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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 would note that the NPS does generally have a mandate to protect endangered or threatened species. Since the piping plover is threatened, I would think that any federal lands (or even private lands) where they are known to frequent would likely be subject to motorized vehicle restrictions. It shouldn't matter whether or not an area is a "wildlife area" or not. I mean - even the DoD is responding to the issue of a disease affecting cave bats.

This almost reminds me of the off-leash dog walking issues at Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Several areas were handed over to the NPS from the City of San Francisco with the caveat that they be left open to off-leash dog walking. However - some of those areas also happen to be beaches frequented by the Pacific snowy plover. All the back and forth between off-leash proponents and the NPS has been interesting.


I think it is silly that the environmental groups choose a location such as Cape Hatters that is not IDEAL for animals who breed in little teacup size nests with 1000 meter buffers and their children attend schools that are protected from DRUG DEALERS with a buffer of only 500ft. Yes that is right your kids get 1/6th the protection from people who wish to string them out on crack while a bird who rarely nests (people please do the math) on the beaches designated as a RECREATIONAL SEASHORE gets a mobile evergrowing aircraft carrier size bufferzone and the protection of a (oops I almost said "Boat Load") Gaggle of lawyers using your taxpayer dollars. I can and will state something that no one else will ever tell you. These birds do not do well in Cape Hatteras because of constant winds, Storms, Plentiful NATURAL predetors (Ghost crabs, Hawks, etc...). These and not the people are the major deterrant. The environmentalist lawyers will have you believe the ORV's prevent these birds from thriving and you get hooked on the picture of a cute little bird near the large SUV. You throw them some of your kids college fund and you pack up the family in your NON-SUV vehicle to drive to Cape Hatteras to see how your money is doing by checking out these thriving little birds in the natural habitat free of human interference... OOPS here is when the environmntalist lawyers show you the fine print. They show you the brochure pics, but you are not allowed to see the actual birds in thier natural habitat as it is closed to all humans. Then more of the truth comes out as you find out that your money was spent on ammunition to kill off natural predetors (Ghost crabs, foxes, etc...) and some unnatural predetors (Cats and dogs). Then is when you realize you should have invested your hard earned dollars in to your kids education and a well protected (500 feet) school and let them become a lawyer who goes on to sue on the behalf of a drug dealer and gets the buffer reduced to 2 feet so his kids can spend time with daddy while he is at work. Boy how the wheels turn in some peoples heads.


I think it is silly that the environmental groups choose a location such as Cape Hatters that is not IDEAL for animals who breed in little teacup size nests with 1000 meter buffers and their children attend schools that are protected from DRUG DEALERS with a buffer of only 500ft. Yes that is right your kids get 1/6th the protection from people who wish to string them out on crack while a bird who rarely nests (people please do the math) on the beaches designated as a RECREATIONAL SEASHORE gets a mobile evergrowing aircraft carrier size bufferzone and the protection of a (oops I almost said "Boat Load") Gaggle of lawyers using your taxpayer dollars. I can and will state something that no one else will ever tell you. These birds do not do well in Cape Hatteras because of constant winds, Storms, Plentiful NATURAL predetors (Ghost crabs, Hawks, etc...). These and not the people are the major deterrant. The environmentalist lawyers will have you believe the ORV's prevent these birds from thriving and you get hooked on the picture of a cute little bird near the large SUV. You throw them some of your kids college fund and you pack up the family in your NON-SUV vehicle to drive to Cape Hatteras to see how your money is doing by checking out these thriving little birds in the natural habitat free of human interference... OOPS here is when the environmntalist lawyers show you the fine print. They show you the brochure pics, but you are not allowed to see the actual birds in thier natural habitat as it is closed to all humans. Then more of the truth comes out as you find out that your money was spent on ammunition to kill off natural predetors (Ghost crabs, foxes, etc...) and some unnatural predetors (Cats and dogs). Then is when you realize you should have invested your hard earned dollars in to your kids education and a well protected (500 feet) school and let them become a lawyer who goes on to sue on the behalf of a drug dealer and gets the buffer reduced to 2 feet so his kids can spend time with daddy while he is at work. Boy how the wheels turn in some peoples heads.


The human and vehicle access is very restricted along the beaches of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreation Area. The visitors have always been good stewards of the parks natural animal and plant resources. Vehicle access along the very remote and difficult to reach beaches is essential to keep the park open for recreation. Even bird watchers need vehicles to get there to observe the birds. The area can not be reached any other way and turning the recreation area park into a wildlife refuge will destroy the economic livelihoods of the Outer Banks inhabitants.


dap,
They agree a chick was found dead. They also agree it was found dead in the wrackline near, but not in the a tire track of an ATV. The 2007 report from the same researcher shows two chicks that were ran over by a recreational ATV user on Cape Lookout. They were flattened in the tracks and in no condition to run out of them and die a foot away. Odds are just as likely, according to my source, that the two chicks were roosting in the wrack and one chick killed the other one, which is common in oystercatchers, and the research assistant jumped to conclusions.
There have also been 8 other instances of oystercatcher chicks actually being found dead in tire tracks on Hatteras (9 more on Lookout). The first three were documented in '95. One wonders how many there were before researchers started looking for them?

http://www.shilohandshevaun.com/2007_NC_AMOY_Report.pdf

There have also been documented cases of tern chicks being ran over on Hatteras in the short period of time they've been looked for (<15 years). Again, one wonders how many there were before researchers/monitors started looking for them?

