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


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.


Sea Mullet,

I know. It's a shame it's been a cash cow for decades with no concerns as to sustainability or the effects on the park. You can't kill the golden goose and have it too. Good on you for wanting that to end.

For some folks, the only "credible science" is that which conforms to their biases (and is usually the exact opposite of credible) and they consistently reject the truly credible science.

And just think, had the ORV groups not spent decades fighting closures that were 1/5th the size of the current closures, perhaps we wouldn't be where we're at today spending funds that could go to the resource, rather than lining attorney's pockets.

Bill S., why do you get to define "bad behavior"? I am working on my tax returns this morning so you can guess at my frame of mind. MY definition of bad behavior is whatever costs me in higher taxes and hyperbolic arguments by the so-called enviro side. The only "decay" I see at CHNSRA is at the NPS campgrounds because nobody's using them due to such limited beach access.

The only ones making any money at all off this issue are the lawyers and they're laughing all the way to the bank.

sea mullet

I can sympathize with you about lost fishing opportunities because of resource protection in this Park. I’m sure there are adequate ways to increase resource production/protection that provide better access. From my experience the great majority of ORV users love all aspects of the Park including the resource and are good stewards by their standards.

The ORV advocates like to play hardball but the first time they’re thrown a curve they cry foul. Environmentalists were largely left out of the equation at CAHA. Your ORV friends had powerful allies in the DOI a few years ago. Litigation is and was one way for environmental groups (or ORV access groups) to gain influence .

99.9% of the bad behavior here comes from your side. I have only seen one article by one author that used the term Beach Bums. Your allies are doing the name-calling. Drive around Buxton and count the many bumper sticker with the, “Identify This Bird Audubon” which portrays a picture of a bird giving the F*@! you finger sign. If you want to see some really hateful stuff go back through the archives of the local chat boards. If you don’t know about this most likely you don’t spend much time here.

The ORV side has probably spent more money on lawyers and received more money from the government (Dare County and Feds via the critical habitat case) than the environmental groups. When the ORV advocates go to court their lawyers will quietly bill them for a considerable pot of money if they win the government will pay, no difference than the environmental lawyers.

In any case what does you or your friends personal opinion about environmentalist lawyers have to do with anything were talking about or my argument that [CAHA] by lack of an ORV management plan has been allowed to decay into something it was not intended. Considers what this place looked like in the 50’s and what was one of the reasons this area was selected to be a National Park, “permanently reserved as a primitive wilderness”.

Do a historical study of the intensity use of ORVs in the early history of this park and the square footage of beach available to visitors then. Study what type of recreational activities can be done and what the requirements are needed to pursue them. Do this by unbiased qualified academics and professionals. Make sure all the reports are peer reviewed.

Name calling, hidden agenda and left wing conspiratorial theories, anecdotal information from ORV users about having to have an ORV to recreate in this Park, suggestions for visitors to recreate in [Pea Island National wildlife Refuge] or Cape Lookout National Seashore are just “junk”. They are not even “junk science” to me.

Actually Anon I believe my views on this issue provide fairness to most all visitors to CAHA and not a select few. The money spent so far by NPS, Pro access,and the Environmental groups could have provided or improved favorable habitat for the birds and new access points around this new or improved habitat, and money for research to provide creditable science. Instead it has become a never ending legal battle against a select few who wish CAHA and all National Parks to be their CASH COW! Now that is sad sad sad. That is why most people (my opinion poll) have chosen sides now with no middle ground. Its now a battle over RIGHT and WRONG.

[This comment was edited for format with content intact.]

OK if you are inclined to believe that most people cannot identify a Piping Plover why should the govt.continue to spend millions of dollars for plans(DEIS),lawsuits,putting up barriers,and enforcement cost of these plans..

That you don't see the obvious answer to your question ... Sad, really.

I haven't read it all yet, but from what I've heard, pets are prohibited in the designated species management areas, not from the entire seashore.

Thanks for your trust anon and it was a positive ID. OK if you are inclined to believe that most people cannot identify a Piping Plover why should the govt.continue to spend millions of dollars for plans(DEIS),lawsuits,putting up barriers,and enforcement cost of these plans.You can say because the ESA requires it and that may be true but there seems to be no set national standard or guide line for the size of closures and how long they remain,etc.,etc. Did Congress pass the ESA yes but the actual policy making is left to the Dept. of Interior which NPS is part of.I am not against the ESA as much as I am against the non standard and non scientific policy making by NPS. One more bit of concern is why does NPS want to ban pets during breeding season when they already have a leash law.Better yet why would this be included in a ORV plan.The deeper I get into this DEIS the sicker I get.I will however make my constructive comments and they will be sent to DOI,NPS,Senators,Representative and to as many media outlets as possible.The 60 day comment period has started and public hearing times and places will be announced soon.

Sea mullet,
I'm inclined to give you the benefit of the doubt and think you just made a poor field ID, rather than just believe you're making stuff up. And I didn't say it was just two people. I said repeatedly - enough so that I'm convinced people who don't have a clue as to what a piping plover looks like, and don't care, believe sanderlings are piping plover and people who may have seen a few pictures believe anything with a neck ring is a piping plover.
But, even if you did see a (migrant) piping plover on Avon beach during the breeding season (you don't say what month), unless it was exhibiting specific breeding behavior, according to the interim plan and the consent decree, there is no trigger for a closure. Not that any bird, plover or otherwise is going to nest in the middle of a village beach.

Anon do you doubt that I dont know my birds and that I didnt see them on Avon beach doing breeding season? I did not say they were nesting either.I know the area well enough to know where NPS monitors birds and where the local Audobon members set up to observe possible bird romance to report their sightings to NPS.Do you think I would report my sightings to them?And your statement that the majority of visitors dont know their birds based on your question from two people people sounds like some of the sceince being used to justify this calamity we now have.As i have suggested in other post Im not giving an inch until NPS resolves this issue using real science and or and act by Congress.

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