Conservation Groups Question Cape Hatteras National Seashore's Preferred ORV Management Plan

Cape Hatteras National Seashore officials have released their final Environmental Impact Statement on off-road vehicle driving. NPS photo.

A proposed plan governing off-road vehicle access to Cape Hatteras National Seashore while also offering wildlife protection has drawn initial opposition from the groups that forced the National Park Service to develop the strategy.

The preferred alternative -- Alternative F, one of six alternatives in the seashore's much-anticipated Final Environmental Impact Statement on off-road travel -- falls short of adequately protecting Cape Hatteras' wildlife, according to representatives for the National Audubon Society and Defenders of Wildlife.

The plan, intended to guide ORV management on the 67-mile-long seashore for the coming 10-15 years, is the result of a lawsuit the two conservation groups brought against the Park Service in 2007 because there were no formal ORV guidelines in place and threatened species of sea turtles and shorebirds allegedly were endangered by the vehicles.

Tight regulations have governed ORV travel in recent years -- overnight driving was banned and temporary closures at times were enacted during breeding seasons, for example -- while seashore officials worked on an EIS outlining the management plan. Last year was a particularly successful year in terms of both sea turtle and piping plover reproduction, and the conservation groups cited the ORV restrictions when applauding the growing wildlife numbers.

Park Service planners came up short in translating that success to management guidelines in the EIS, the groups maintained.

“Numbers since 2008 demonstrate that under science-based wildlife management, nesting birds and turtles can rebound, tourism can thrive, and wildlife and people can share the beach at Cape Hatteras,” Walker Golder, acting executive director of Audubon North Carolina, said in a prepared statement in response to the seashore's preferred alternative, which was released Monday. “The Park Service’s plan currently falls short of providing adequate science-based, year-round protections for the seashore’s natural resources.”

Reaction to the proposal from ORV groups such as the Outer Banks Preservation Association and the Cape Hatteras Anglers Club was not immediately available.

But the debate over this plan, which is set to be finalized 30 days after it is published in the Federal Register, likely is far from over, as the issue has been polarizing. Environmentalists have defended their call for strict controls on beach driving by arguing that protecting wildlife resources should trump recreationists’ demands for convenient ORV access to the beach. Beach-driving surf 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.

Under Alternative F, new parking areas along Highway 12 would be built, as would new access ramps to the beach. Pedestrians also would see a new trail through the dunes down to the beach. Overall, the alternative would allow for 27.9 miles of year-round designated ORV routes on the seashore, 12.7 miles of seasonal routes, and 26.4 miles of vehicle-free miles.

Under Alternative D, the "environmentally preferred alternative," there would be 27.2 miles of ORV routes open year-round, no miles of seasonal routes, and 40.1 miles closed to vehicles year-round.

At the Southern Environmental Law Center, which handled the lawsuit for Defenders of Wildlife and the National Audubon Society, representatives questioned the amount of access ORV drivers would have under the preferred alternative.

Reached at her office Tuesday evening, Julie Youngman, a senior attorney at the law center, said Alternative F's provisions failed to meet all of the recommendations made by United States Geological Survey researchers who examined the seashore's sea turtle and shorebird populations. For instance, she said, the preferred alternative does not block ORV access to the cape's spits and points, something the USGS recommended in its "moderate" recommendation and which her clients support.

"That’s just an example of how the current version of the preferred plan, while it does lots of things those (USGS) protocols recommended, it doesn’t do everything," she said.

The 108-page USGS study that contained the recommendations, published this past March, offered three levels of protection seashore officials might consider in drafting the ORV management plan.

• Under Option A, no recreation is permitted in any habitat used in the previous 10 years by the species in question. This eliminates the threat of direct mortality or disturbance due to recreation and greatly reduces indirect impacts, such as attraction of wild predators to the habitat of protected species and alteration of the beach profile by ORV traffic.

• Under Option B, for birds and plants, pedestrian recreation, but not ORV traffic, is permitted within a corridor in historically used habitat. For sea turtles, Option B closes all historically used habitats to night use by ORVs and optionally pedestrians, and closes segments of the habitat to all recreation. Option B reduces the risk of direct mortality and disturbance over current management practices but does not reduce indirect effects of recreation to the same extent as Option A.