That said, direct deaths to ORV activities probably reside somewhere below 10 percent of all chick losses (disturbance-related issues are harder to quantify). With unnatural predation counting for the vast majority of the rest.

Redbug,
It wouldn't make a difference if the park was called Cape Hatteras National Disneyland Park

According to the Organic Act, the Park MUST:
"conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life
therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such
means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."

So they cannot allow activities, or must regulate activities so they do not impair the resource "for the enjoyment of future ..."

Cro


Keep the beaches open for all! Their ruining a way of life


I always get a good laugh when the minority ORV special interest supporters change the name of the seashore. It makes no difference what the seashore is called, the legal mandates to protect natural resources remain the same: in conflicts with natural resource protection and recreation, resource protection must be predominant. ORVs on the beach jeopardize natural resources on Cape Hatteras National Seashore. It is a plain and simple fact proven by many volumes of scientific literature and recommendations by the world's leading scientists. ORVs jeopardize birds, jeopardize sea turtles, jeopardize federally listed plants, jeopardize native plant communities of the outer banks. Not a single scientific study or conservation plan recommends 'free and open' ORV 'access' to beaches as a means of natural resource protection.

The National Park Service was all too generous in giving away the seashore to the minority special interest ORV groups that seek to rid the seashore of those pesky birds and sea turtles that nest on the beach, and those silly little birds that spend much of their lives on the Seashore when away from northern breeding sites. Be gone from our seashore, go somewhere else, we don't care if you die, the ORV special interests say, we want to drive on the beach. It's our "way of life." It's all we know how to do, say the ORV special interests; it's the only way to recreate on the seashore, they scream louder. Our world will end if we can't drive on the beach...

The National Park Service has consistently ignored the advice of leading experts and they failed to recognize good faith compromise by the resource protection advocates who did not ask for a ban on beach driving. They ignored their own policy and the law by which they must abide by, and they turned their back on the birds, turtles, and the Seashore itself. In doing so, they have now opened themselves up to a host of legal challenges of the preferred alternative is adopted.


I have considerable knowledge and experiences concerning Cape Hatteras National Seashore. I meet my husband here and have lived and been part of the communities of Ocracoke and Hatteras Island. We reluctantly moved away from here a few years ago for a number of reasons. One of the main reasons being that the beaches here have lost most of the “primitive wilderness” that was identified in the enabling legislation for this National Park. You can’t have that experience when there are ORVs parked every 20 feet with, volleyball nets fishing lines, beach umbrellas and every other piece of recreational gear you can cram in a Ford explorer and tow behind trailer on the beach. In the last few years that we lived there we watched beaches that had been accessible by pedestrian access only for 20 or more years opened to ORVs. These beaches had good parking facilities off the highway for 2 wheel drive vehicles. This Park should be thinking where and how some of the primitive wilderness could be reestablished in this Park instead of placating the locals who have established themselves here to drive their ORVs on the beach or cater to the ORV users visiting the Park. The National Park should have addressed these issues years ago. Instead it has inadvertently encouraged ORV users to get so accustomed to recreating in this National Park using ORVs that they now view ORV use as a god given right.

ORV use is not just about access. It is not even specified in the enabling legislation as recreational activity. This is why the ORV groups have framed their ORV use as one of access and not recreation. Every other recreational activity here can and is enjoyed by thousands of visitors every year without access via an ORV. The argument that one must have an ORV to adequately enjoy the incredible recreational opportunities is just folly. Some of the best fishing my husband ever experienced was on beaches that had been closed to ORVs for safety reasons (the beaches were too narrow to safely drive on).

If the ORV groups have it their way they would virtually eliminate almost all the pedestrian beaches in CHNS. The local ORV groups have raised and allocated considerable more money for this fight than the 3 national groups. Dare County alone has spent well over 1/2 million dollars so far. Eight local and national ORV groups have written a counter proposal (www.obpa-nc.org/position/statement.pdf.) for management of ORVs at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The lengthy document is full of exactly the same kind of propaganda their members have been organized to post on this site.

I am not saying that ORV use is inappropriate or that resource management could not be accomplished in a way that had less impact on access. I am saying that it doesn’t make any difference weather you call this park a “recreation area” or a “national parking lot” it is still a National Park and it should be managed under those guidelines.

If you care about National Parks please write the Superintendent of CHNS and ask that he increase the pedestrian access areas in the Park’s preferred option F in a way that provides a” wilderness experience”. It will help if you can explain in a couple of sentences how your visit is negatively impacted by vehicles parked every 20 feet (what the park is recommending) on the Seashore Beaches.

The precedent that vehicle access is more important than pedestrian access will have consequences beyond this National Park.

Mike Murray, Superintendent, CHNS, 1401 National Park Drive, Manteo, NC27954
Or you can read the entire 800-page document and comment on the PEPC site at:
http://parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?parkID=358&projectId=10641&docu...


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