At Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Birds, Turtles, And Humans Have Created An Air of Controversy, Part II

Cape Hatteras is a thin, fragile landscape often at the mercy of the weather. It's a tenuous setting for both humans and wildlife, more so when the two are crowded together. For some locals, the piping plover has created more problems than it's worth. Aerial photo of Cape Hatteras via NASA, bottom photo by Bob Mishak.

Editor's note: That threatened species are occupying beachfront popular with visitors to Cape Hatteras National Seashore has created a divide along the seashore and in its communities. In this, the final part of our series, the various viewpoints are laid out.

There Are Numbers and There Are Statistics

Though Park Service reports attribute the rise in plover nests and successful fledging rates to the interim ORV restrictions and better monitoring, the boost in turtle nests some say could simply be a normal cycling of reproducing females.

While groups such as North Carolina Audubon point to last year's record numbers of nests as proof that better control over where and when off-road vehicles can drive on the seashore's beaches contributes to nesting success, some ORV enthusiasts and those greatly concerned over beach access label such comments "propaganda" and "misleading," and lament that their tax dollars are, in effect, funding closures to protect both nesting sea turtles and threatened shorebirds, closures that deny them access to those same beaches.

Female loggerhead turtles are thought to reach sexual maturity when they're about 35 years old, making one wonder whether there was a population boom in 1975 that was finally realized, reproductively, last year. Or the high nest count could have been tied to a very good foraging year for female turtles to put on fat reserves to help them with their migration.

"It's classic to see fluctuations from year to year," Dr. Matthew Godfrey, the sea turtle program coordinator for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, told the Traveler last fall. "And it could be quite startling sometimes, especially with green turtles, but loggerheads you see it too. So it's not surprising to see a big change from year to year."

And yet, while there was a big change in nests at Cape Hatteras in 2010, Dr. Godfrey said that, overall, loggerhead nesting in the Southeastern states of North and South Carolina, and Georgia was good but not record-setting.

Seashore officials, however, have noted that the interim regulations have better controlled night driving on beaches that could adversely affect nesting turtles. Those regulations, however, apparently did not prevent someone from running over and killing a female loggerhead that came ashore near Ocracoke in June 2010 to lay her eggs.

While an off-road-vehicle group offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for running over and killing the turtle, so far no arrests have been made. Though some have accused the Park Service of covering up for one of its own that might have run over the turtle, seashore Superintendent Mike Murray has said they did not have patrols out on the beach the night the incident occurred.

Numbers also can be controversial when it comes to how much of the national seashore's 68-mile beachfront will be open under the approved ORV management plan.

Under the plan, 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 calls for a "seasonal night-driving restriction ... established from 9 p.m. to 7 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.

The Surfcasters

Having deflated the tires of his Suburban so each held only about 20 pounds of pressure, John Couch drives me out onto the seashore under a bright June sun. The ocean is rhythmically slapping the beach, the air is warm, not yet too humid. Heading across Ramp 43 and out onto the sand, we’re greeting by roped off shorebird areas to our right, and, as we drive north, smaller rectangular exclosures protecting sea turtle nests.

In a matter of minutes we have to stop at a barrier that prevents further travel in this direction.Off in the distance rises Cape Hatteras Light.

As we sit in his rig talking fishing, turtles, and birds, Mr. Couch, the burly president of the Outer Banks Preservation Association, tells me in no uncertain terms that the 1,000-meter ORV boundaries set up around plover nests with chicks -- roughly equal to three football fields laid end-to-end -- are simply too much.

A Hatteras Island resident since 1965 who has grown barrel-chested and seen the passage of years drift grey into the hair of his head and face, Mr. Couch doesn't need long to search for words when talking about the buffers.

"What doesn't work is that amount of protection," says the 59-year-old, whose organization has been pushing back -- hard at times -- against the Park Service and its buffer zones. "One-thousand meters, that right there is a jobs killer. That right there is an access killer."

Piping plovers that nest on Cape Hatteras gain lots of protection. USGS photo.

On Cape Hatteras, there are 17 "ramps" -- beach access points for vehicles and pedestrians alike -- that have been developed over the years. Keeping them open can be difficult at times due to storms...and due to nesting habits of plovers, American oystercatchers, and least terns.

While loggerhead turtle nests can also lead to ORV and pedestrian buffers, these are usually only 30 feet by 30 feet.

