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Draft Environmental Impact Statement on ORV Use at Cape Hatteras National Seashore Released

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Cape Hatteras National Seashore has released a hefty draft environmental impact statement that addressed ORV management on the seashore.

Improved access for vehicles and pedestrians, better parking, and vehicle capacity limits are among the items contained in the draft off-road-vehicle management plan released Friday by Cape Hatteras National Seashore officials.

The voluminous draft environmental impact statement, spanning more than 800 pages, seeks to find a suitable middle ground between the access ORVers want and protection for threatened or endangered shorebirds and sea turtles sought by environmental and conservation groups. It will be open for public review for 60 days before a final decision is made on an official ORV management plan for the seashore.

The spit of sand that buffers the North Carolina coast from the worst the Atlantic Ocean can toss at it carries an array of contentious issues that seemingly have no easy answers. Foremost among the issues at the national seashore is the use of off-road vehicles to negotiate beaches that are either far from parking lots or which are just far enough from those lots to make it difficult to carry all your gear for a weekend fishing trip.

Cape Hatteras, authorized as America's first national seashore in 1937 but not actually established until 1953, is a beach lover's jewel. The heart of North Carolina's Outer Banks, the cape offers some of the best beaches in the country, is renowned for its surf fishing, has some of the East Coast's best waves for surfing, and has a decided tinge of wildness that is a welcome respite from the Mid-Atlantic's metropolitan areas.

But the seashore's lack of an official ORV management plan led conservation groups a few years back to sue the National Park Service to protect bird and turtle nesting from ORV traffic.

That lack of a formal management plan has "led over time to inconsistent management of ORV use, user conflicts, and safety concerns," as the DEIS notes, and nearly prompted a federal judge to ban ORV traffic entirely. He acquiesced when a management team representing both the Park Service and the opposing groups agreed to work toward a long-term plan while temporary rules were instituted to protect shorebird and sea turtle nesting sites by seasonally and intermittently restricting beach driving access to popular fishing areas.

Environmentalists defended the strict controls on beach driving, arguing that protecting wildlife resources should trump recreationists’ demands for convenient ORV access to the beach. Beach driving fishermen have strongly protested the strict rules. They argue that the federal government has greatly exaggerated the threat posed to wildlife by ORV driving on the beach, 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.

With that as a backdrop, seashore officials have produced a DEIS that looks at five options, two of which essentially are "no action" proposals. Among the provisions of the seashore's preferred alternative are:

* A permit system for ORV access, although no permit limit would be instituted;

* Annual and short-term permits would be available;

* There would be a "carrying-capacity requirement (peak use limit) for all areas based on a physical space requirement of one vehicle per 20 linear feet for Bodie Island, Hatteras Island, and Ocracoke Island Districts, except that 400 vehicles would be allowed within a 1-mile area centered on Cape Point";

* There would be a variety of access points for "both ORV and pedestrian users, including access to the spits and points, but often with controls or restrictions in place to limit impacts on sensitive resources. This means that some areas may be kept open to ORV users for longer periods of time by reopening some ORV corridors at the spits and points sooner
after shorebird breeding activity is completed" than would be allowed in other alternatives, "or by improving interdunal road and ORV ramp access";

* Increasing parking at pedestrian-access points leading to vehicle-free areas of the seashore, and;

* Seasonal and year-round ORV routes would be designated, although they still could be impacted by temporary closures "when protected-species breeding behavior warrants and/or if new habitat is created."

It's worth noting that while the number of sea turtle nests observed on Cape Hatteras in 2009 slightly declined from 2008, the 104 verified nests were far above the 43 counted just five years ago. Those 2009 nests also produced roughly 5,000 turtle hatchlings, according to the seashore's annual sea turtle report.

Comments

Keep the beaches open!! Four-thousand permanent beach residents and thousands of visitors who love Hatteras Island....for 9 pairs of piping plovers? That's not a fair trade whatsoever. If the piping plovers aren't suited for the Wildlife Refuge already outlined for them (pea island) there is another wildlife refuge just adjacent to that call the Alligator River Wildlife Refuge. Audubon states that it is asking for Hatteras Island to be permanently closed to proved the utmost protection for the Plovers, and it's back-up for that request, is "best available science". Are you kidding me? What the hell is Best Available Science? Why isn't this "best available science" published so that all who wish can take a look at this so called "science"? Audubon's "findings" to support their decisions are kept in secrecy. Not only that, if ORV use is so detrimental to the plover habitat then why in the world is NPS allowed to trot back and forth through these closed areas yielding weapons to kill any fox, otter, feral cat, or human that enters this closed area? This is just madness and it's all about money to support Audubon's bullsh*t science. This is about people's rights.


