Cape Hatteras National Seashore Identifies Pre-Nesting Closure Areas For Piping Plover

Cape Hatteras National Seashore officials have produced their recommendations for pre-nesting closure areas on the seashore to protect the piping plover, a threatened species. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo.

Though it's been a mostly quiet winter on the coast of North Carolina, things might get a bit testy in the coming weeks as Cape Hatteras National Seashore releases its pre-nesting closure plans to protect piping plovers, a threatened species.

More than a little heat has been generated in and around the seashore since conservation groups sued the National Park Service over the seashore's lack of management guidelines for off-road vehicle traffic. Their concern? That threatened bird and sea turtle species were being endangered by the traffic.

The lawsuit was brought by the Defenders of Wildlife and the National Audubon Society. It led to a consent decree last year that forced seashore officials to institute more regulations as to when and where ORVs -- many of which are used by surf anglers to reach their fishing spots -- could travel.

The current rules, imposed to protect shorebird and sea turtle nesting sites, seasonally and intermittently restrict beach driving access to popular fishing areas. Environmentalists defend the currently strict controls on beach driving, arguing that protecting wildlife resources should trump recreationists’ demands for convenient ORV access to the beach.

Beach-driving anglers have strongly protested the strict rules. They argue that the federal government has greatly exaggerated the threat posed to wildlife by ORVers, and that the current rules make it unreasonably difficult to get to traditionally popular fishing areas. Area businesses detest the restrictions too, citing reduced spending by ORV users.

Now, to add a little more spice to this matter, Interior Department officials were notified early in December that a lawsuit would be forthcoming over decisions to designate critical habitat for piping plover at Cape Hatteras. The notification was lodged on behalf of the North Carolina counties of Dare and Hyde, as well as the Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance, a non-profit that represents, among others, the interests of surf anglers and beach buggy enthusiasts.

In the notice, the groups claim U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials violated the Endangered Species Act, as well as the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedures Act, in their decisions to declare critical winter habitat for the plovers on both the national seashore and nearby Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.

The agency's actions, says the notice, "have caused, presently are causing, and will foreseeably continue to cause, substantial harm and adverse impacts to CHAPA's members, the counties, and the thousands of people who rely on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore for their livelihood and recreation."

Which brings us to the latest news: Cape Hatteras officials have issued their recommended pre-nesting closures for the year.

The pre-nesting closures have been identified and are based on current habitat conditions and consideration of PIPL breeding activity in recent years. As stated in the Interim Protected Species Management Strategy Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), the pre-nesting closures provide for continued recreational use and access consistent with required management of protected species. These closures will meet the requirements to provide protection from adverse impacts related to recreational uses as required by laws and policies, such as the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the NPS Organic Act, and NPS Management Policies 2006. These recommendations are also intended to meet the requirements of the consent decree, which states that “In the years following the 2008 breeding season, NPS shall establish pre-nesting closure areas at Bodie Island Spit, Cape Point, South Beach, Hatteras Spit, North Ocracoke, and Ocracoke South Point that incorporate to the maximum extent possible the areas delineated in the 2008 pre-nesting closure maps.”

Now, those closure areas are scheduled to be established by March 15. But they won't be set in stone. "Due to the Park’s dynamic shoreline and the likely occurrence of shorebird breeding behavior in suitable habitat as the breeding season progresses, subsequent modifications and additional resource closures may result in temporarily reduced access to certain areas," say seashore officials.

You can find a rundown on the proposed closure areas in the attached document.

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CAHA-Pre-Nesting Closures 2009.pdf210.9 KB

Comments

Great article, Kurt!

Thanks for keeping this very important issue alive on the pages of NPT! You have predicted that things may become "Testy" post 3/15/09, and I would say you will be proven correct in time, especially as visitors return to the area as spring fast approaches!

I would like to take some of the Maps to task, as there are some notable items contained therein that should be scrutinized. See links below:

Link to Pre-Nesting Closures Maps and Recommendations:
http://parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?parkID=358&projectId=13331&documentID=26028

Please note the extensive closures that are in place on the area south of Cape Point proper, known as “South Beach”, on Map Pages 2 and 3. These closures are massive, even though 2008 data shows not even one scrape in these areas, much less breeding behavior or nesting, and legacy data shows this area to be free of any nests over many years.

The reason for the lack of activity is believed to be the lack of the tidal mud flats that exist only near the brackish “Salt Pond” that exists most of the time within the Cape Point “Arrowhead”. Since there is not always a stable “Wrack Line” on these beaches, the birds seem to prefer to forage around the salt pond, as their behavioral data and the 2008 map shows. In recent years, vegetation has not been removed from around said pond, which inhibits the Plover fledglings from feeding in this area.