Ramps 43 and 44, which provide access to Cape Point, are not the only areas where beach-goers on foot and in truck encounter barriers. But they are among the most controversial as the fishing from the lip of Cape Point is arguable the best on the seashore. Elsewhere in late June and continuing into July I found that Ramps 27 and 30 between Salvo and Avon were closed due to nesting American oystercatchers and least terns, and there are other examples, as well.

"Not only is it closed to ORV access," Mr. Couch points out in discussing the closures as we ride the beach, "but it's closed to pedestrians and it's closed for miles. That's a major difficulty for everybody.”

"Everybody," he continues, are those who like to drive on the beach and those who like to walk. "I'm trying to group it together, because we're all in it together."

Improving additional habitat for the birds, he suggests, could be a solution to the acrimony. Use a bulldozer to scrape away some of the vegetation that has rooted in the dunes near Cape Point, and let the waves wash over it and create the habitat plovers seek, he suggests.

"What we're saying is why can't we have a partnership with the environmentalists? We can improve this habitat," said Mr. Couch. "They (the Park Service) have yet to do anything to improve the habitat for the birds.”

A few doors down from Mr. Couch's autoparts store, Bob Eakes makes his living fishing as the owner of the Red Drum Tackle Shop. The seashore restrictions, he said, have cut deeply into his business by placing Cape Point out-of-bounds beginning in the spring and running deep into summer.

"My business in March of this year was 70 percent off of what it was five years ago," Mr. Eakes said, adding that he's had to cut his staff in half, to just five employees.

While it's said that fishing on the national seashore is best in the fall, the tackle shop owner said that's not entirely true.

"Fishing's fishing. The spring drum run has been every bit as good as sometimes as it is in the fall," said Mr. Eakes. "We had a flounder bite this spring that was the best I've seen in 20 years. The guys were having to park, walk almost a mile to get to the point, they're catching their limit of six flounder in 15-20 minutes, and coming back with them.

"And so those that are physically able to walk out there, that's sorta OK, but most people can't take a mile walk in soft sand."

While week-long vacationers seem to be shifting their visits to Cape Hatteras until later in the summer and September, "which is sort of pretty good," he said, "it still doesn't make up for the loss of the weekend crowd, and they just don't come. The guys who used to come down here to drum fish on Cape Point and down at the inlets, they'd come for long weekends, they just do not come back."

The bottom line, Mr. Eakes tells me, is that the Park Service is determined to turn the national seashore into a wildlife preserve where humans aren't welcome.

"It's no longer about the resource. It is about banning people from this federal park," he maintained. "That's what's going on, that's what they're doing. There are 11 other federal seashores and parks whose plans have been put on hold to see if they can get away with giving endangered-species protections to non-endangered species.

"And if you're comfortable with it, then welcome to a park that's going to open 9-5, they're going to charge you eight bucks to climb to the top of the lighthouse and have a heart attack, and let you come back down. And when you get down, guess what? 'Hit the road, buddy, we don't want you no more.' That's where they're taking this to."

The Conservationists

Beach driving can leave lots of ruts for pedestrians to negotiate.

Drawing just as much, if not more, animosity from the ORV backers than the Park Service are conservationists, both those who actively brought the lawsuit that forced the issue and those who believe the threatened species should be aided by beach closures if necessary.

Some of those targeted tell of nails being spread across their driveways, being denied service in businesses, and even being verbally threatened.

Derb Carter, director of the Southern Environmental Law Center that brought Audubon's and Defenders' lawsuit against the Park Service, is despised by many beach drivers, but at times doesn't sound too different from Mr. Couch in why this issue hasn't been resolved.

"I thought this thing was pretty easily solvable, but apparently not," says Mr. Carter, who back in 2005 was voted North Carolina's "Conservationist of the Year" by that state's Wildlife Federation.

When the seashore's ORV management plan takes effect in 2012, Mr. Carter believes "it will be a significant improvement over the way things have been managed. "Whether they can sustain that at a necessary level will be a challenge," he continues.

Jim Lyons was not a party to the lawsuit, nor a was he involved in fashioning the consent decree that has guided ORV management on the seashore these past three years. But as a local he has witnessed the fray up close.

A school teacher for 30 years on Hatteras Island, he has over the years enjoyed, and continues to enjoy, the fishing and duck hunting the national seashore provides. He had his students study life cycles using the mosquitoes so often found in summer, and required them to prepare field guides of the small fish they would catch in Pamilico Sound. Too, they’ve dissected snow geese Mr. Lyons would shoot before school, bring to class for dissection, and then pass on the meat to the cafeteria to fix for lunch.