• Under Option C, for birds and plants, ORV and pedestrian use is permitted in a corridor in historically used habitat. For sea turtles, night use of the habitat for recreation is permitted only in conjunction with user educational programs, and as in Option B, certain segments of beach remain closed. The risk of mortality, disturbance, and indirect effects of recreation are higher than under Option A or B, but still less than under current management practices.

Ms. Youngman said her clients did not favor shutting down all ORV travel along the national seashore, but believed more restrictions were required than what were proposed in Alternative F.

“If they’re going to ignore their own scientists' recommendations and allow driving there, they’re going to have to be very careful in managing that driving," the lawyer said. "We’re not necessarily saying (points and spits) must be closed, but if they’re going to be open to driving then that driving has to be very carefully managed. That’s one of the things that we’ll be looking very carefully to see.”

Since the Federal Register's listing of the Park Service's final selection is yet to come, Ms. Youngman said it would be premature to speculate whether her clients would want to legally challenge it. However, she said the successes noticed on the seashore this past summer indicate that a reasonable balance can be achieved in managing ORV use on Cape Hatteras.

"2010 was a record-setting year for sea turtles and piping plovers," she said. "The tourist industry had a record-setting year. We see that as a success. ... That shows that wildlife and tourism industry can thrive at the same time."


Kurt you have this article framed perfectly. The issue is about ORV access in the National Park (CHNS). The ORV advocates making all the noise view CHNS as some type of hybrid ORV recreation/fishing byway, not a National Seashore. They make this connection because Cape Hatteras National Seashore had “Recreation Area” added to the Park’s name solely to accommodate waterfowl hunting in the Park.

Parking 100’s cars in a linear mile of beach in the vicinity of nesting and or foraging shore birds is going to have a negative affect on the resource. All kinds of recreational activities can and have occurred on these beaches, like all day tailgate parties complete with pig cookers.

There must be some alternatives that will benefit resources and provide access that allows visitors to get to the scenic high value areas than the Park’s preferred plan.

CHNS problems are like so many others in our nation, contention has polarized the interested parties to the point of vindictiveness, making legitimate compromise difficult.

Perhaps we should just close all of the seashore... dynamite the Oregon Inlet Bridge and discontinue ferry services. Evict all the residents of Hatteras and close it permanently to any human visitation. Prior to closing, remove all buildings, lighthouses, vehicles, boats, etc. that are on the island and let the island return to it's pre-1500 splendor.

Of consideration, we might pursue this same activity on all barrier islands along the East Coast.

Windwalker...the rub is that the beach is being treated like a parking lot because people want to haul so many coolers, grills and basically tailgate like they are in a parking lot waiting for kickoff - its ridiculous - and excessive, not to mention lazy - a true fisherman wouldn't mind a hike on foot with his tackle bag - but what is going on is not fishing - if sunbathers can haul their stuff in a low impact way down to the beach and be fine in designated areas why can't you all leave your trucks in a parking lot as well.

Its not the eco-system you guys want its convenience and to blast your stereos and haul all your stuff - a truck full of stuff. Without a properly balanced eco-system the health of the ocean and catch will be impacted ...but then again this isn't about fishing - its about partying, jamming your tunes, setting up your tents and campsite - hauling out your coolers, grills, drinking and eating and oh yeah - somebody in the gang might actually stick a pole in the ground and casts into the ocean.

Sorry your alleged right to do whatever the hell it is you want to doesn't trump the health of the planet - or the sustainability of our very delicately balanced eco-system. Row after row of cars ruins it for everyone - we go to the beach to enjoy not destroy nature - loose some of the crap you haul - park your truck on the street and walk it in like everybody else or rent a boat.

Seriously what makes you think because your an alleged sportsman you have more rights than the rest of us?

[Edited to remove offensive remarks. Let's be civil out there, OK?]

I would prefer that someone (NPS) acted like the adult rather than a neutral observer, set the two sides in a corner and then did what is best for the Park for now and future generations. Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands won't be destroyed and plenty of visitors will enjoy the Seashore and business people will make plenty of money from the people that come to visit the Park.

