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Record of Decision on Cape Hatteras National Seashore ORV Plan OKed, But Implementation Months Away


Although an off-road vehicle plan has been approved for Cape Hatteras National Seashore, it will be months before it actually is implemented. NPS photo.

While the final paperwork has been signed concerning an off-road management plan at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, the arduous task of formalizing a rule means the seashore will continue to operate next summer under a consent decree.

The National Park Service's Southeast Region office signed off Monday on the seashore's preferred alternative for managing ORV traffic in a way to protect bird and sea turtle species that receive protection under the Endangered Species Act. To mark the occasion, Tom Strickland, the assistant Interior secretary who oversees fish and wildlife and parks, congratulated the Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for developing a plan that blends recreation and species protection.

"The work of these two agencies shows that the conservation of fish and wildlife and its habitat on the Outer Banks can be consistent with the transportation, recreation, and economic needs of local communities,” said Mr. Strickland in a statement. “I applaud the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service for their commitment to engaging the local communities, gathering ideas, and applying the best science to guide wise management decisions.”

An ORV management plan has been long in coming for Cape Hatteras, though it remains to be seen whether this plan will survive intact. In 2007 two conservation groups -- the Audubon Society and Defenders of Wildlife -- sued the National Park Service for lacking an ORV management plan at Cape Hatteras, which offers nesting and breeding habitat for piping plovers (a threatened species) and five species of sea turtles (Kemp’s ridley, leatherback and hawksbill are all listed as endangered species, while the loggerhead and green are listed as threatened in North Carolina).

Under a consent decree issued as a result of the lawsuit, and intended to guide ORV use on Cape Hatteras until a formal ORV plan could be adopted, tight regulations have governed ORV travel -- overnight driving was banned and temporary closures at times were enacted during breeding seasons.

The ORV plan that the seashore arrived at has been criticized as overkill by ORV and surf caster groups -- they argue 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 -- and termed lacking by conservationists, who say it fails to provide adequate year-round protections for wildlife.

Under the Record of Decision signed Monday, the one both sides have criticized, new parking areas will be built along Highway 12 as well as new access ramps to the beach, and a new trail will allow pedestrians to walk down through the dunes to the beach. It also provides for a "seasonal night-driving restriction ... established from 9:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. during turtle nesting season, although areas with no turtle nests could open to night driving from September 16 through November 15." Additionally, it calls for an "alternative transportation study and would encourage the establishment of a beach shuttle or water taxi."

Overall, the approved plan will 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.

Whether this option will be challenged in court remains to be seen.

While the Record of Decision has been approved, much work remains before the ORV plan will actually be implemented at Cape Hatteras, according to seashore Superintendent Mike Murray.

The Record of Decision was needed before the seashore staff could draft a proposed rule, which in turn must be approved by both the Interior Department and Office of Management and Budget, the superintendent said Monday. Then draft rule then must be published in the Federal Register and go through a 60-day public comment period, he continued.

After the comment period closes, seashore staff must review the comments and, if necessary, tweak the draft proposed rule.

“The likelihood is that the proposed rule will be published in the first quarter of the new year," said Superintendent Murray. "The final rule is likely to be published sometime in the summer.”

Rather than change the management direction in mid-summer, seashore officials will wait until the fall before implementing the new ORV management plan.

"It would be challenging for everybody. It's kind of hard to switch horses in the middle of a busy season like that," Superintendent Murray said. “We’ll operate under the consent decree until then.”


Well put Ginny
I would also mention that though there are only a few thousand actual "Residents" on the Island, there are many times that number that will echo your feelings, as they have come to consider the Island their Home as well. This is the result of being made to feel like family throughout decades of time spent with the fine folks there. There are thousands of parks and places to visit and recreate, none of which will make a person or family feel more welcome. And, this did not just start with the need for support in the fight for access. It has been that way as long I can remember. Ironic, I can remember thinking how great it was to see people set up observing the birds. walking the beach collecting shells, swimming, sunbathing while reading a book, surfing or flying a kite and fishing. All in sight of one another and guess what, they all got along just fine. They talked and were interested in what the other was doing. They were like family. And, at night in the camp grounds, same thing. Oh, and people from every walk drove on the beach and no one complained about it.
I think it would still be that way, had not some of the new players come along. The people I remember could work out any problem amongst themselves because they had one thing in common, they loved the Island so much that they always had its best interest at heart. They also understood each other and were considerate of each other and they all understood and were considerate of the landscape and wildlife. Nothing has changed except some of the players. That's something to think about. Maybe its not how or where the game is being played, but rather, who is in the game now.

Ron (obxguys)

One other issue commonly overshadowed by the discussion of economics and visitation--the quality of life of the residents of "the park". These residents are the 4,000 plus people who live in the 8 villages surrounded by park property. Yes, surronded not adjacent--i.e. park property, to our south park property, to our east park property, to our west the sound. That is, unless we travel by boat/ferry via the Pamlico Sound we must traverse park property to get from one village to the next. Furthermore, the amount of land reserved for the villages was intentionally limited--so much so that the resident's only opportunity for liesure activities is park property. Its already near impossible to find a place to exercise our dogs or to just find a secluded spot, as most are closed or inaccessible from March until October.