He’s been on Hatteras a long time, is familiar with its recent human and recreational evolution, and, as with Mr. Couch, has some thoughts on the past and current states of access.

“We would walk for two hours and never see a track, never see a car,” Mr. Lyons recalled of his first few years on the island some 50 years ago.

Before long, though, that began to change.

“My friends and I would pull over on the side of the road in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s and walk over to the beach and see little sign of people or cars, but use patterns were really starting to change by then.”

While the ramps were put in by the seashore to provide access for commercial fishermen, as the park’s administrative record notes, as the years went by more and more folks began to use them to reach the beaches for fishing or other forms of recreation. “I think it just crept up on them,” Mr. Lyons said of the Park Service and the resulting traffic the years brought.

Surfers found their way to the beach in June despite closures elsewhere on the national seashore. Kurt Repanshek photo.

His wife, Marcia Lyons, was a Park Service biologist for years. When she first arrived at the national seashore in the 1970s, she tells me, “so many people walked out to the (Cape) point. People walked with their fishing poles.”

While those who argue that ORV access to the beaches long has been a tradition on the Outer Banks, reading past accounts of how the national seashore evolved indicates that ORV beach use never was intended to grow into what it’s become today, when holiday weekends can bring hundreds of vehicles out onto the beaches.

"The legislation creating Cape Hatteras National Seashore did not specifically mention motor-vehicle use or beach-driving, and historical records from the park's establishment and early years do not indicate significant local concerns about preserving the right to drive vehicles on the beach,” notes Creation and Establishment of Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

“Quite the opposite ... local residents and state officials sought NPS support for roads, ferries, and bridges to avoid using beaches as roadways, and in return for their support of the park, local residents demanded NPS agreement to allow commercial fishing and hunting. The law did, however, clearly specify NPS authority to regulate the beaches for uses consistent with the purposes for which the park was established."

Caught in the Middle

"I totally understand and appreciate why people want to be there," Superintendent Murray replies when asked about the controversy over Cape Point, specifically, and the seashore's beaches, in general. "It's not like we're getting any pleasure out of closing things."

Closure signs have not made the Park Service a popular agency with all on Cape Hatteras. Kurt Repanshek photo.

Whether any of his colleagues in the Park Service envied Mr. Murray when he was promoted to superintendent of the Outer Banks Group, a collection of Park Service units that includes the national seashore, the Wright Brothers National Memorial, and Fort Raleigh National Historic site, is certainly debatable in hindsight. After stints in Everglades, Yosemite, New River Gorge National River, Sequoia-Kings Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Cape Cod National Seashore, where he was deputy superintendent for eight years and which had its own issue with piping plovers, Mike Murray walked into a powder keg on Cape Hatteras.

Somewhat complicating matters was that his arrival came after a housecleaning for the Park Service: the seashore's previous management -- its superintendent, its chief of resource management, wildlife biologist, even the Hatteras district ranger -- had been reassigned due to the increasingly rancorous debate over beach driving.

"We've kind of had to build a program from scratch with a great loss of institutional knowledge," the superintendent told me as we sat in the seashore's Buxton office discussing the prickly task before him.

In recent years Superintendent Murray and his staff have worked to regain that knowledge. Monitoring plovers during their breeding season has given the seashore a growing library of GIS (geographic information system) data to track the birds' movements, he explained.

Chicks are mobile on the first day out of their shells, and parents are on the move from nests to foraging habitat closer to water's edge.

"They regularly will move more than 200 meters" and up to 1,200 meters, Superintendent Murray says. "We're seeing that, so based on what we're seeing now, it would be imprudent to do a 200-meter buffer."

Access is a precious thing on the national seashore. After all, the seashore's calling card is a sandy oceanfront that lures surfers, shell collectors, beach strollers, and, of course, surfcasters. Until this summer it had been a few decades since I last visited Cape Hatteras, and that trip was for the fishing. Since then, the atmosphere -- figuratively, not literally -- has turned sour in places over birds, turtles, and beach driving.

A number of colorful towns -- colorful in name (Ocracoke, Nags Heg, Kill Devil Hills, Frisco, Kitty Hawk) and in the pastel hues brushed onto condominiums and townhouses that fill in summer with vacationers -- dot Cape Hatteras.

