I-Team: Are They Protecting The Plovers, Or Their View?

By Joe Shortsleeve, WBZ-TV

BOSTON (CBS) – An unspoiled stretch of sand and breathtaking views, Plymouth Long Beach is one of the best parts of living in this coastal community. “I’ve been coming here my whole life,” Belinda Brewster explained through the howling wind on the beach.

Ashley McInerney is also a lifelong resident of Plymouth. She brings her 2-year-old son to the beach almost daily during the summer. “It’s a good place for the kids to run and play,” she said.

During the last few years, getting kids out to the best part of the beach has become a lot more difficult, and residents fear it could get worse. A gate blocks vehicles from accessing the beach for nearly half the summer as part of an effort to protect piping plovers and other fragile shore birds.

Now, a well-funded organization is pushing to keep even more cars off the beach.

Residents like Brewster and McInerney say it’s nearly impossible for families to walk the three mile stretch with small children and all the stuff that goes along with them. “Once you block ORVs (off-road vehicles), very few people will be able to get out there,” Brewster said.

David Gould, the environmental manager for the town of Plymouth says he doesn’t see the need for further restrictions on the beach. “We’ve done a great deal to protect endangered shore birds,” he said.

Plymouth does not allow cars to drive on the beach while the birds are nesting. That means the beach is closed for all but a few weeks during the summer. When cars are allowed, a large potion of the beach his roped off to protect the bird’s habitat.

The state of Massachusetts agrees that Plymouth’s management of the beach is sufficient to protect the endangered birds, but not everyone agrees. Scott Hecker is the executive director of the Goldenrod Foundation, a private foundation that along with a handful of citizens and another environmental group has filed numerous legal challenges to Plymouth’s use of the beach. He believes cars should be permanently banned from the area of the beach where the birds nest.

With a tax-exempt beach-front cottage used by scientists and birdwatchers, you might think Goldenrod is a large organization with a lot of financial contributors. But the I-Team found it is just three people: Hecker, along with founder San Francisco millionaire Cate Muther and her husband, Dennis Aftergut. “They are supporting a cause that they believe in and that I believe,” Hecker explained.

Muther and her husband also own a personal home, just a few feet away from the Goldenrod cottage.

Goldenrod’s website states its mission is to: conserve and protect the coastal environment in Southeastern Massachusetts. But when we asked Hecker what other beach management plans Goldenrod has challenged, his answer was none.

Tax records obtained by the I-Team show Cate Muther and her husband were the only contributors to Goldenrod in 2008. In 2009, using another foundation she created, Muther donated $775,000, more than half of which was spent on lawyers pushing for more restrictions on the beach.

Plymouth’s town manager wants to keep the beach accessible to cars, but he says the town can’t keep spending tens of thousands of dollars fighting Goldenrod in court. “They are able to outspend us,” he said. “I believe they are going to be successful in being able to appeal our beach management plan to a point where it’s going to be almost impossible for the public to use it.”

A decision on the latest appeal filed by Goldenrod is due any day now. If Goldenrod is successful, it could be precedent-setting. That means beach across the state could face similar restrictions.

The I-Team will keep you posted.

  • Amy Jonak

    They are absolutely protecting their view and not the plovers. Did you see the man begin to stutter and avoid-eye contact with the interviewer when asked where else they were working to protect the plovers? Plymouth beach used to be an AMAZING beach to visit as a child – almost the whole town was out there. Now, I barely get to go even once a year. The birds are important – but not so important that the beach should be closed to the residents of Plymouth.

    • Richard K

      well said Amy, these people(ALL 3 OF THEM) think with their wealth they can do whatever they want. I wish someone of means would stand up to them and send them packing ALL THE WAY BACK TO CALIFORNIA.

  • Josh

    the town is doing a great job of managing both man and nature, goldenrod is a shame and are only out to better their property values and unfortunately other people have fallen to believe their lies about loving nature. goldenrod should be shut down and let the town continue doing what it has been doing for over a decade! maintaining balance between man and nature for Plymouth long beach.

