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Battle Mounts Over Off-Road Vehicles at Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Southern Environmental Law Center photo.

During busy summer days more than 2,000 vehicles a day can be found cruising the beaches of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, according to the Southern Environmental Law Center. Southern Environmental Law Center photo.

For years folks have used off-road vehicles to negotiate some of the farther reaches of Cape Hatteras National Seashore. And for years the National Park Service failed to develop a management plan for those ORVers. And now it's time to pay the piper.

On April 3 a federal judge will consider a request by Defenders of Wildlife and the National Audubon Society to restrict ORV access to South Ocracoke, Hatteras Spit, North Ocracoke, Cape Point, South Beach and Bodie Island Spit for up to three years because of the presence of piping plovers, which have been considered a "threatened" species under the Endangered Species Act since January 1986.

The lawsuit contends the Park Service has run afoul of the National Park Organic Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the enabling legislation for the seashore, and the Park Service's own Management Policies by implementing an interim ORV management plan and failing to produce a long-term management plan.

The National Park Service’s Interim Plan and the ORV use it allows are substantially harming – and will continue to harm – important populations of endangered and threatened sea turtle species, threatened, special concern, or significantly rare bird species, and a threatened plant species, as well as other natural resources, serenity, and other recreational uses of the Seashore generally, reads one of the claims.

On Saturday, in a protest against the conservation groups, an estimated 200 ORV supporters showed up in a gale at Cape Point on the seashore to attend a rally.

In Sunday's editions of the Charlotte Observer, meanwhile, outdoors writer Tim Higgins satirized the situation by looking into the future to listen to a conversation between a young boy and his grandfather over why they no longer fish at Cape Point.

What's unfortunate is that the Park Service might have avoided this situation by acting sooner on developing a management plan for ORVs.


You want a reason. Here you go. If you take away Offroad access YOU HAVE TO PROVIDE alternate access. This is public land. So, they don't like 2200 vehicle on 80 miles of shoreline. Then PAVE access to the shoreline and Provide 4400 parking spaces.

No one has proved the decline of any species in the Cape Hatteras Seashore Receation Area. So, this law suit and ruling is strict BS!

AND no one has proven ORV use is ruining the park.

I couldn't agree more with Jimmy, my wife and I have been visiting Hatteras for the last couple years and it is now a mandatory vacationing spot. To close the beaches to all ORV traffic is just ridiculous not to mention the economic impact on all the local business. One more point before I go, these people that are saying that the ORV's are leaking oil on the beach.. Lets think about this, now I'm sure there are some ORV's not up to par out on the beach but for the most part I believe most people are being responsible with there maintenance. But my point is, every boat in the water is pushing it's exhaust through its out drive or into the air. EVERY boat is directly injecting gas and oil into the water. Whats next? shutting down every charter fishing outfit to eliminate water pollution? How reasonable does that sound? Now how come I'm not hearing these tree huggers crying about the boats . CLOSING THE BEACH IS NOT THE ANSWER lets work together and come up with a solution we can all live with.

Those of you posting pictures of that fox have NO IDEA what you are talking about. The Superintendent Mike Murray set the record straight at the last negotiated rulemaking meeting as was reported in the local press. The SUPERINTENDENT gave the order to shoot the fox because it was acting erratically and in his professional judgment could have been rabid. The fox did not have pups, so that's a complete falsehood. According to the Park Service, the fox may be have been deliberately released on the island. Might that have been done to increase plover predators?

Be sure nice if some of the more rabid ORV advocates would get their facts straight.

From the Plaintiffs "Memorandum of Law in Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss filed by the Defendant-Intervenors (the “Motion”)."

The following is provided to illustrate how DOW, AS, and SELC are misrepresenting certain stated facts in their injunction. It is similar to misquoting or taking verses in the bible out of context.

This is how the present their introductory first fact:

"Congress created Cape Hatteras National Seashore in 1937, declaring that it be “permanently preserved as a primitive wilderness” and that “no development of the project or plan for the convenience of visitors shall be undertaken which would be incompatible [] with the preservation of the unique flora and fauna of the physiographic conditions now prevailing in the area.” 16 U.S.C. § 459a-2.