Apparently not all tourists are welcome at Cape Hatteras.

Yet the focal point of the outrage over the Park Service’s efforts to manage ORVs seems to fume most from Buxton and Frisco, two blue-collar Hatteras Island communities closest to Cape Point.

In these towns Park Service employees have been refused service in some businesses; it's been said that Superintendent Murray was threatened in one public meeting over birds, turtles, and trucks; and a gateway sign to Frisco depicts a middle-finger salute asking Audubon Society members to "Identify this bird."

That last attack is particularly curious in that it presents a decidedly hostile attitude that might affront not just Audubon members, but others considering a Cape Hatteras vacation.

The issue has had a great impact on running the national seashore, where 35-40 percent of Superintendent Murray's budget is devoted entirely to ORV management, and the biggest law-enforcement challenge is enforcing ORV regulations.

Whether there’s been any economic fallout on the seashore’s communities depends on whom you ask.

Official statistics note that Dare County (which encompasses Buxton, Frisco and Hatteras as well as Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk and Nags Head ) counted $777.41 million in tourism spending in 2008, an increase of 1.9 percent from 2007. July 2008 saw vacation rentals along Cape Hatteras at a record high, as the motels, hotels, B&Bs, and campgrounds took in $101.7 million, a 16 percent increase over July 2009 revenues, according to the Dare County Visitor’s Bureau.

The economic numbers remained bullish into 2010, when Dare County visitor occupancy for the first eight months of the year was record-setting. Hatteras Island tourism income reached $27.8 million for lodging alone in July 2010, an 18.5 percent increase from July 2009 and also a record.

But some in Buxton and Frisco, such as Mr. Couch and Mr. Eakes, say the economic winds have blown dry on their communities, with the windfalls directed farther north at Nags Head, Kill Devil hills, and Kitty Hawk.

All, they believe, because the seasonal buffers intended to protect birds and turtles are keeping fishermen and women away.

Influencing the Park Service's decision to go with a 1000-meter ORV buffer once chicks are hatched were various studies that reported on chick movements. One, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Revised Recovery Plan for Plovers, published in 1995, noted that one brood of chicks being monitored on a Maryland beach had moved more than 1,000 meters from its nest within three weeks of hatching.

In the area surrounding Cape Point this year those buffers have been designed to protect six pairs of piping plovers, according to park officials.

Still, notes Superintendent Murray, as the months and years go by and more data are collected, the buffers could be shrunk.

"It's possible it could evolve in the future," he said. "But based on the present, we know they're going to move."

While Mr. Couch suggests creating more habitat for the birds and turtles, the superintendent isn’t so sure that’s possible.

"Should we go out and bulldoze ponds in different locations? Youve got to recognize that it'd be adverse modification of piping plover habitat," Superintendent Murray said. "If the habitat is naturally occurring there, you can't go mess it up in order to ensure access and then try to spend millions to create habitat further west. It is where it is.

Key to a long-term solution, he said, are good resource protection, greater biological data on the plovers, and new pedestrian and ORV access to the beaches, something the management plan calls for.

The Future For Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Correcting five decades of accepted use understandably is not an easy task, yet that is the one handed to the national seashore officials. From the very first vision of a "Cape Hatteras National Seashore" there was talk -- cited specifically in the seashore's enabling legislation -- of creating primitive wilderness, and yet today the seashore still lacks officially designated wilderness. Indeed, it hasn't even conducted a wilderness eligibility study identifying potential areas for such a designation.

Too, as noted above, "(T)he legislation creating Cape Hatteras National Seashore did not specifically mention motor-vehicle use or beach-driving, and historical records from the park's establishment and early years do not indicate significant local concerns about preserving the right to drive vehicles on the beach."

But as the seashore officials now attempt to follow those directives, and abide by existing laws, those who have grown accustomed to driving on the beaches are up in arms over tighter restrictions. The Park Service, they claim, is moving too far towards "preservation" and too far away from "recreation."

“Any of these issues are a matter of perspective," Superintendent Murray said during one of our conversations. "The ORV community has expressed that perspective (preservation over recreation) quite a bit. I’ve heard many times, ‘It’s not a wildlife refuge.’

"On the other hand, the conservation community points to the Endangerd Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Park Servie Organic Act, even the seashore’s enabling legislation, which said in 1937, ‘(N)o development of the project,’ because it was not a park yet, or ‘plan for the convenience of the visitors shall be undertaken, which would be incompatible with the preservation of the unique flora and fauna,'" noted the superintendent.