  • Ashley McInerney

    Thank you for representing the residents as we are: responsible families who love our beach. Channel 4 finally represented the issue as it is. There are many published biologists and environmentalists who support the plan as is. We are good people who have done our homework and finally so has a media outlet. Thank you. Hopefully we can get the support the town needs to fight for us and our beach.

  • Kathleen Alander

    Plymouth Beach has been allowing people to go out and enjoy this beautiful stretch of land for generations. The wildlife has not only survived but flourished with what is already in place. One wealthy couple should not be allowed to take a local treasure away from the people who love it… If this is allowed to happen, what will be the next thing up for sale to the highest bidder?

  • Ron Stroup

    WBZ-thank you for covering this story. I encourage anyone that wants to learn more to visit facebook.com/plymouthbeachfor all

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  • Sue

    So glad this story is finally getting the attention it deserves. It seems that the folks at Goldenrod think that if they have enough money they can buy through the courts exclusive use of an entire 2.8 mile long town owned beach. No one argues the importance of protecting the birds, but Muther has made it her mission to exclude everyone but herself, her family and her affluent neighbors from our beach.

    While Goldenrod claims its mission mission is to “conserve and protect the coastal environment in Southeastern Massachusetts for people and wildlife,” they are doing everything possible to keep people from accessing Plymouth Beach. When they expend some substantial money on plover at beaches other than Long Beach perhaps they will be more credible, but for now they look like some city slickers with deep pockets buying themselves a private beach against the wishes of the beach owners – the town of Plymouth!

  • Danny

    Herb Bergquist: Wildlife management and the ‘thin blue line’
    By Herb Bergquist/Sitting In
    Mon Sep 14, 2009, 09:00 AM EDT

    Medford –

    I recently had a conversation with Wes Jamison, a University of Florida PhD professor in Agriculture and Natural Resource politics, regarding modern conservation and animal rights.

    It was agreed that radical animal rights organizations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Humane Society for the United States (HSUS) just to name a few, are falsely influencing public opinion to a point were they are impacting wildlife management activities and traditional animal/human relationships that have been fostered for 100’s of years throughout North America and beyond.

    The term “thin blue line” was brought up and how its concept relates closely to the scientific evolution of modern North American wildlife conservation management. Before this conversation, I had never consciously made the analogy, but after thinking about it, it made perfect sense. Taking a few lines from the report produced by the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies (AFWA)’The Importance of Public Hunting and Trapping as Wildlife Management Methods’ (May 25, 2005) it clearly makes the case:
    “Communities across North America are learning that wildlife management is a complex science. Even those who have questioned hunting and trapping in the past are now encouraging hunters and trappers to help control growing populations of certain wildlife species,” the report says. “They have found that by eliminating proven wildlife management practices through ballot boxes and “bumper sticker” management, unforeseen negative consequences can follow.”

    Just as our police across the country are on the frontlines and stand between order and chaos in our society, modern day sportsmen — hunters and trappers — are proactively maintaining order and balance between wildlife and our own ever expanding population.

    This is definitely not to say we are in a “battle” with wildlife, even though some people in the trenches may disagree with that. Hunters and trappers do not participate because they want to win a war, they do so because of a complex desire to be closer to the land and benefit from its bounty.

    Nevertheless, their services provide modern society, within a highly regulated system astounding and far reaching benefits when it comes to reducing conflicts and maintaining balance: holding the line between order and chaos.
    Just as sportsmen are the so-called “cops on the beat,” the wildlife managers are the governing body that sets the regulations, guides their agents on the ground and ensures they carry out their work responsibly, lawfully and ethically.