One of the reasons for not removing vegetation: The possibility of “Seabeach Amaranth”, a protected plant species, being present alongside the other vegetation. (Note: No SBA has been found for many years in CHNSRA, and generally this area does not support growth of this plant species.)

Also, over-winter closures, pre-nesting closures, nesting closures, turtle nest closures, and all other regulations that remove human traffic from the area have allowed it to naturally become more vegetated, which is counter-productive for the Plovers. The increased vegetation also gives predatory species more cover to hide amongst.

The Law of Unforeseen Consequences strikes yet again….

*****************************************************************************************

Interesting recent Reg-Neg submittals:

The below information was submitted to the February 3rd Negotiated Rulemaking Committee by Walker Golder of the NC Audobon Society. (Many of us are wondering if Mr. Golder actually read all this before said submittal, due to its content running contrary to what the AS has espoused all during Reg-Neg).

(This material has been paraphrased previously by another author. The entire report can be found here):
http://parkplanning.nps.gov/document...cumentID=25865

Reference Material Discussed - Barbee 1994 (2.2 MB, PDF file)
Reference Material Discussed - Collazo et al. 1995 - part 1 of 3 (4.9 MB, PDF file)
Reference Material Discussed - Collazo et al. 1995 - part 2 of 3 (4.3 MB, PDF file)
Reference Material Discussed - Collazo et al. 1995 - part 3 of 3 (4.2 MB, PDF file)
Reference Material Discussed - Harrington 2008 (3.8 MB, PDF file)
Reference Material Discussed - Tarr 2008 (736.9 KB, PDF file)
From Collazo study, piping plovers 93-94;

Through our observations of incubating adults and adults tending chicks, we found that
piping plovers are only rarely disturbed by encounters with vehicles, planes or
humans on foot. More consequential disturbances were caused by interactions
with natural predators and competitors.

At this present level of park use, park closures would likely have minimal effect on piping plover reproductive success.

Storms in the early part of the breeding season cause breeding losses and delays, and high
temperatures, especially late in the breeding season, impose heat stress that
may indirectly cause chick mortality. For these reasons, productivity goals set in
the recovery plan (1.5 fledged chicks/pair/year), established from studies of
more northern populations, are probably unrealistic for North Carolina.

Continue vegetation removal at Cape Point along the south shore of the brackish pond. To delay the regrowth of vegetation in these treated areas, it may be beneficial to use raking machinery after disking to prevent vegetative growth from cuttings. Growth of vegetation in other piping plover foraging and nesting areas of CAHA should be monitored; additional areas may need to be maintained. Preservation of interior wet and mud flats on CAHA is critical; otherwise piping plovers may only find suitable foraging habitat along the ocean intertidal zone where human disturbance is a problem.

(6) At present, beach closures are unnecessary and are not likely to favorably impact breeding piping plovers on the islands.
(7) Piping plover population numbers and reproductive success must be consistently monitored so that reliable population trends can be tracked as a means to determine how the NC population is maintained.

Seasonal numbers, distribution and population This is a twice a month drive on the beach to study dynamics of shorebirds on the Outer Banks of North Carolina..

Chapters I and II

Surveys were conducted twice per month by vehicle.

Red Knots;
.Most Red Knots were seen at North Core Banks (65% of total) and Ocracoke Island (28% of total).Compared to other ISS sites, the Outer Banks ranked last in regional importance to this species

Barbee from inside Collazo;

Different human activities had different effects on shorebird behavior. Faster, erratic events such as running pets and children, seemed to upset birds more than slower, regular events such as people walking, or slow moving vehicles. This was very similar to Burger's (1986) findings in New York. Along North Carolina's outer Banks, many shorebirds seemingly ignored stationary humans and stationary vehicles on the beach, often foraging within a few feet of sunbathers and parked vehicles.

To assure that important sites where nesting birds are successful and where management is possible, we recommend that ORV traffic be allowed in such key colony sites as Cape Point, and Hatteras Inlet.”

Keep in mind that the data supplied by the NC Audobon Society listed above more closely follows the data presented by the Pro-Access groups throughout the entirety of the Reg-Neg process.

Also please note that the data is collected by BioTechs driving vehicles to the various sites, and not walking. It's too far for them to lug their respective equipment as well.

Backpedaling or mistake on their part? Hard to say….

One important piece of data--most of the closures apply to all users, pedestrian and ORV alike. And those that did not close areas to pedestrian outright often effectively closed the areas because pedestrians had to wade in areas known for sharp drop offs and undertows to get to the open ares.

Quite simply, ORV access is by NO means the only issue.

We want to extend an invitation to everyone interested in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area to visit the website for the campaign to Preserve Access to America's Beaches. www.PreserveBeachAccess.org is colorful and informative and features "My Story" videos of people sharing the importance of beach access and its impact on their lives, families and businesses. "Act Now" is your opportunity to add your name in support of open and accessible beaches. Thank you