"It talked about some areas will be developed for recreation, the rest shall be permanently reserved as wilderness. So from that point of view, the Park Service has never fulfilled the enabling legislation or Organic Act and NPS mission requirements here," Superintendent Murray continued. "I think what we’re going to see is there is a course correction, or a change toward more preservation, but we think it’s going to be in a way that’s balanced, but meets the legal requirements."

Comments

I am truly amazed at the limited memory of mr murray...
""Should we go out and bulldoze ponds in different locations? Youve got
to recognize that it'd be adverse modification of piping plover
habitat," Superintendent Murray said. "If the habitat is naturally
occurring there, you can't go mess it up in order to ensure access and
then try to spend millions to create habitat further west. It is where
it is."

What about the dunes created and now maintained? what about the man made ponds on pea island? what about the killing of predators and placing of cages over nests? what about placing signage and string and wooden posts? Are these not modifications to make an area more adaptable to these birds?

"Key to a long-term solution, he said, are good resource protection,
greater biological data on the plovers, and new pedestrian and ORV
access to the beaches, something the management plan calls for."

The plan does call for more access areas, BUT these will require years of environmental studies and money they do not have. In fact the sea shore will now force people who wish to drive on the beach to pay for these and the employees salaries that collect the fees with a undetermined ORV permit. They have already began searching for employees, but have not heard the required comments on the plan or began the environmental studies. So basically they will force ORV participants to foot a bill for pedestrian walk overs and parking lots. They will put into place a plan that will promise more access with no way of funding it and no timeline in place to finish it. This plan will be in place for a minimum of 5 years and I am willing to bet the new walkovers and parking lots will not even be started.
Please also note that when talking to Derb Carter and Jim lyons they are referred to as "The Conservationists" and that is funny I have yet to see them out on the beaches during the times when several groups organize and clean the beaches. I also have yet to see any organization other than the ORV groups gather and clean the beaches. This is an example of Armchair Conservationas these groups do not share in the actions needed to run the seashore they only talk about it from afar.

Please also do not feel sorry for Mike Murray as he knew exactly what he was walking into taking this job. After all he did this before in Cape Cod...

The enabling legislation says areas that are especially adaptable for recreation "shall be developed" for that purpose. The enabling legislation also states that CHNSRA was created for the "benefit and enjoyment of the people". Looking at the above signage, "no entry" means just that. How can no access benefit the people. In reference to the Organic Act, at the end of the Organic Act it states, "unless specifically provided for by Congress", which CHNSRA was. Regarding Wilderness, had Congress wanted to change the designation and purpose of CHNSRA they would have done so under the Wilderness Act of 1964, they did not, and still have not.
Regarding Sea Turtles, yes it is true there was a lot of nests last year, ask the NPS how many of those nests actually hatched, and of the hatched nests, how many actually made it to the water. How is it that there have never been any nesting females run over in the prior 50 years, yet after night driving is prohibited, all of a sudden a nesting female is run over? Also, this happened on Ocracoke Island, and the guilty party could have been found, no way off the island except by ferry. All Law Enforcement had to do was check the undercarraige of each vehicle on the island, they did not. Let us not forget, the NPS has no idea what effects beach driving has on nesting females(USFWS), yet they choose to ban it.
Regarding habitat management, the NPS has allowed the habitat to degade to such an extent that the birds have no choice but to nest near or on the beach where weather and predation are a problem. Then, when the chicks do hatch they have to move to moist substrate habitat, as the number of benthic prey is more abundant there than on the ocean beach, if the habitat had been managed all along, people would have access to the beach and the birds would do fine.
ITS NOT ABOUT THE BIRDS OR THE TURTLES!
Regarding the economics, Dare County encompasses a wide area, and the economic effects don't take into account the rise in taxes, or the economics contained within CHNSRA, obviously the most effected area. Even the study done by RTI is flawed as was not even part of the FEIS as the completion was not done until after comment had closed on the FEIS. Not to mention it lent no weight to the economics of the area pre-consent decree.

I get really frustrated with people who move into wild habitat areas and then complain about the wild habitat doing what they have been doing all their lives, and is programed into them. All of a sudden, for the benefit of spoiled intruders (humans), something has to be done to make sure they (humans) have all the rights that are not theirs at all. But belong to the real animals, fowl, fish that have made the area their homes. Reminds me of the people who move into farm areas, and then complain about the farm smells, and try to get laws passed to passify their own selfish natures. When will humans just enjoy what has been in effect for years and years and not try to destroy it all. Heaven forbid they have to put up with a little bit of discomfort for the sake of natural process.

