While there’s heated debate across the country over how the National Park Service should rewrite its Management Policies, on the North Carolina coast the same management fight pitting preservation of resources against recreation is being played out at Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
On one side you have birds, turtles and even vegetation that receive protection either under the Endangered Species Act or the Migratory Bird Treaty. On the opposite side you have off-road vehicle enthusiasts. Caught uncomfortably in the middle are the seashore officials.
See the problem? When you try to mix birds, turtles and vehicles, you’re bound to run into problems. Incendiary ones at that, too.
Seashore officials are developing an interim off-road management plan for use until 2008, when a long-range plan is to take effect. The problem they face is trying to manage ORV use while protecting a variety of nesting shorebirds, sea turtles and vegetation. Some of the species – piping plovers, loggerhead turtles and leatherback turtles, among others – are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Some of the bird species are protected through the Migratory Bird Treaty.
A public relations faux pas occurred last spring when seashore officials closed Cape Point to recreational use to protect nesting birds…and posted rangers to enforce the closure.
During recent meetings held to discuss the proposed ORV plan, antagonistic vitriol has been spewed at seashore officials by some in the audiences who take great exception to the closure plan the U.S. Geological Survey produced for the National Park Service to help protect species.
Hatteras Island resident Wayne Mathis said some of the proposed closures “could have come from the most radical group of environmental terrorists in the country."
"The recommendations would result in the closure of the entire park to all recreational activity," Mathis was quoted as saying by the Outer Banks Sentinel. "Preparation of the document was a waste of taxpayers' money. The report isn't responsive to NPS' mission to provide for recreational use of the seashore by the American people as Congress intended."
At an earlier meeting, Howard Rooney, a resident of Hatteras Village, told seashore officials that they made a big mistake by posting armed rangers to keep people off Cape Point. That, he said, was similar to giving visitors “an obscene gesture.”
“If we get an apology from y’all, we might be able to forgive you,” he added.
This should be an interesting debate to follow. While it sounds like the seashore officials are definitely in a tight spot, those who live on Hatteras Island should reread the National Park Service Organic Act, as well as the existing Management Policies, those adopted in 2001, to see exactly how seashore officials are supposed to balance resources and recreation.
The deadline for submitting comments on the interim protected species management strategy is November 17. Seashore officials hope to have a plan ready to go by the spring. You can check out the planning documents at Cape Hatteras National Seashore's website . Mail comments to Superintendent, Outer Banks Group, 1401 National Park Drive, Manteo, NC 27954.