Ossipee—September 19, 2015—The state’s annual survey of Ossipee Lake Natural Area has revealed additional vandalism to the site beyond what was reported this summer, according to Sabrina Stanwood, head of DRED’s Natural Heritage Bureau. In an email to Ossipee Lake Alliance, Stanwood said her staff is in the process of meeting with the agency’s Director and enforcement staff “to discuss the issues.” Stanwood did not detail the additional damage her staff has found.
In June, as reported by Ossipee Lake Alliance, a site inspection revealed a cut fence and missing signs and posts at Short Sands, a portion of the natural area on the western side of the big lake. Short Sands, which is closed to the public for restoration and preservation, is physically separate from the main portion of the preserve that is commonly known as Long Sands. Less than two weeks after repairs were made, vandals returned and repeated the damage. At that point, state officials also found garbage and human feces, and shoreline plants that had been pulled out of the ground.
The boldness of the vandalism may have been inspired by a reduction in law enforcement at the site this year. Since enactment of the Natural Area’s groundbreaking 2009 management plan, enforcement has been a shared responsibility between DRED’s Forest Rangers and Marine Patrol officers from the Department of Safety Services.
But enforcement this year has been light, at best. According to Stanwood, she was notified by the Department of Safety Services that Marine Patrol officers would be “unable to patrol OLNA” this year due to budget cuts that had reduced the number of available officers and boats.
Meanwhile, DRED has also had staffing issues, with Stanwood citing the time needed to replace the Ranger responsible for the Natural Area, who retired. While a new Ranger was finally hired, Stanwood said the Bureau was challenged this year by “one of the busiest fire seasons ever.”
According to Stanwood, Marine Patrol officers issued seven summonses and five warnings in 2013, the most recent tally available. Some of the Department of Safety Services enforcement actions have been “dismissed by the courts,” she said.
In 2014, DRED issued two summonses, also the most recent tally available. 2014 was the first year DRED had a boat to access the Natural Area shoreline by water.
Reaction and Disappointment
The vandalism and lack of enforcement are a disappointment to the boaters and environmentalists who worked cooperatively to help the state create the Natural Area management plan. A key element of the plan has been the ongoing education of boaters by boaters—a largely successful self-enforcement strategy of education and gentle persuasion.
But with the decrease in state enforcement, some boaters are feeling deceived. In an email to the state’s Working Group of Natural Area advisors, Richard Lover, who is a long-time Working Group member representing the boating community, said he is “extremely disappointed” with the enforcement situation.
“A law is only as good as it is enforced,” he wrote.
In a posting to the Ossipee Lake Alliance website, area environmentalist John Shipman said the deterioration at the Natural Area is “not good for the environment or boaters,” adding that the Working Group “needs strengthening.”
There was also plenty of feedback on Facebook’s Ossipee Lake page, with a poster named Patricia Mullin writing “It’s a shame that some people cannot respect what so many others have fought so hard to preserve.”