One of the most important land acquisition issues to
be resolved, the matter was not controversial, but
Ronthaler noted that the Park Service should not be
given authority by this action to restrict the traditional
right of sports and commercial fishermen
who “had always been free to use the area between
the high and low water marks of the ocean without
restriction or hindrance.” Governor Hodges
responded that the Park Service needed this control
to protect wrecks, stop pollution, and similar
reasons, but that if Ronthaler or anyone else still had

questions about the advisability of making the
transfer, those questions should be addressed to
himself and the Council of State that had to approve
the transfer. The motion passed. Commission
member Cecil Morris expressed his hope “that
fishing can be handled within the Seashore in such a
manner as to not create ill will among
fishermen.
740

182 Cape Hatteras National Seashore Administrative History

Lyn we didn't move here. We were here hundreds of years before the park service.

Soon after the dedication ceremonies at Cape Hatteras,
Senator Richard L. Neuberger submitted a
series of articles about Cape Hatteras National Seashore
to the
Congressional Record in support of
efforts to create the seashore at Oregon Dunes. The
articles had appeared in the
[i]Register-Guard inone of the major benefits from the series of
articles from the Oregon newspaper is the
[i]emphasis that has been given to the different

status of seashore recreation areas, as compared
with national parks. National parks are primarily
for preservation of some exceptional and unique
beauty, with recreational activities they are a
secondary category. The seashore recreation
areas, on the other hand, underscore outdoor
recreation activities such as swimming, fishing,
sailing, boating, and waterfowl hunting, just as
their names implies. The two types of
development cannot be safely compared
because of different basic function.
797
Eugene, Oregon, where a reporter, A. Robert Smith,
had surveyed residents of the Outer Banks about
their views on the establishment of the nation’s first
national seashore. An early and independent
assessment of the success of the Cape Hatteras
project, the series cast the national seashore in a
generally positive light, and in his own comments
about the series, Neuberger expressed strong
support for creating a similar park in Oregon. “In
my opinion,” he wrote,
[/i][/i]
198 Cape Hatteras National Seashore Administrative History

Cape Hatteras
National Seashore was not to have any designated
wilderness areas despite the language of its own
authorizing legislation. The Park Service considered
the seashore a recreational area and, besides, the
area had long been inhabited and most villagers on
Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands sought to escape
their rustic lifestyle, not perpetuate it.

192 Cape Hatteras National Seashore Administrative History

You raise an interesting point on wilderness, Ginny. While then-NPS Director Wirth obviously opposed wilderness, Interior Secretary Stewart Udall did not: "Secretary Udall did not object to the Park Service helping to fund the much-needed bridge over Oregon Inlet, but he did express worry that NPS lands in construction of the bridge might go against wilderness preservation" (page 192 as well).

And since Congress approved the enabling legislation, it can be argued that it was Congress' intent that some wilderness be protected.

This article is incorrect when they state " The piping plover, a threatened species,"
Piping Plovers are an ENDANGERED species. The Great Lakes population is ENDANGERED.

Anonymous, the Great Lakes population is listed as "endangered," while the Atlantic Coast population, including those at Cape Hatteras, is listed as "threatened" by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

For clarity, the 1000 meter buffer is 3280 feet (well over 1/2 mile). Three football fields is 900 feet. 1000 meters is a long way. But, who are we to question it ? We are just .... What are we anyway, have they told us yet ?
Most everyone is in agreement that 'necessary' regulation and controls are a good thing and would be supported by everyone. But it needs to be 'reasonable'. We have seen what some call reasonable and it is so far out of line that it borders on rediculous. Start out with the maximum + 50% and maybe, after a few years of study, we might consider reducing something. What's with that ? Maybe the birds don't need 1000 meters or to move 1200 meters, but I doubt we will ever know. As it stands now, it's birds first, second, third.......
As for statistics, they should probably be eliminated from the equation. They cloud the issues which should simply be 'whats right and whats wrong'. Most find it perfectly clear that there is an agenda to eliminate vehicle use on the beaches. It's that simple. If it wasn't the plover or turtles it would be something else. If there wasn't something else, they would create something else. You may be able to cram it down peoples throats but, don't expect them to like it and don't expect them to forget it.
Thanks for the article Kurt
Ron (obxguys)

Please note that I found the bumper sticker, displayed at the beginning of the article, somewhat distasteful (no pun intended), though I can understand what created it. One might find it 'out of line'. Then again, with further thought, one might also say that it goes pretty well with some of the proposed regulation. In fact, one might say it 'fits right in' for that very reason.
Just an after thought.