The above said fact was extracted in part and does not represent the true fact as written by Congress.

Here is what Congress actually states in 459a-2, "Except for certain portions of the area, deemed to be especially adaptable for recreational uses, particularly swimming, boating, sailing, fishing, and other recreational activities of similar nature, which shall be developed for such uses as needed, the said area shall be permanently reserved as a primitive wilderness and no development of the project or plan for the convenience of visitors shall be undertaken which would be incompatible with the preservation of the unique flora and fauna or the physiographic conditions now prevailing in this area.

The truth of the matter is that the areas DOW, AS, and SELC want to close are especially adaptable for recreational use, particularly to all the items listed by Congress and it is worth noting that ORV use is considered a recreational activity of similar nature.

The point of the matter is that once you start looking at the real facts, it is clear that DOW, AS, and SELC are misleading.

clearly NON of you treehugers have ever been to this beach or you would know that the people that cause the issues are the bird watchers, we fisherman stay on the surf area thats REGURALY underwater, thus any bird eggs in the driving area would be either destroyed by the currents or carried out to sea. Now the people I see walking in the "bird areas" are the people with 4 camras and 3 pairs of binoculars around there neck. In 19 years of going to the cape point I have never seen a person in a ORV intentional run over any type of wildlife.

As a lifelong North Carolinian, I have worked on the outer banks and members of my family have been going to Hatteras and Ocracoke for over 50 years. Being able to drive on the outer banks is one of the things that makes it special. However, we do need to take steps to preserve this precious resource. I think that those people who live there or spend a large amount of time living there should have the right to pay the price for a yearly permit to drive on the beach. People who come down just for a week or a weekend, often not knowing how to drive on the sand and getting stuck, should probably stick to the public "parking lot" beaches rather than driving out the point. Or, they will have to pay the yearly fee -- probably needs to be about $300 for the year -- to be able to drive on the beach. The folks that have homes down there will pay the money or find a friend with a permit. As for the thought that those who drive on the beach are not good stewards of the environment, it is false -- whenever we go on the beach we follow a strict "leave no trace" policy and even pick up trash left by others when we see it. And, we always abide by any NPS rules and avoid any contact with bird and turtle nesting sites.

Many of the people who enjoy fishing on the beach cannot afford a boat or an expensive charter trip -- fishing on the beach is a lifestyle for people like my father-in-law, and it should be preserved for those who are so dedicated to Cape Hatteras and the outer banks.

"Harp (not verified)
On March 19th, 2008
A Quote by martin luther. Come now.

I have been to the previously mentioned beaches and hate all the vehicles there. I think they should limit the amount of vehicles per day.

We are caretakers of the earth but not at the expense of ourselves."

How arrogant to think that the earth depends on us, humans, for it's survival, but thats another debate!

I'm curious Harp......How did you access the beach when you went there?

Those of you that think a permit system is the answer, be aware, in situations where this is done, a limited number of passes is sold each year. If you don't get one....too bad. Usually the rental homes each have a pass for the renters, but no temporary passes are available for the day-tripper or weekend visitor.

Up north, if I'm not mistaken you have to purchase the passes in person, not online.

Ever been to a beach where they limit the number vehicles on the beach at one time??

Lines develop, one vehicle leaves one is allowed on. So don't run to the store for more ice or to the rental house for the suntan lotion cause you'll have to wait in line like everybody else to get back on the beach. In the summertime, if you're not there early enough, it's possible that you won't be able to get on the beach at all. These type of regulated beaches usually don't allow people to stay on them after dark. No more sunrise or sunset walks on the beach.

But then we're not concerned about that. Whats important is that the wildlife is not disturbed.

Have a nice day!

I agree with you Snowbird06.

Unfortunatley this is typically what happens when outlandish claims are responded to with intelligent and accurate facts.


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