Anonymous ... It appears the Park Services has done just. This plan isn't what the environmentalists want, and I know the OBPA and their ilk are apoplectic. It would be real nice if all sides would just stand down and live with this plan for a few years. But I suspect the ORV people will sue, if not attempt, yet again to get Congress to run roughshod over the national park system, the endangered species act, and the rest of America to further their personal agenda. I hope I'm wrong. I'm one visitor who thinks this plan is good enough and it should be left at that.

Paul, since you live in Va. Beach I would assume you have been out to the point? If you have then you also know it is not likely anyone will be walking or hiking out there on foot. And not due to laziness. I'm not a fisherman, a sportsman, a tailgater or a haul everything you own to the beach type of person. I enjoy being at the point, swimming, shelling, bird watching and walking the shoreline. There are plenty of folks in the middle that simply want to be able to enjoy and have access to Cape Hatteras National Seashore. I am very familiar with sustainability and educating people on the protection of our wild places while out there enjoying them. Love the turtles, love the birds, but I also believe in access. It all boils down to good management and education. Mud slinging and polarization will take us nowhere fast.

The acronym for the park is CAHA.

There seems to be a reluctance in the biological opinion to acknowledge that human interaction has historically played a minimal role in the lack of success in plovers and turtles at CAHA. Nesting and chick failure is, by a wide margin, due to weather events and predation. Not even debatable from an objective scientific standpoint.

Recent "successes" in bird fledge rates at CAHA can be linked to low number of spring and summer storms and the elimination by trapping and killing close to 1000 mammalian predators in the past 3-4 years.

Reported loggerhead turtle nesting success at CAHA in 2010 in is line with decade-high nesting in SC, GA and FL.

Audubon & DOW know this but fail to let the public know as it is not in their interest.

Large area closures of access to a National Seashore for minimal and largely theoretical benefit during nesting is not defensible. I agree there are real benefit of keeping ORVs out of areas to protect hatchlings and most reasonable ORV users have no objection to this strategy.

I do understand that the biological opinion is resource centric, however, the management plan for CAHA must be balanced for both resource protection and optimizing and retaining traditional recreational opportunities. Alt F fail to do this.

And the term "year-round" for ORV areas should be purged as it is spurious. Resource closures in the spring and summer will close much of these "year-round" areas.

Karen if you Park at the fish cleaning station and walk over ramp 44 I’m guessing that a straight line shot to the tip of Cape Point is no more than a 1 1/2 miles at most. It is a flat beach and if there are no vehicles using the beach the sand is surprisingly firm. As far as National Parks hikes go it is an easy hike. Hiking is a very popular recreational activity. It would be difficult for the old and young and that is why the suggestion has been made that there could be a shuttle bus route there. Of course ORV users don’t see this as a compromise it is always all or nothing with them.

At the end of bird nesting season there is usually about a week where pedestrian are allowed to walk the beach but vehicles are not allowed. Visitors actually call the Park looking for that opportunity as it is a beautifully hike for some.

I live on the NC coast, I am an avid fisherman, I fish at Cape Hatteras an average of 40-50 days per year, and I support MORE restrictions on vehicles than presented in the NPS preferred plan. MORE areas should be closed to vehicles year round.

While B McCants is entitled to his opinion, he's not entitled to make up his own facts, but that has never stopped him or any of the ORV proponents. He presents the same tired and fictional line from the ORV proponents who care little about the seashore and only want to drive every where and any time, no matter what the impact. They feel the only way to enjoy the seashore is through the windshield of their trucks and want to make sure they never have to walk more that 50 feet to get to the ocean. And then they make up the wild conspiracy theories about birds and turtles, such as his comment about sea turtle populations. Balance? Are you kidding? More areas should be closed to vehicles year round. Already most of the seashore is open for driving, but of course the ORV proponents want it all...same ole line from those who seek to destroy the integrity of the seashore.

Historically, human interactions and vehicles have caused a significant problems with birds and sea turtles on the beach. It's been documented at Cape Hatteras and at other seashores. Research conducted on the seashore dating back to the early 1990s has clearly outlined the impact of vehicles and disturbances on Cape Hatteras National Seashore. All of the recommendations from the experts, many of which have been presented on the web site, clearly have documented (supported with peer-reviewed literature) the impacts of vehicles and human interactions on bird, turtles, and the beach environment.