With this in mind, will someone tell me what we are supposed to do when the beaches are closed to us or overcrowded due to the park's plan to corral users into little 1/2 mile to 1 mile segments. Where are we to go to walk or engage in any outside activity? Highway 12. Oh, that's right if the plan option that prohibits pets (the one the environamentalists want) is enacted we won't even be able to do that if we want fido along. Dont' forget as well that most residents are limited to weekends, early morning before work, or evening after work. The night time restrictions will likely limit residents' opportunities to weekends. Anyone want to guess if capacity restrictions will shut the residents out on weekends?

This is a travesty and a violation of every promise made during the 15 year negotiations that made this park a reality. This is a slap in the face to the good people who donated or sold their land in the hopes of preserving a recreational area for themselves and the public at large.

If you doubt the accuracy of my recount of the negotiations or purpose of this park read the park's own "administrative history"--

That's pretty inspiring, Rick Smith.

Put me in, coach !

America is a wonderful place, and the National Parks do tell its story.

Actually, d-2, there may be a way for the NPS to take advantage of the changed political landscape in the Congress and elsewhere. There hase been much made, among those who have risen to power at all levels of government in the last election, in the concept of "American Exceptionalism." I have heard some people say that one of the most distinguishing characteristics of American culture is its dedication to preserving and protecting the outstanding natural and cultural areas of our country. Each generation of Americans, speaking through their Congressional representatives, gets to add to the National Park System those areas that they believe deserve protection in perpetuity. Do you remember the words of the Congress in 1972? (I know you do)

“The national park system shall include any area of land and water now or hereafter administered by the Secretary of the Interior through the National Park Service for park, monument, historic, parkway, recreational, or other purposes. That, Congress declares that the national park system, which began with the establishment of Yellowstone National Park in 1872, has since grown to include superlative national, historic, and recreation areas in every major region of the United States, its territories and island possessions; that these areas, though distinct in character, are united through the inter-related purposes and resources into one national park system as cumulative expressions of a single national heritage; that, individually and collectively, these areas derive increased national dignity and recognition of their superb environmental quality through their inclusion jointly with each other in one national park system preserved and managed for the benefit and inspiration of all the people of the United States…”

If that isn't exceptional, I don't know what is. Let's make them walk the talk.


Hi Ron

Yes you are right studies were performed (actually, I would call them either White Papers, or in some cases just presentations or briefings to senior NPS officials, like Director Hartzog), but no, policies were not inacted. At least, not then. Political figures did not want to be required to respond to mechanical mandates, and preferred to pretend things like population growth and Global Warming were not happening. The last thing they wanted were official reports telling them they had to act. When James Watt came in in 1981, he exerted tremendous pressure on the Dept of Interior to just deny any thing like Climate Change or ozone layer changes were even happening. In the Reagan Administration, all visitor use restrictions were emphatically opposed; they just decided to accept the impacts as OK. For me the lesson was that managers did have an early take on emerging trends, and could have acted, but what was missing was to develop that into organized management policies and budget priorities.

Hartzog, however, was pushed out right around the same time this think tank was shut down, and the new Director, a Haldemann dependent and previous White House advance man, seemed to be there to eliminate Hartzogian expansiveness. This guy had no relationships or contacts among the advocates of parks or preservation. The only large internal initiative in the NPS from that point on was led by the Department of the Interior, and that was the Alaska Planning Group making the new park and refuge proposals for Alaska, and driven by a mandate in law with a due date.

I don't necessarily agree with the point by Ryan and others about the money; it is always possible to get money if you fight for it and have local support. Or a court order.

But with a hostile local congressional delegation now in the Majority in Congress, it would take clever NPS leadership to make it the best interest of the congressional delegation to make sure the park is well funded. The drag on this could be the unfortunate tendency of washington office leadership to avoid fighting for specific revenues over and above the President's Budget, in the fear the money will just come out of some other crucial priority. But the result is the Congress as a Whole does not hear enough often enough about specific charismatic NPS needs, the kind of things Congress needs to hear to agree to expand the overall budget caps.

But, despite the restraints, again I emphasize that motivated people with a compelling need for new funds for parks can always get them, if they are smart and willing to fight, and have brought either strong local congressional and park support, or, a strong national constituency (which this issue does not seem to have and would need to get).

PS: back to the beginning, eventually important policy clarifications WERE issued. At the end of the 1990's new Management Policies required there be no impairment to park resources, citing the 1916 Act establishing the NPS -- this had the effect of eliminating the so-called conflict between Park Use and Park Conservation. Park science was also strengthened under Presidents Clinton and Bush (George the Second) that emphasized monitoring of resource impacts, exactly what has been going on. Also, the Fish and Wildlife Service became more aggressive in pushing agencies such as the NPS to do its duty, based on what FWS considered the best science.

Not to mention all of the studies it will take to implement any of the areas they call access improvements = decades down the road. See Bridge replacement

I would not worry about things at the seashore changing all that much, as the NPS has zero money to actually enforce any of their proposals.

Don't ever apologize for a history lesson. Everyone should be interested in what drives the wagon. The more we learn, the better we are able to understand. And the better we understand, the better we can contend with results. Some of your information was difficult for me to follow but, the recurring theme left the impression that there were issues that should have been addressed and weren't. Studies performed, policies inacted but little or no follow through. Am I correct ? This,if the case, actually may have caused problems in itself. Case in point, orv management plan for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area. Where we now have a big delimma and no "practical" solution (proposed solutions being arguable). So here we paid all these politicians, funded studies, spent on reporting and recording and what did we get ? History is wonderful. But, sometimes, you learn more than you want. You're not really sure if it's the actions of Government or the lack thereof thats going to get ya. Thanks for your input.


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