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.

Comments

If we really wanted to address the primitive wilderness issue or status we should consider that a considerable amount of said land is now under water and NPS boundary ends at the low tide line on the ocean side.Which low tide line should be considered 1937 or 2010 as the enabling legislation did not address this either.My point is that there are areas set aside without the interim plan or consent decree mandates that satisfy the needs of all recreation and primitive wilderness needs.Should Pea Island be Developed?Of course not!Should the beaches that are used mostly used by vacationers in the villages be shut down for primitive wilderness needs?No again!(although i have seen
plovers on these beaches but never a closure).Should the most popular fishing beaches be shut down during the peak runs of game fish for primitive wilderness needs?No.If you are one that believes the entire seashore should remain untouched to remain in its wilderness state with no flexibility then lets all give up and stay away and let the wrath of mother nature take its course!!!Should sections of land be closed of to all people for the sake of hoping a threatened bird will land there and nest.This is happening in places where no nest have ever been.I use to be a very understanding and compromising person but following this issue over the last seven years I have seen how opponents of orv access have compromised.That would be a big NONE for them.So my stance has become fight back with every legal means possible and not give a inch.This DEIS is not the last word by any means.

to pipe in here for a moment. All the posts have been an education so I thank ya for that. Only if ya don't come to some consensus on the priorities, re-read the other Kurts post on Yellowstone, 10+ million and an ever changing plan will come to a park near you.

Bill S. I simply posted a section from the DEIS.

Guess for some it boils down to what constitutes "primitive wilderness". To me it means a limit on man-made structures. Certainly hard to be miles away from the trappings of modern life in CHNSRA.

So as you drive between the villages on Hwy 12, what do you see? Essentially nothing man-made other than the occasional ramp, a grown over camp ground and a few small parking lots. Is this not "primitive wilderness?" Or does Hwy 12 spoil it for you. Or the appearance of a vehicle on the beach?

If it's more of a primitive wilderness beach experience you want, Cape Lookout has it in spades. And Shackleford Banks prohibits all vehicles. Tho with CALO difficult to get back to AC, cable TV, restaurants and Internet access at the end of the day of experiencing "primitive wilderness'. :-D

Odd thing is Pea Island Wildlife Refuge is the most altered section of Hatteras Island (other than the villages) with the buildings, berms and ponds.

Kurt G I agree that untold millions of dollars have been wasted and consensus would be the right approach.BUT!!! We have to look a little deeper for the truth.I have been coming to CHNSRA for 36 years and have had only one peaceful encounter with an orv opponent.The real CULPRITS are the large environmental groups and their lawyers that have an agenda to exploit the system while in the public eye do some good things(Yes I said it).Its a WIN WIN for them until all these acts are cleared up by Congress.If negotiations had taken place between common folks I feel everyone could have walked away smiling.Unfortunately you can guess who was setting at the table and zero, none, nada consensus was reached after a year of meetings.To compromise for them is to give away an opportunity to sue.This is a national problem and if it is not stopped millions more will be spent.We have been called beach bums by(environmental groups)and nature haters and rednecks through their press releases but again face to face only one peaceful discussion on the beach for me.Actually i have had more encounters with my fellow beach loving fisherman but it always resulted in meeting a new friend for me.

It is amazing to still see that only the Pro ORV people provide logic and proof.

For all the people against me driving my 4x4 on the beach I challenge you to find a sign I was ever there.

Now for the environmentalist... I see businesses closed everywhere and a bill from them getting the pleasure of suing the NPS.

I believe there is a statement popular with the environmentalist "Leave only footprints"

Lets try that. Leave only footprints, not closed for business signs.

Sea Mullet claims:
Should the beaches that are used mostly used by vacationers in the villages be shut down for primitive wilderness needs?No again!(although i have seen plovers on these beaches but never a closure)

Show me the documented case of a plover nesting on a village beach. The majority of the visitors to the seashore don't know the difference between a sanderling, a killdeer, a semi-palmated plover or a piping plover. A couple fishing near me one day asked "why do they need to protect all of these plover", as they pointed to sanderlings. The same thing's happened repeatedly with killdeer and semi-palmated plover.

Sea Mullet claims:
Should the beaches that are used mostly used by vacationers in the villages be shut down for primitive wilderness needs?No again!(although i have seen plovers on these beaches but never a closure)

Show me the documented case of a plover nesting on a village beach. The majority of the visitors to the seashore don't know the difference between a sanderling, a killdeer, a semi-palmated plover or a piping plover. A couple fishing near me one day asked "why do they need to protect all of these plover", as they pointed to sanderlings. The same thing's happened repeatedly with killdeer and semi-palmated plover.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.]

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.

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 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.

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

"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?

"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.

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

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)

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.

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.

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

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.

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?

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

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.

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.

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.

>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.

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.

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.