Piping Plovers May Prove ‘Stronger than the Storm’
By Michele S. Byers
One year ago, the Super Storm Sandy moved tons of sand inland and upward – as storms have done for millennia – causing much suffering to New Jersey’s coastal communities. But not so for the piping plover, a native beachfront bird!
It turns out that Sandy was both useful and essential to the future survival of piping plovers, Charadrius melodius. These endangered, sparrow-size birds have declined tremendously due to human encroachment over the last century. They cannot tolerate our propensity for recreating at the high tide line.
Today, piping plovers breed in small numbers on a few remaining strips of unspoiled, oceanfront beaches and dunes – places not overrun with blankets, sunbathers, fishermen and dune buggies. Four of New Jersey’s best plover nesting grounds include Gateway National Recreation Area in Sandy Hook, Holgate and Little Beach areas of the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge and North Brigantine Natural Area.
Sandy’s high winds and storm surges forced our natural beaches to lurch upward and westward, as they have been doing and will continue to do for centuries. Sand was blown over the tops of dunes, burying woody shrubs like beach plum, black cherry, Virginia creeper and poison ivy, and creating fresh open sand for colonization by beachgrass and other native plants.
Even as Sandy wreaked destruction on the coast, it created many acres of new, sparsely-vegetated dunes – perfect nesting habitat for piping plovers, since there’s no place for predators to hide.
Open, sandy dunes are refuges for the plovers, as they scratch out circular depressions in bare sand, line them with shell fragments and lay 3 to 4 camouflaged eggs. The long-legged plover chicks are precocious, running along the beach within hours of hatching to feed on tiny invertebrates.
Piping plover population recovery requires each nesting pair to produce an average of 1.5 successful young that grow into full juveniles by mid-summer.
In 2012, before Sandy, the average production in New Jersey’s four wild beach locations was only 0.79 juveniles per nesting pair. In 2013, after Sandy, production was up slightly to 0.92 per pair, with 84 nesting pairs successfully fledging 77 juveniles. Hopefully, this is just the beginning of a successful story for the plovers.
With luck, most of these approximately 245 adults and juveniles will fare well in the coming months, finding prey and avoiding predators in their winter homes along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the southeastern United States, and in the Bahamas.
Next spring, as the extensive habitat created by Sandy welcomes back the grown plovers that fledged this year, perhaps many more spaces will be claimed by nesting pairs, and the population of the plovers will inch upward on the road to recovery.
Piping plovers may prove to be stronger than the storm as they benefit from Sandy’s reshaping of natural dune terrain!
The story of the piping plover is a good reminder about the dynamic nature of our barrier beaches, and the need to reconsider how we build and develop.
To learn more about piping plovers, visit the New Jersey Fish & Wildlife website at www.nj.gov/dep/fgw/ensp/pdf/end-thrtened/plover.pdf and the Conserve Wildlife Foundation website at www.conservewildlifenj.org/blog/tag/piping-plover.
And to learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michele S. Byers is the executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.
Time to Repeal the Medical Device Tax
By Sally C. Pipes
Congress has struck a deal to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling – at least temporarily.
Yet for some reason, lawmakers have excluded from the final agreement a policy prescription supported by Democrats and Republicans alike that was part of an earlier version of the deal – repeal of Obamacare’s medical-device tax.
Scrapping this tax should be Congress’s next priority. Not only will the levy raise the health costs borne by patients – it will also put tens of thousands of Americans out of work.
As of this year, medical-device manufacturers must pay a 2.3-percent tax on their sales. The tax is supposed to raise about $30 billion to help offset the trillion-dollar cost of the president’s health reform law.
The levy will effectively double the total tax bill paid by device firms. And because it’s assessed on a firm’s revenues – not its profits – companies will have to pay regardless of whether they actually make money.
That’s especially bad news for companies in their infancy. It takes $31 million to shepherd a low-risk medical device through the federal Food and Drug Administration’s regulatory process and into the marketplace. For higher-risk devices, the cost of approval more than triples.
Add the tax onto those substantial outlays, and startups will have a whole lot more trouble recouping their initial investments.
Startups are the lifeblood of the industry. Eighty percent of medical-device firms have fewer than 50 employees. Ninety-five percent post revenues of less than $100 million.
Firms are responding to the tax not by swallowing it – but by raising prices for patients. According to a survey conducted by Silicon Valley Bank, nearly one-third of start-up firms say that they will try to pass some or all of their new tax burden onto consumers.
Device companies are also putting off plans for growth – or worse, actively shrinking. The Silicon Valley Bank survey found that one-quarter of companies “will focus on expanding overseas instead of domestically” as a result of the tax. Others are planning on “reducing their workforce or foregoing new hires” and “shifting resources away from growing their business.”
Thanks to the tax, the industry could see as many as 45,000 job losses nationwide – over 10 percent of the sector’s current workforce. That translates to more than $3.7 billion in lost employee compensation. Fourteen states, including California, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Texas, could lose more than 1,000 jobs each.
And those are just the direct casualties of the tax. The device industry supports another 2 million positions in other industries. Many of those could disappear if employment at device firms plummets.
Many of the job cuts could come from firms’ research divisions. The Silicon Valley Bank report finds that a number of companies are planning on “investing less in R&D for existing and new devices.”
My colleague at the Pacific Research Institute, economist Benjamin Zycher, estimates that the tax will cause the medical-device industry to cut investment in new products by 10 percent through the end of the decade. That’s equivalent to $2 billion less in investment per year.
The United States is, at least currently, the world leader in medical device technology. According to the federal Commerce Department, the U.S. medical technology sector’s value “exceeded $110 billion” last year and represented “about 38 percent of the total” worldwide.
But the device tax puts America’s perch at the top in jeopardy.
Given all the collateral damage exacted by the tax, it’s no wonder that both Republicans and Democrats have come out against it. Some 266 members of the House, including 40 Democrats, have signed onto legislation that would repeal the device levy. Earlier this year, 79 senators – 34 of whom are Democrats – approved a non-binding resolution to scrap it.
Congress should repeal the medical-device tax before it does any more damage.
Sally C. Pipes is president, CEO, and Taube Fellow in Health Care Studies at the Pacific Research Institute. Her latest book is “The Cure for Obamacare” (Encounter, 2013).
Two River Moment
Cranes punctuate the sky during the summer of 1973 as The Channel Club Tower is being built in Monmouth Beach. The 17-story building, which has a penthouse level, is located on 7 acres at 1 Channel Drive. It has 222 condominium units.