    While our North American conservation management approach has been fostered through intensive scientific study, driven by dedication, a love for the natural world and an intense need to conserve our natural resources for the future, there is a threat to it’s foundation by animal rights organizations, hiding behind seemingly well meaning agendas that has not yet been met with a unified, formidable opponent.

    The “erasing of the thin blue line” has been set in motion and ignoring it will not damage conservation efforts forever, but it will have far reaching consequences that will take generations and an army of knowledgeable, dedicated individuals to rebuild when the time comes. Let’s just hope we have the common sense, stamina and vision to see it though.

    — Herb Bergquist is president of the Committee for Responsible Wildlife Management. For more information, log on at http://www.macrwm.org.

    • Caterine T James

      We are all too familiar with your plight here on Hatteras Island NC!

  • golden

    I believe that the all who are opposed to this should flood town hall, and representatives with emails stating this as a sham

  • Plovers Taste Delicious

    Piping Plovers are off the endangered list. This is excuse is used for many land grabs from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, to Cape Cod to Revere Beach, Massachusetts. It’s “We the People” not “We the Plovers”

  • Marsh Guy

    U.S Fish and Wildlife Service link:


    The are NOT off the endangered list.

  • B.ANN

    THis is such a shame to happen to the town of plymouth and its people as well as tourists. I grew up in Plymoputh but have lieved away since in my 20’s I return each summer and after 2o years each time I return I have to tell my children well we used to beable to play and explore here and there and sometimes i have to look out at the beautiful stretch of beach and say we used to be able to go out there and enjoy timewith familiyand friends but now it is ALL closed or 80% closed. Goldonrod hides behind “conservation” and uses its money to bully the town and its people so they can take over and “own the beach” THe plovers had a large area to nest and the fences were evetually put in place to proect the nesting area in the 80’s but then it expanded that the birds could next everywhere – This is too much and has given Goldenrod – NO 3 PEOIPLE RIGHTS TO THE BEACH OVER THE WHOLE TOWN AND ALL ITS VISITORS – TOURIST WHO ARE TURNED AWAY AND NOW VACATION ELSEWHERE not in America’s hometown as it’s closed – well the beach is…..

  • Skeptical

    Sounds like someone wants to corner the market. Will they charge a special educational/donation fee to gain access to the beach other than how it is already done which does not disturb the birdys? Go back to bankrupt Cali.

  • Belinda Brewster

    The piping plover is NOT listed as Endangered. It is listed as protected and threatened, but NOT endangered. If you were to read further on the FWS website, you would see that according to their Abundance and Productivity estimates that the piping plover’s population has increased 234% since 1986 with the largest increase in New England at 245%. Thanks to Plymouth’s Beach Management Plan, the plovers are not at 19 breeding pairs on Plymouth Beach. According to the FWS, capacity for Plymouth Beach is at 10 pairs, so yay, we’re double capacity. Goldenrod ignores these current FWS findings and instead cites 20-year-old studies. Further, the MA Department of Environmental Protection declared in their recent ruling against Goldenrod that Plymouth’s Beach Management Plan does NOT harm the beach, the dines or the birds. So no further restrictions are needed.

    • Jeff Johnston

      Belinda is correct. They are threatened, but beware people of Mass…they have closed beaches on Hatteras, destroying the economy there, for EIGHT pairs of plovers. You read that right. 8. Check out this video:

  • Belinda Brewster

    Sorry – I meant to say are now at 19 breeding pairs on Plymouth Beach

  • Skeptical of the skeptics

    People are not being denied access to the beach. CARS are being denied access. Why folks think it is necessary to DRIVE on something to enjoy it is beyond me. Our New England landscape today is dominated by vehicles — can’t there be special places that are for foot traffic and boats only? Are we so selfish that we have to put our own personal little convenience above the survival of endangered species?

    • Ron Stroup

      Families WILL BE denied access to the beach. How do you expect families with young children, people in poor health or disabilities to make a 2 mile walk down a rocky dirt road with the minimal items needed to enjoy a day at the beach. Should they not be able to enjoy the beach?

