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Cape Hatteras National Seashore Settlement Won't Ban ORV Use, But Will Restrict Travel


Birds and ORVs will coexist under a settlement reached over beach access at Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

A settlement over off-road vehicle travel at Cape Hatteras National Seashore will not ban ORV travel, but it will restrict it at times throughout the year, according to the National Park Service.

The settlement, which fends off a lawsuit filed by conservation groups concerned that ORVs were over-running bird and turtle habitat, was announced today by the Park Service. It provides guidelines to protect nesting areas for piping plovers and other species while also allowing recreational opportunities for park visitors.

Specifically, the settlement allows ORV beach access to remain open year-round and is not expected to affect the fall or winter fishing seasons.

At the same time, the consent decree that was filed with the court on April 16 will create buffers around portions of the spring and summer bird breeding and nesting areas, including the creation of a "1,000-meter vehicle perimeter and a 300-meter pedestrian perimeter around piping plover chicks until they have fledged," the Park Service said in a release.

Cape Hatteras Superintendent Mike Murray calls the settlement a “positive step to resolve the issues raised in the lawsuit and will allow us to focus our effort on development of the long–term ORV management plan and regulation."

The compromise is seen as preventing a year-round shutdown of ORV access to six popular fishing areas.

This issue has been one of the most contentious to come up on the Traveler in recent months. If you're a member of the seashore's ORV or conservation communities, tell us what you think of the settlement.


Lets see, and Cape Hatteras is where? I believe it’s in Maine but I’m not sure. Neither does the writer of this article, as he doesn’t seem to want to tell us. Very poor, vague article, not very informative. Sorry.

Duh! Why not click on the links? Anyone following this issue knows exactly where CNHS is. Hint. It's in North Carolina.

I guess, it means a little bit of oil leak on the beaches but not a whole lot...with less ORV's. Regardless how you look at this issue, wildlife still gets the short end of the stick. Wish we could resolve this issue the way Aldo Leopold would...with better "land ethics"!

