, Eilers said. There hasn’t been any nesting pairs in the Twin Ports since the 1980s, she said.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services has deemed this a very high priority,” Eilers said. “They are a critically endangered species very close to extinction.”

Tom Bridge, a member of the Wisconsin Point Plan Implementation Committee said he was in favor of the closure.

“You have an opportunity here tonight to make a decision that could have national implications,” Bridge said. “If it were closed … you would have a set time period.”

The closure would run from April 15 through June 15, unless a piping plover nest is found on the beach, Eilers said. If a nest is found, then the road would remain closed through Aug. 15.

Abuse has long been a problem in the area, Bridge said, and closing the road would not eliminate access. He said it would still be accessible by foot from Wisconsin Point or Dutchman’s Creek.

“The birds need that beach to nest on, and dogs and people don’t really mix with that very well,” Bridge said.

Eilers said the project is now in its third year, and has been doing extensive monitoring.

“We do see piping plover out there every year,” Eilers said. “We have documented and reported to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Last year there was only one reported, but the year before that there were three right on Schafer Beach … They do not stay to nest and that is the issue.”

However, the chairman of the county panel that will consider the closure from the county’s perspective doesn’t favor closing the road, even temporarily.

“I am not in favor of closing this road,” said Douglas County Supervisor Keith Allen, chairman of the county panel that will consider the closure. Allen said when the group trying to restore the piping plover approached the county to get permission to access the project site, it was clear the county would not favor closing the road. Then a couple months ago, the group approached the Wisconsin Point committee implementing a strategic plan about closing the road. Allen said he missed the meeting in which the panel recommended the closure.

Allen said he would prefer to see a curfew similar to the one that prohibits vehicles past the first parking area on Wisconsin Point between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., which would keep people from partying out there and wreaking the beach.

“My concern is that once they close the road — being on the county — the forestry department closed roads in years past temporarily, and now they’re closed permanently, Allen said. He said they were logging roads that people can no longer access to hunt.

Closing the road could affect people’s enjoyment of the area, Allen said.

The committee meets at 4 p.m. today in Room 207C of the Douglas County Courthouse, 1313 Belknap St.

“The committee only wants you to say yes if the county also says yes,” Mary Morgan, director of Parks, Recreation and Forestry, told members of the council.

The council approved the partial-year closure, but included an annual requirement to review the policy.