    • Ginny

      Skeptical you are wrong–resource closures apply to all. And as for vehicles, well there are simply some areas that are not accessible any other way. Here are some hard facts from CHNSRA.

      2003 is the year Hatteras Inlet was closed. It was the year NPS took such a hard line as to close it after Isabel–what maybe a half dozen villagers looking for some relief from the day to day grind of living without electric and water might want to go there for some relief or maybe just some food for the dinner table? It was the year NPS & USFWS tried to interfere with the restoration of vital services. Ok, so what does this have to do with tourism?

      Visitation for the 7 year period prior to the hard line on resource protection (1997 through 2003) averaged close to 2.7 million. Subsequent to the 2003 hard line approach visitation dropped to 2.2 million and has stagnated at this level since 2004. This is a 17% decrease in visitation. There has been no bounce back. There have been no good years. Furthermore, the weather from 2005 to 2009 was great–no hurricanes and few storms, maybe this is why the wildlife has done so well. There was no rescession prior to 2009. Gas prices were up one summer but not for all 7 years. The only thing the last 7 years have in common is a big increase in beach closures due to more agressive resource management.

      The lower level of visitation we have experienced during the past 7 years is having a major negative impact not only on the local economy but also on the quality of life for the 4,000 residents that live within the park’s boundaries–that’s right we have to traverse park property to leave our villages.

      So what about the future? Based upon the past new and bigger restrictions can be expected to yield one thing, bigger reductions in visitation and revenue? Most likely the only way to prove this will be to wait another 7 years to develop a trend so that it can’t be claimed that it was weather, gas, recession or whatever? I can hardly wait.

      I forgot, we may not have to wait. The same group who claims resource protection is necessary and is not hurting tourism has advocated a 17 mile bridge or a return to a ferry system–the latter didn’t work in the 50’s let alone now. Without an affordable replacement for the Bonner Bridge, the whole discussion may be moot.

  • PopperJohn


  • kitehead

    goldenrod ,go fly a kite .oh can’t do that the bird dosn’t know a kite from a predator

  • Keep the Beach Open

    My opinion is that this family found a gem and wants to have it all to themselves. This is not about the birds, it’s about their privacy on a beautiful beach in Plymouth.. The 3 members of Goldenrod have the money to get what they want. In the end, money buy anything you want. Even a beautiful beach which should be shared with Plymouth Residents as it has been for the past 100 years. Don’t be fooled, this women and her husband found paridise and want all of us off the beach. We have found a way to mutually enjoy the beach, people and birds; but that is not good enough for this women. I would hate to see such a beautiful resource taken from the people of PLymouth by one very rich and spoiled person. Keep Plymouth Beach open for ALL to Share.. Go find another cause to spend your millions on.

  • silvernod

    The plover population seems to be thriving, i drove out there to take a look today.

    • cs

      plovers migrate…. there aren’t any there right now…

  • Monica stroup

    To skeptical of skeptics: let’s be serious, there are plenty of special places left in this big world for foot traffic beauty. Plymouth beach is….. Well a beach! A public town owned beach for us tax paying residents to use. We follow all the rules set in place by our town management plan with no intention of ever harming any wildlife, so are you saying the beach property owners(who don’t live here-goldenrod) are selfish or just us residents who live here and want to take our families to the beach are??? It’s actually sad a threatened NOT ENDANGERED as you stated incorrectly, plover outweighs human kindness and love…

    • s

      Even though plovers arent on the endangered LIST, they are still covered by the endangered species ACT. And not to judge you directly, but in GENERAL, the public at Long Beach is far from willful obedience, and NOT full of ‘kindness and love’. Maybe you are one of the few good ones, but I’ve seen the beach staff constantly dealing with incessant complaints about the CURRENT plan, and with ignorant, selfish, and disrespectful attitudes. If given the opportunity of not getting caught, they wouldn’t hesitate to break the rules, and some still do regardless. AND the walk to the crossover is really not that bad, seeing as there are 200+ spots ON Ryder Way, with 10 of them being within 20 FEET of the crossover, and 50 of them being within a half mile of the crossover. So the plover really outweighs human LAZINESS and IGNORANCE, not kindness and love. Management Plan is GOOD, but even if there was no threat of further appeals/changes from Goldenrod, the public would still be unhappy.