My parents live in the Outer Banks and have forever – at least as long as I can remember.
Despite assertions to the contrary – the new rules and regulations will SIGNIFICANTLY and ADVERSELY impact fishermen (and fisherwomen).
The new rules call for closing of the beaches between 10 pm and 6 am during the peak fishing season of May 1 – November 1. Miss the deadline by a minute and you are looking at a $5,000 fine and 6 months in jail. A bit extreme, don’t you think??? Particularly since the Drum (a species prized by the fishermen and fisherwomen) has a peak fishing time of midnight to 6 am. How do the retired, elderly, and handicapped fisherfolks fish? It is at least a 20 minute trek from the nearest parking lot to the desirable fishing areas – all through soft sand (except the last hundred feet) which is treacherous to those with handicaps or balance issues (like my parents). My dad lived for fishing – now he cannot do it. The Drum that he wants to fish are not accessible where the new rules and regulations allow him to be during the time that the Drum are striking.
Wildlife has had over 13 miles of the island (6,000 acres) specifically set aside for them since 1937 in the Pea Island Wildlife Refuge. At the same time, an area was set aside for human recreation - the Cape Hatteras National Seashore RECREATIONAL Area. Unfortunately, due to politics it took until 1952 to formally institute the CHNS RECREATIONAL Area.
Due to a glitch in the system (paperwork on behalf of CHNSRA submitted decades ago - but apparently lost in the bureaucracy in Atlanta and/or DC) the final plan was not implemented. However, the interim plan has been in place since the submission of the paperwork and has worked well as I (and a host of others) can personally attest to.
The local National Park Service, and Superintendent of the CHNSRA Mike Murray, has done a fantastic job of balancing preserving wildlife and human recreational uses in this Recreational Area.
The Audubon Society and the Defenders of Wildlife took advantage of this glitch to sue to deny citizens of the United States of America access to the Recreational Area set aside for their use over 50 years ago. The guise they used to sue under was the “plight of the piping plover” – which is not even an endangered species!!
Unfortunately, the beach area that the Audubon Society and the Defenders of Wildlife, want to restrict access to is not the desirable area for nesting and/or wintering of the piping plover – sand bars (NOT dunes) are the desired areas. “See Species of Common Conservation Concern in North America”, Commission for Environmental Cooperation, Montreal, Canada -
There are a number of sandbars created from dredged sand (to keep the ferry channels open) that the birds have “taken to like a duck to water”. The bird population of these man-made sand bars is huge and was ignored by the Southern Environmental Law Center in its representation of the Audubon Society and the Defenders of Wildlife in their lawsuit. I believe that it was a misrepresentation to the court and may have caused this mistaken decision. Sand bars have been repeatedly demonstrated to be the preferred bird habitat of the piping plover. See document above.
In addition to the Atlantic coast from Canada to Mexico, the piping plover has a MAJOR area of nesting and wintering in the flyways of the Mississippi River.
The nesting habitat of the piping plover extends from Canada as far south as NC. The wintering habitat extends from Mexico as far north as NC. The Outer Banks of NC is the extreme edge of the range, and accordingly not many piping plovers spend time here. According to government statistics, the piping plovers in the Outer Banks of NC account for less than 0.25% of the nesting pairs in the US – this is not counting the numbers in Canada and Mexico – which is a significant portion of their habitat. Treaties are in place to save the piping plovers and their habitat in both Canada and Mexico.
For this, they are denying a livelihood to islanders who have been here for generations upon end. Some assert a ties to the island since the original colony settled in 1587. See .
People using Off Road Vehicle (OVR) access in the Outer Banks are careful stewards of the environment and true conservationists. The OVR users (fisherman that have NO other way to carry their gear to desirable fishing spots, the disabled, the young, and others) work hard to maintain the parks in a pristine state and step in to remind the weekly renters and occasional visitors to the beach to do the same (saving Park Service manpower).
Unfortunately, on occasion, as with any area with drivers, there are those that overstep the rules. These are promptly dealt with and fined and/or jailed. Usually they are young idiots with more testosterone than brains. Finalists for the Darwin Awards.
I have NEVER seen anyone (in over 40 plus years) do a doughnut on the beach. Frankly, how in the heck do you do this in SAND? I understand doughnuts in snow (and have tried it in my youth), but SAND???? You have got to be kidding!
The only oil that I have seen on the beach has been that leaked from tankers. I saw lots in the 60’s and 70’s, with tapering off in the 80’s and 90’s. I am glad to report that I have not seen oil on the beaches this century.
Anyone who drives on the beach would NOT EVEN CONSIDER taking out a vehicle that was leaking oil. It would destroy the environment – be it for fishing or simple enjoyment of the beach. Furthermore, it would ruin the vehicle and could strand the driver and passengers on the beach.
Another major consideration is the impossibility to do a 20 minute or more trek with all the associated fishing gear. It is not a can of worms and a cane pole of Lassie’s time. What is essential for a stay on the sand is more than what can be carried by a single person – even 50 feet. The fishing gear includes coolers with 60-80 pounds of ice, bait, eight or so rods from 7' to 13' 3" and the reels that go with them, spools of line and leaders, hooks, hookouts, 10 o more pounds of lures and 20 pounds of sinkers, a beverage cooler, foul weather gear and waders, trash bags, sand spikes, etc., etc.
I spent March on the beach. My tracks were OBLITERATED within 20 minutes from the blowing sand. The ramp area (the only access through the dunes to the beach) does have ruts – but ONLY until it rains or the wind blows hard enough. No permanent damage is done to the beach by ORV use. More damage occurs from the hurricanes. I have been evacuated numerous times and have been foolhardy enough (again in my youth) to ride out hurricanes.
It simply is not possible for fisherfolk to use the beach during peak fishing times (particularly if they are disabled or elderly).
PLEASE FIX THIS! At least make an accommodation for the handicapped!!