It is obvious to me that some of the folks posting comments have never been to the cape hatteras national seashore. as far as the comment about the lack of pedestrian only beach areas and the over abundance or orv beach access ... let me explain that so mucc of the national seashore is miles from any paved road, so therefore is inaccessible to pedestrians anyway (unless you are a triathalon trained athelete and if you were how would you lug your beach chair and cooler with you that far). and it was a ridiculous comments that was made that the pedestrian beaches were the areas that the ORV drivers did not want. it's not as if there are parking lots lining highway 12 for the pedestrian visitors to park their cars and walk to the beaches. take a trip to cape hatteras, and then you might think differently and on the side of the ORV groups that you talk to highly of.


>Yes/no? I will say I am on the side of the ORVs

Got it, I know Dapster does not give anyone that does not believe in his agenda any slack whatsoever, so that clears it up for me.


Kurt,

I like to fish and have no desire to eliminate driving on the beach. ORV use needs to be more tightly managed than the ORV access side is proposing; they are way off the mark.

The NPS needs to get their head around what a qualities all National Parks should share. They are negligent with CAHA.

If the fish are here and fishermen are allowed to get to them the fishermen will come.

Pea Island is nice but it doesn't hold a candle to the dynamics (or fishing) of Cape Point.


Bill I can understand your objection with my pickup on the beech. Yeah it does get crowded out there sometimes, that's when I go to pea island and fish. Bill I believe this war, and your side , is short sighted. We all know fuel price and vehicle cost will curtail beech vehicles. We also know the federal government has a debt coming that is going to make the funding we see today impossible. (boomers, S/S medicare,military) So what I'm getting to is, soon the funding we enjoy may be gone and we will have to depend on all users of the park to maintain. Bill you may be ahead of your time. Maybe due to cost and such more people will find your view more enjoyable. I can tell ya this bill, Surf fisherman,(serious or goober) is a funding stream we shouldn't tell to go away.


y p w,

Not being a biologist I am reluctant to speak about plovers and AMOYs. My concern is with the aesthetics of this National Park. My main recreational activity in CHNS is viewing the day-to-day physiographic process that is taking place on the ocean shoreline. I go out to the beach on a regular basis to view this process. I find the interactions of an ocean beach: rips, sand bars, channels, berms, shell banks, wind and water sand patterns the most beautiful and inspiring in nature. Beaches that have a set carrying capacity of one vehicle for every 20 feet of shoreline absolutely ruin this experience for me.

There has been more than enough manipulation of the shoreline in CAHA as a result of the man made dunes constructed in the 30’s. From what I have been told piping plovers, AMOYs and colonial nesting birds can be quite capricious in where they nest. Sometimes they show great fidelity to particular geographic areas. Sometime the variables for where they nest are complicated. Experimenting with habitat improvement is something I would only reluctantly agree to in compromise. I would rather see other types of access compromises that enabled visitors (fishermen primarily) to access the places that really are world-class fishing destinations. And while not impossible it is difficult and arduous for older visitors to get to some of these places without an ORV. Ripping out flora and sand nourishment of large areas of a national seashore (is problematic here anyway) in the hope of luring fauna from suitable habitat to accommodate recreational interest doesn’t sit well with me.

I applaud and appreciate the efforts at Chrissy Field but feel the conditions are quite different here.


sea mullet:
On March 15th, 2010

The pictures of Chrissy Field are nice.The mention of the Western Snowy Plover nesting there on a 100acre site with 1.5 miles of accessible shore line leads me to think you might not have closures like the 1000meter closures like CHNSRA has. From the DOW website these birds primarily live on the beach and mating season runs from March through SEPT.A couple of nesting pair could shut down the entire shoreline with 1000 meter closures.Is that the case there?When were the pictures taken?

Not sure when it was taken, but that's what it looks like now. Of course we're talking San Francisco. It's not exactly remote from population centers. You close a shoreline in San Francisco for 1000 meters, and that's basically the entire beach in some spots. I really only mentioned it because someone asked about restoration efforts. This is what it used to look like:

They've set up a couple of protection areas with restrictions. They don't keep people out, but apparently they feel improperly disposed garbage attracts predators. I was incorrect about nesting, although they do spend their time on the beach.

http://www.nps.gov/goga/planyourvisit/upload/sb-plight_web.pdf


The pictures of Chrissy Field are nice.The mention of the Western Snowy Plover nesting there on a 100acre site with 1.5 miles of accessible shore line leads me to think you might not have closures like the 1000meter closures like CHNSRA has. From the DOW website these birds primarily live on the beach and mating season runs from March through SEPT.A couple of nesting pair could shut down the entire shoreline with 1000 meter closures.Is that the case there?When were the pictures taken?


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