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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

I guess if you look at the whole island then yeah the spits and the over washes may be the last best nesting places. But the last best isn't necessarily the best areas to increase a population. We have to agree that the dune line does stop over wash on the islands and contributes to beech erosion. One would assume that if habitat were created that resembled a over wash conditions we might find that the spits and points are not the favorite nesting areas. We don't know for sure. I don't know how to go about creating the best possible habitat but I'll bet some one does. I can understand the people being somewhat peeved at orv use, but two groups will co-exist no matter the war, the fisherman are not going away and I'm sure the birders aren't going anywhere so the park service will make sure a compromise is always made. Judges will enforce the compromise, that's what they do.


Bill S:

Kurt
This isn't really my issue but I do know something about it.
Dwindling habitat is a tricky issue. One of the reasons habitat has dwindled is not because of climate change but land use practices. Newly created habitat (overwash fans) that results from major storm events that impacts homes or highway 12 is remove by state, local governments and feds. The places where this habitat does not impact home or highway access; Cape Point, spits and inlets are still there. The problem is it also happens to be the best places to fish and recreate. Cape Point had a large man made pond (Salt Pond) dredged for a failed attempt at beach nourishment in the early 70’s. That project should be mitigated in a way that increases habitat. I haven’t a clue how you would go about mitigating the other lost habitat.

There was a public/private partnership that did an incredible job converting Chrissy Field in the Presidio of San Francisco into a restored beach and marshlands. It may not be pristine, but it's turned into an area where migrating birds now use as a rest stop, as well as nesting areas for several threatened species, including the western snow plover. It may not be pristine per se, but this area used to be an active military airstrip. I remember going to a program on the history of aviation at Chrissy Field, when we saw a great blue heron flying overhead with a meal (a gopher) in its mouth. While not an threatened species, they wouldn't have likely used the area before the restoration.

http://www.nps.gov/partnerships/rest_crissy_field.htm
http://www.parksconservancy.org/visit/park-sites/crissy-field.html


Kurt
This isn't really my issue but I do know something about it.
Dwindling habitat is a tricky issue. One of the reasons habitat has dwindled is not because of climate change but land use practices. Newly created habitat (overwash fans) that results from major storm events that impacts homes or highway 12 is remove by state, local governments and feds. The places where this habitat does not impact home or highway access; Cape Point, spits and inlets are still there. The problem is it also happens to be the best places to fish and recreate. Cape Point had a large man made pond (Salt Pond) dredged for a failed attempt at beach nourishment in the early 70’s. That project should be mitigated in a way that increases habitat. I haven’t a clue how you would go about mitigating the other lost habitat.


After reading part of the DEIS I was disappointed the park will not re-create habitat. Attempting to increase a population on dwindling habitat is illogical. Even the Enviros or dark side (as they are called) have to admit with climate change and beach erosion the habitat is dwindling. So, if we WANT to raise the population of plovers, eventually re-establishing habitat is going to happen. Yes/no? I will say I am on the side of the ORVs. but I would prefer the money go to the resource not lawyers.


Bill, according to here:
http://www.nature.nps.gov/stats/viewReport.cfm?selectedReport=SystemCamp...

There were more than 10,000 more tent campers in 2009 (55,317), then there were in 2008 (45,082) at Hatteras' campgrounds, in a worse economy.

Ginny,
30 meter buffers for oystercatcher and tern chicks?? They'll need to staff all of the closures 24/7 (times more than 20 AMOY pair and a dozen or so tern colonies) w/staff to move them in 15 meter increments. That would put the annual permit at what? $2000 ea? What year was it they increased the buffers 2 or 3 times in a few days north of Buxton and on South Beach (?) for AMOY chicks? I remember reading about it in the weeklies and was amazed at the reactive futility. And that was in 200 meter increments ... 30 meters amounts to no chick buffers at all.

The state or FWS has to sign off on the 200 meter buffer for plover chicks and from what I heard at RegNeg, that's not going to happen. (ie no take permit)


"The only "decay" I see at CHNSRA is at the NPS campgrounds because nobody's using them due to such limited beach access"

Show me the peer reviewed study to back that up.

The campground use started to decline years before that if you dig you can probably find those statistics from the NPS.

I was told that people stopped using the campgrounds because they felt unsafe in the middle of an ORV trail while they were trying to recreate in the National Park, but you will have to take my word for it.


"So-called" enviromental side?

Not the sort of nasty slur I expect on a site that highlights the NPS. Got a "eat spotted owl" bumper sticker on your gas guzzler?


Make up your own mind. Follow the links below.

The comment period deadline is May 11, 2010. For links to specific requirements for commenting and to the DEIS, go to. This site includes a link to the DEIS and commentary from many on the front lines.

http://www.preservebeachaccess.org/

The OBPA position statement clearly articulates the rationale for less restrictive options. Rather than just say no, read it then make up your mind.

http://www.obpa.org/obpa_newsBlog.asp


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