“And the policy office in Washington is shocked that I'm a superintendent that wants a commission to stay. Most commissions in most national parks have not been this productive, collegial, or effective.”
-- Former Seashore Superintendent George Price,
speaking to the Seashore Advisory Commission March 13, 2017,
at its last meeting before his retirement.
WELLFLEET — A new superintendent, four nor'easters, and a federal freeze on advisory commission meetings are among the changes that have swept over the Cape Cod National Seashore since its advisers from six Lower Cape towns last met. When members finally gathered again at park headquarters June 18, no guarantees were offered that the commission's 307th meeting would not be its last.
Undaunted, the commission and new Superintendent Brian Carlstrom and staff jumped into the issues at hand, including the park's response to storm damage and a review of its policy on herbicide use.
“We're back in business,” chairman Rich Delaney said. “I hope we continue back in business.”
Carlstrom said he's worked with advisory commissions at two other national parks and found them “an excellent way for local communities and state governments engage with the Park Service.” Even so, he admitted, “I cannot speak much as to where things are headed with the advisory commission.” The commission's scheduled May 15, 2017, meeting was not held after the Trump administration put all advisory commissions on hold, ostensibly for review, and it was not allowed to meet again until this week.
The commission's authorization is set to expire in September. U.S. Rep. Bill Keating has filed legislation to extend its life into 2028; the bill is in the House Subcommittee on Federal Lands. Members were encouraged by Keating's district representative, Andrew Nelson, to write individual letters to subcommittee chair Rep. Tom McClintock advocating reauthorization, and Delaney urged that town reps ask their boards of selectmen to send letters.
(The subcommittee does have at least two members who are kindly disposed to the Cape. One is Rep. Niki Tsongas, whose family has a strong connection to Chatham. Another is the longest-serving member of Congress, Rep. Don Young of Alaska. In the 1990s, the Republican teamed up with Massachusetts Democrat Gerry Studds on fisheries issues.)
At this week's meeting, Carlstrom reviewed progress on projects including the reopened Red Maple Swamp trail in Eastham, which was closed for four years. After the pounding Nauset Light Beach took this year, “there will never be stairs there again,” the superintendent said. “We now have a trail to access the beach.” Facilities were “precariously close to the edge of the cliff” and have been removed, with temporary structures being put in place.
The stairs at Wellfleet's Marconi Beach were washed out in March, but are being reconstructed now. A longer term project will see a relocation of the Herring Cove parking lot and road in Provincetown by late spring next year.
Dr. Stephen Smith, plant ecologist with the Seashore, gave an overview of its work on invasive exotic plants. “NPS (National Park Service) policy prohibits parks from permitting non-native species where it can be prevented,” he said.
Methods of control include mechanical, hydrological, biological (think insects), tidal restoration, and, as what Smith called a “last resort,” chemical. He noted that the Park has not employed herbicides during the last two years, and cited examples of various responses to invasives.
“There's a lot of concern from the public about us using herbicides,” Smith said. “We mostly used glyphosate. It's not likely to get into the groundwater (as) it binds tightly in soil.” If applied correctly, he said, “there is very little to no problems with humans and wildlife and other plants.”
During public comment at the end of the meeting (Smith had left by this time), Helen Miranda Wilson, a Wellfleet selectman speaking as a private citizen, objected to labeling growing things as “invasives.”
“Plants aren't threats,” she said. “They may be uninvited, but they're not threats. We're threats. I really respect Steve, but he is over-fond of use of pesticides. It is an option, but in this place I don't think it's a good one.”
Without being sure that they will be allowed to do so, the advisory commission made plans to meet again on Sept. 24, days before its authorization is due to expire. Truro member Maureen Burgess told her colleagues, “If we don't meet again, it's been a pleasure.”
“We will meet again,” Delaney said. “We can't stop at 307 meetings.”