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

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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."

Comments

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.

Ron


Redford,

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.


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.”


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'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.


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


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.


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.


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