How is Cape Hatteras National Seashore Faring Under Travel Restrictions?
How is life at Cape Hatteras National Seashore in the wake of travel restrictions aimed at protecting shorebirds and sea turtles that nest along the coast? As with many matters, it depends on whom you ask.
During a Senate subcommittee hearing last week, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Dole, a Republican from North Carolina, testified in support of legislation she sponsored that would overturn the management guidelines adopted earlier this year in a consent decree the National Park Service agreed to with Defenders of Wildlife and the National Audubon Society. She claimed her constituents are suffering undue economic hardships as a result of the consent decree.
A lawsuit filed by the conservation groups sought to limit 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 claimed the Park Service had 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.
Under that consent decree, the seashore's staff has greatly restricted off-road vehicle travel and limited pedestrian travel to protect nesting shorebirds and sea turtles. Opponents of the decree, though, have claimed it is over-reaching what reasonably is needed and that the economy that depends on Cape Hatteras is tanking.
But according to the Virginian-Pilot, that's not necessarily the case.
Even with the closures, ORV users and pedestrians have had broad access to the beach. On Thursday, Park Service figures showed 26.4 miles of the park's roughly 67 miles were open to ORVs and 58.5 miles were open to pedestrians. The majority of the prohibited area is due to normal seasonal or safety closures. About eight miles were closed because of wildlife.
It's too soon to gauge the economic impact of the closures, but the effect doesn't appear to be as dramatic as feared. Retail sales tax figures for May and June aren't yet available; bait and tackle shops and other businesses are reporting a sharp drop in sales. Other economic indicators are generally positive, however.
Carolyn McCormick, director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, said in an interview that "the closures did not help us in any way, shape or form." But, she said, key tourism figures in Dare County were good in spite of closures, gas prices, a weak economy and wildfire smoke.
Comparisons of 2007 and 2008 figures show occupancy taxes on hotels and rental houses in Dare were up 6.3 percent in May and 2.85 percent in June. Year-over-year, gross revenues from the meals tax were up 5.12 percent in May but down 1.09 percent in June. (Numbers for July aren't ready yet.)