All of the documents and comments that I've ready from Audubon and Defenders have stuck to the facts and they have backed up those facts with the supporting documents. Their comments presented to the NPS are consistent with the recommendations from the leading experts and the conservation plans for sea turtles and plovers. They are the only ones in this battle to protect Cape Hatteras NS that have been willing to compromise. They are the only organizations who have sought to restore the Seashore to a unit that is worthy of affiliation with the great National Park Service who we entrust with America's great natural treasures--the icons of this great country.

I am glad to see Audubon, Defenders, and the Southern Environmental Law Center standing up for the integrity of Cape Hatteras National Seashore. I only wish the National Park Service would do the same.


You've probably heard the phrase, when you point the finger there are usually a few pointing back at you. To accuse Mr McCants of making up facts, and then present your prose as facts is quite comical! I'm sure we'll see it in a press release soon.

Audubon, Defenders, and the Southern Environmental Law Center have sued their way into making rules and regulations at Cape Hatteras because they didn't have the science on their side to impose the rules and restrictions they wanted.

A NEPA vetted Interim Plan was developed and a Rulemaking body created for formation of a Final Plan. Then your big 3 nullified all that with a court ordered consent decree. The public had no say in the new rules, as required. The science used to get these rules and restrictions imposed is far from peer-reviewed literature. Nice try on that spin too!

But alas, I'm only stating what everyone here knows anyway............

The big 3 sued and won because they did have science on their side.
The 2006 NEPA vetted Interim Plan was a sham. The ORV side used political connections to get what they wanted. They found a strong ally in David Smith, deputy assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks at the Department of Interior, who was in close contact with the local ORV leaders and interceded on their behalf.

Spottail as background I have a 37+ year career in clinical research, have been active in fisheries management at the state level for a number of years and I rely on data and the examination and interpretation of data.

I don't make up numbers, e.g.,the association of the Consent Decree with increased Loggerhead nesting.

30% higher than 10 year average.

Loggerhead nesting is cyclic (they know this) and the timing was such 2010 was an up cycle (and perhaps fishing/trawl restriction put in place beginning 20+ years ago is starting to bear fruit)

As for predator control:
Trapped at Cape Hatteras 07-09 **2010 not included**

feral dog...............1 (not killed to my knowledge)
feral cats..............181 (? not sure of the euthanasia rate)
opossun kits...........105
gray fox.................40
red fox...................110

Audubon et al continue to use gamed bird count numbers that don't include spoil islands and Pea Island and this is far from scientific and is clearly (to me) agenda driven.

So it is easy to pick apart the grandiose claims by DOW et al with just a little searching.

And your characterization of me couldn't be further from the truth. I'm all for setting aside areas free of ORV's and I'm adamant that closures need to be expanded when nest are in hatch windows as I understand the risk of ORV to the chicks.

Two week ago found me walking over several mornings to fish~ 1 mile beach area near the old Lighthouse location. I'm set up for it and am reasonable fit but I don't apply my particular circumstances and desires on other people. And I picked up trash as I left, something not often found in areas frequented by ORVs.

I could parse your comments further but I won't. Not about me or you, but a balanced management of CAHA to accommodate decades-old forms of reasonable and responsible recreation in the Seashore while incorporating science-based strategies to protect the wildlife resources, e.g., relocation of turtle nest in high risk areas.

That great Bernie that you picked up trash. I wish more of your fishing buddies that walked and fished on that beach did the same.
Too bad you all can't smooth out the knee deep ruts in the beach made by the hundreds of vehicles accessing the beach just south of there.

Write Senator Hagan if you believe protection is important. She continues to think these protections have hurt the economy in Dare County which is disproven by a banner year of tourism during 2010. Fact.

Save your breath. Kagan has heard from almost every hurting business owner on Hatteras already. That's why she believe it's true.

I've lived on this island my whole life and I've grown up going to the beaches and i can't believe you want to take that away from me.

I hope that one day everyone realizes that this is not about ORV use, its about ACCESS period. These big conglomerate extortionists group have only used the ORV ploy as a way to get people to sympathize with their cause. And the cause is to deny ALL access. When a sign goes up and says to stay out (of a bird en-closer) it does not mean only four wheel drives it means pedestrians as well. And whether its two feet or four wheels you better not get caught behind enemy lines or you will pay heavily for it.

