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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

The Park Service's preferred alternative is still an embarrassing giveaway to the ORV groups. It doesn't come close to meeting the recommendations of the government's own scientists. It enshrines ORVs as the preferred user of the park. Such a plan would be dead on arrival at Cape Cod, Assateague, or Fire Island. Is it too much to ask the Park Service to do its job and protect this wonderful resources and wildlife from ORV users?


Anonymous--

Then make your voice heard in the process! This is a draft EIR, with an explicit period for public comment.

In the past Kurt has explicitly linked to the public comment website. His link to the draft EIS has the link for submitting comments in the upper right:
http://parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?parkID=358&projectId=10641&docu...


protect the humans!! keep em open!! special interest groups have no say in a national park!!


Anonymous:
protect the humans!! keep em open!! special interest groups have no say in a national park!!

I'm guessing that's somewhat tongue and cheek, but I'll bite.

I love it when people use the term "special interest group" to describe various interests lobbying the government. If someone agrees with a side, it's a "just cause". If one disagrees, it's a "special interest".


The ORV advocacy groups have tried to portray this as an issue of access to the National Park. They give little more than lip service to any other kind of access other than ORV access.
The local Park Mangers have tried to placate the highly organized ORV specialist interest advocates with their preferred plan by allocating a mere 16 miles of year round pedestrian access only (out of 68 miles of ocean beach) on Body Island, Hatteras Island and Ocracoke Island.
Much of these designated pedestrian access areas are in such highly eroded shoreline that pedestrians can’t access the beach at high tide without walking in the dunes. It appears that one of the criteria for choosing these areas are beaches that are so eroded that you can’t drive an ORV there.


Having followed this issue for quite some time and having read through the DEIS, the National Park Service is giving away Cape Hatteras National Seashore to placate a handful of ORV advocates that do not care about the natural resources that are harmed by their actions. Not only is this a travesty for all of this nation's great National Parks and Seashores, it clearly violates National Park Service policy and law. The National Park Service has ignored the safety of visitors and the safety of wildlife in the DEIS and, if the preferred alternative is implemented, it will forever ruin the scenic beauty of one of our great coastal treasures.


"The Park Service's preferred alternative is still an embarrassing giveaway to the ORV groups. It doesn't come close to meeting the recommendations of the government's own scientists. It enshrines ORVs as the preferred user of the park. Such a plan would be dead on arrival at Cape Cod, Assateague, or Fire Island. Is it too much to ask the Park Service to do its job and protect this wonderful resources and wildlife from ORV users?"

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

Anon, I must take you to task over your ascertion that the DEIS does not meet "the recommendations of the government's own scientists". In truth it does not. In the case of the Piping Plover, it exceeds them by 5X.

http://www.fws.gov/northeast/pipingplover/recplan/appendixg.html

To Wit:

"Specifies the minimum size of vehicle-free areas to be established in the vicinity of unfledged broods based on the mobility of broods observed on the site in past years and on the frequency of monitoring. Unless substantial data from past years show that broods on a site stay very close to their nest locations, vehicle-free areas should extend at least 200 meters on each side of the nest site during the first week following hatching. The size and location of the protected area should be adjusted in response to the observed mobility of the brood, but in no case should it be reduced to less than 100 meters on each side of the brood. In some cases, highly mobile broods may require protected areas up to 1000 meters, even where they are intensively monitored."

CHNSRA is retaining the 1000m closures under preferred Alt. "F". To me, that is the exception becoming the rule, since the "Gov't Scientists" recommend 200m.

Also, the only documented deaths of "Wonderful Resources and Wildlife" have occurred under the wheels of NPS vehicles. Look it up if you don't believe me.

The NPS is certainly doing it's job, as this this the offical NPS recommendation, not that of Pro-ORV groups, nor that of environmental NGO's.


"Much of these designated pedestrian access areas are in such highly eroded shoreline that pedestrians can’t access the beach at high tide without walking in the dunes. It appears that one of the criteria for choosing these areas are beaches that are so eroded that you can’t drive an ORV there."

ORV's are simply a reasonable way to access the many recreational opportunities at CHNSRA, whether it be fishing, shelling, kiteboarding, surfing, bird watching, etc. etc. Often to access the Seashore by foot, one would have to park on the side of Hwy 12 (good to have the number for a tow service handy in some location), hike 100 yds through the natural brushy vegetation, walk over the dune (like that's a good thing) and then out on the beach. Now imagine this with the munchkins in tow, Grandma, and all the paraphinalia (sp). And then back at the end of the day. And the spits and Cape Point are a mile+ from suitable parking.

Keep in mind the scientists are being asked for recommendations from a resource stand point only. The NPS and many other user groups are asking that these recommendation be in the mix, but the park must also managed for the purpose for which it was created - recreational opportunities.

In the past, I get the sense many posting here haven't personally visit CHNSRA. From a visitor of 40+ years, ORV users and wildlife have and will continue to coexist. The ORV groups, specifically NC Beach Buggy and Cape Hatteras Anglers Club, had a long history of supplying money and resources to protect bird nesting areas and turtles - that is until NGO's decided to try to turn the Seashore into a wildlife refuge and cram the visiting public in to smaller and smaller areas. That money is now being spent on legal fees.

And, as witnessed by the early results of Consent Decree management, this restiction is access is bearing no measurable benefit. Granted more birds are nesting (they claim this as a success) but predation and weather event are exacting the same high toll and no benefit in birds fledged (they conveniently don't mention this). And arguablely it would be better for a number of the bird species to continue nesting on the spoil islands where they do in great numbers just outside the Seashore boundaries for better productivity. If it were truly about the health of the birds.

And the near record number of turtle nests were reported up and down the coast of NC in 2008, e.g. Bald head Island. With a similar falloff in 2009. Suspect this may be more of a result of turtle excluders added to shrimp trawls a number of years ago and this is beginning to bear fruit in more juvilies surviving to reach breeding age.


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