The settlement to protect bird habitat is an excellent measure and long overdue. I went to Cape Hatteras once and never went back because the beach buggies had the run of the beaches. It wasn't safe to lie down and enjoy the wind, the waves and the sun, unless you went to the few miles that were then closed to ORVs. Thanks to the Audubon Society and their allies.

Kurt, Your article is very misleading in suggesting that the impact is minimal and ORV's will co-exist. You should write an article that captures the essence of why ORV access was originally granted and was maintained for several generations. For those that are not in tune with what has happened here, the perspective is one of the ORV's wanting to gain access as opposed to them rightfully maintaining it.

The judge here overstepped his bounds and that will eventually be proven. His ruling will eventually be overturned and we will get our access back.

You can also follow up with an article about how the foxes have eaten everything in site ever since the public was run out of the seashore that THEY own.

Please contact your local Congressional delegation and urge them in the strongest possible terms to co-sponsor and support Bills H.R. 6233 and S. 3113

Dole, Burr and Jones Introduce Legislation to
Allow Off-road Vehicle use on Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr and U.S. Rep. Walter Jones today introduced legislation in the Senate (Bill S. 3113) and House of Representatives (Bill H.R. 6233) that would reinstate the Interim Management Strategy governing off-road vehicle use on Cape Hatteras National Seashore (CHNS). The reinstatement of the original Interim Management Strategy, issued by the National Park Service (NPS) on June 13, 2007, would set aside current mandates and requirements which were put in place in the wake of a consent decree filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, that prevent off-road vehicle and citizen access to a significant portion of this National Seashore.

“I share the concerns of many North Carolinians about the negative ramifications that severely restricting off-road vehicle use at CHNS will have on the local community and economy,” said Dole. “Beach users and members of the local community deserve to have their voices heard to ensure the development of a long-term plan that protects the natural habitat of the Seashore while maintaining its economic and recreational benefits.”

“As Ranking Member on the National Parks Subcommittee, I always try to make sure that North Carolinians have access to our state’s scenic treasures,” said Burr. “It is unfortunate that people are prevented from accessing Cape Hatteras at times because of the new restrictions. I am certain we can come to a compromise that allows people to have access while at the same time addressing any potential environmental concerns.”

“The consent decree has once again shown that managing the Seashore through the courts – without public input – is always a bad idea,” said Jones. “This bill would restore reasonable public access and would bring the public back into the process on a level playing field by reinstituting the Interim Management Strategy until the Negotiated Rulemaking Committee can produce a final rule.”

If enacted, the National Park Service’s Interim Management Strategy will go into effect immediately and end upon the National Park Service establishing a long-term off-road vehicle management plan for the use of CHNS by the public.


In 1972, President Richard Nixon issued an Executive Order that required all federal parks, refuges and public lands that allow off-road vehicles access to develop and implement a detailed management plan to regulate and assess environmental impacts. CHNS never developed a management plan, and as a result, Cape Hatteras has been out of compliance for over three decades.

In December 2005, the NPS developed a three-phase plan to begin the negotiation process and create regulations that would allow CHNS to meet compliance standards; however, on July 17, 2007 an injunction was filed by the Defenders of Wildlife and the National Audubon Society to prevent off-road vehicle use until a management plan is established and approved. A settlement negotiation process ensued, and on April 30, 2008, a federal judge approved a consent decree, proposed by the plaintiffs and agreed to by the parties involved in the case – the National Park Service, the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Superintendent of Cape Hatteras National Seashore and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The settlement, which went into effect on May 1, 2008, requires that all seashore ramps be closed to ORVs from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. through November 15, 2008, that buffers for nests and chicks are clearly defined and in some cases more restrictive, and that deliberate violations of the buffers will result in an expanded restricted area

Please contact your local Congressional delegation and urge them in the strongest possible terms NOT to co-sponsor and support Bills H.R. 6233 and S. 3113. Park beaches are not for cars. Yeesh. Must every square inch of the earth be accessible to motor vehicles?

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