      • Ashley McInerney

        The distances are from parking to the crossover not to the point. That would be another 1.28 miles. Still we are talking about small children and all that comes with them on a day at the beach or the elderly or the disabled. Twenty yards is too far for the elderly on a hot day and the disabled. Especially when a ban on ORVs is NOT necessary. And before you call me lazy I run three miles a day and chase after a toddler – who by the way cannot yet traverse the rock walls or walk on a road for long distances unassisted which is what he would be if I were laden with beach gear walking out to the point. Walk a mile in my shoes then judge.

      • Ron Stroup

        Hey S(cott) – the complaints you reference are from the 3 members of Goldenrod who are trying to restrict the people of Plymouth from respectfully enjoying Long Beach. The walk is not that bad.????..well-as Monica’s husband, I know first hand that she,along with many other Plymouth Mothers and families,has been taking our twins to Long beach since they were 6 months old. No way she could have gotten out to the crossover with them by herself without a vehicle-the same way Goldenrod members travel there by the way. those 10 spots fill up pretty dang fast during the summer and are more than 20 feet away-use a tape measure next time.

  • Beach Lover

    Skeptical? What is there to be skeptical of? This is clearly a bald-face and reprehensible attempt to bully the taxpaying public out of their own property by an elitist.

    No one should get caught up in aguments about the birds, if they were the point the challenges would not be limited to this one spot.

    Cate Muther, you should be ashamed. I am sure you are not, for no person with a sense of shame would embark on such a program.

    I hope that the city figures out a way to countersue you for frivoulous litigation.

  • michele

    You 3 Goldenrod people should take your money and try to close Duxbury beach where Hecker lives! If you are what you proport, you’d be more concerned about the hundreds of vehicles on the beach in Hecker’s hometown than the few remaining vehicles allowed on the beach in Plymouth! What’s the matter Hecker – afraid you wouldn’t be so popular in Duxbury? The cages over the plovers works fine in Duxbury and would be fine in Plymouth, too. Go back to Duxbury and California – you should be ashamed pretending to be so concerned about wildlife when all you want is a private beach! Shame on you!

  • Tyrone

    Allowing cars on the beach is a safety issue. The number of injuries is extremely high per vehicle. Just do the civilized thing ad ban all cars from driving on all beaches.

    • Ron Stroup

      Tyrone-You are 110% wrong-if you could back up your statement please do so. I have been going to Plymouth Beach for YEARS, and friends and family have gone their whole lives- I have never heard of one vehicle related injury to human or animal.

  • Todd

    Maybe it’s time to take action.. This will be around town Please sign it

    We the undersigned agree that;

    1. Long ( Plymouth ) Beach in the Town of Plymouth should be closed and the area
    brought back to its natural state.

    2. The taking by imminent domain all privately owned properties north of what is
    commonly called the crossover to the outer beach.

    3. No further road, breakwater or corrosion maintenance shall be performed with
    the use of Private, or Public funds beyond the Public Parking area.

    4. That the Public Parking area be expanded north of the current lot to accommodate
    an additional 200 vehicles.

    5. That the year round rights of, fishing, fowling or Claming will not be
    infringed upon.

    6. That this closure is to include all vehicle traffic (May 31st to August 31st).

    7. A special off season permit (September 1st to June 1st) will allow for travel from the
    low water line to the high watermark to anyone that holds and valid Mass hunting,
    fishing or Plymouth claming license.

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