I would like to see some real science from the ORV special interest lobby to support its position. Sources like the popular news media are not authoritative science sources – as Mr. McCants seems to suggest. The constant, nonstop chant of the “junk science” mantra by the ORV special interest lobby, to discredit any moves toward resource protection, cannot be supported by that lobby – the lobby continues to attempt to discredit the science, but cannot produce any real science to support its discrediting attempts. Nor can the ORV special interest lobby chanters provide any real science that supports their totally self-interested position.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Recreation Area and its flora and fauna resources belong to everyone, not only those, such as the ORV special interest lobby, who seem to believe that their self-interested demands trump the sharing of CAHA equally, and protecting its resource for everyone, now and into the future.

One need only to stand at Cape Point and take a figurative look north to Virginia Beach, or south to Myrtle Beach, to see what happens when self-interested parties control resources. One need only to look at the photos of Cape Point or the north side of Oregon Inlet at busy times, and the tricked-out ORVs parked two- and three-deep, to see how the ORV special interests can take over and dominate pristine natural resources. Yet the ORV special interest lobby now goes so far as to whine that a beach carrying capacity of one ORV every 20 feet, and a prohibition of ORVs parked more than one-deep, is a violation of their RIGHTS. The ORV special interest lobby seems to suggest that tricked-out ORVs parked door-to-door and three-deep is “traditional use” of the beach.

And the ORV special interest lobby continues to spin – no, not spin, but present untruths – about moves toward total year-round beach closures, and economic devastation of a local economy. Total year-round closures never has been discussed, and any kind of examination of the data reflecting current economic performance, taking into account all factors instead of cherry-picked factors, clearly shows that the local economy in fact is expanding.

Environmental groups have acted totally within the law. To force the NPS to do what the law requires it to do – that previously it had not. The ORV special interest lobby mantra, chanted nonstop, that NPS actions to protect resources are illegal, and that environmental groups are dictating policy, simply are bogus. And totally self-interested.

The ORV special interest lobby demands, “Give ME back MY beach.” It seems that so many other interests can validly say, “NPS – thank you for giving back OUR beach.”


In addition, it is not simply about access as the ORV supporters claim. It is solely about ORV access to them. I followed the reg/neg fiasco carefully and at no time did any of the “access group (aka-ORV groups) ever do anything to help promote any alternative kinds of access, be it water taxi, a shuttle service or even pedestrian trails and routes. The only areas they reluctantly agreed to make VFA (vehicle free areas) were a handful of places in the Park that are to eroded to safely drive on for more than 20 years.

In the just released FEIS the Park has increased VFA and the ORV’s users have promptly condemned it.

Both sides say what ever they want, quote statistics, talk about science, the weather, lazy fishermen & women, People Vs birds and turtles,trash, knee deep ruts,hundreds or is it thousands of vehicles parked three rows deep,driving god knows everywhere, every one with a gigantic cooler, grills,tents and maybe even a fishing pole so people won't know they are just there to get drunk and party. lets see, where was I, oh yeah, some say its too far to walk to the point with necessary gear (wooses), why do you need to get to the points and spits anyway, so what if that happens to be where the fish are. Older folks should be sittin and watchin the birds anyway, oh, they can't do that cause the birds are out on the points and spits. OK, we'll get 'em a trolly. uh oh, can we drive it on the beach. Oh yeah, it will be ok for "us" to do it. If not, they will have to get one of those modified wheel chairs. uh oh, how much of a rut do they make. Well, they can stay back and watch the little guys that can't walk out to the point. They don't need to be out there with their daddys anyway. Why would anyone think the people should get any consideration as to accessing the beach, I mean the birds, all they can do is fly. You know I could go on.
Difference between the sides. One has all the Lawyers and scientists and the other just has the old common folks. How could they know anything.
Ever just look at it from the standpoint of what makes sense and doesn't take a thousand pages to say and prove. Just say stuff that makes sense and people will listen and most will accept. Soon as you stop making sense, they're going to stop listening.
There is undoubtedly some good points from both sides. Can you tell what they are ? Are both going for 200% hoping to get 100%. Or going for 1000 meters hoping to get 500. Oh, one already got the whole 1000.
I was thinking that since this was such a serious matter and starting to make less sense at times, that maybe it would become a little clearer if some of it were simplified a little. Make of it what you will.