Ron... Let me clarify further the specific boundary is 1,000 meters in all directions so we can safely double the amount awarded a bird to 2,000 meters.

This is the same old issue still unresolved. See below Quotes and references... And please note the enabeling legislation does not exclude ORVS either as well as it does not exclude high powered scopes and computers just because our forfathers did not have the insight into modern technology.

"Only here, they proclaim to do their deeds in the name of wildlife. In 1939, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed legislation establishing Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area. And in 1953, the National Park Service established it. It is important to note that Cape Hatteras was established as a recreational area. Bringing further clarification on this matter, Title 16 of the U.S. code and chapter 1, sub-chapter LXIII, section 459, states in part, “Said area shall and is established, dedicated, and set apart as a national seashore recreational area for the benefit and enjoyment of the people, and shall be known as the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area.”

The ending of this law specifies how the park shall be known. According to information online from Cornell School of Law, words, “National Seashore Recreational Area,” substituted for “National Seashore,” pursuant to act June 29th, 1940. If Cape Hatteras
National Seashore Recreational Area is the right and proper name of the park, I submit that the National Park Service change the name to reflect the name as given by law. This designation helps clarify the park’s meaningful purpose. "

There was never a official change from "Recreational Area" ever recorded... So in fact all documents need to reflect without assumption the real name of the park or they are null and void.

Matt,
As has been discussed previously on earlier stories, it doesn't matter what you call the seashore. As long as it's part of the National Park System, the National Park Service is mandated by Congress to manage it as outlined in the National Park Service Organic Act of 1916 and the Redwood Amendment adopted in 1978.
Here's the bottom-line of those documents:

Congress, recognizing that the enjoyment by future generations of the
national parks can be ensured only if the superb quality of park resources
and values is left unimpaired, has provided that when there is a conflict
between conserving resources and values and providing for enjoyment of
them, conservation is to be predominant. This is how courts have consistently
interpreted the Organic Act, in decisions that variously describe it as
making "resource protection the primary goal" or "resource
protection the overarching concern," or as establishing a "primary
mission of resource conservation," a "conservation mandate,"
"an overriding preservation mandate," "an overarching goal
of resource protection," or "but a single purpose, namely, conservation."

"values is left unimpaired"
Did this stop the paving over areas of Yellowstone so people could access these areas??? I am sure that the endangered creatures would love to live in those exact locations, so what is stopping groups from suing to clean this little mess up?

Matt, there's been more than a decade of legal activity over snowmobiling in Yellowstone.
And yes, it's a balancing act between conservation and recreation. And if you can point out a threatened or endangered species whose population is at threat of being pushed to extinction by the boardwalk around Old Faithful, I'm sure you could find a group that would sue.

The point is unique access is being offered there and the same area could have been left as wilderness and provided homes to animals that are otherwise forced to live in alternate areas of the park.
They also do not need to be endangered, the only need to be species of concern like the ones listed below. We can block people out of the expansive hotels and I am sure at least the Ospreys, falcons and Eagles will find them to be quite comfortable. Kind of like shutting down a beach used by humans for about the same amount of time for the same. Can anyone argue that these species could not "do better" with a little more territory.
Common Loon
Peregrine Falcon

Harlequin Duck
Trumpeter Swan

Osprey
Bald Eagle

Statistics are numbers that can easily be manipulated to prove a point. Anyone who has taken a basic statistics course can tell you that. The FEIS relies on "statistics" to justify what amounts to draconian measures in the name of protection/conservation. However, those "statistics" were all taken from studies and reports that were never peer reviewed or that were found to be worthless under peer review. Mr. Murray even says in his interview that the NPS is just now learning the habits of the Plover. Access groups have from day one taken the position that protecting the beach and wildlife is important. Access groups have entered into "negotiated rule-making" session and have attempted to find this so called common or middle ground. The environmental groups and the NPS have never been willing to discuss any proposal other than full closure. The environmental groups say the plover is endangered and should therefore be given the ultimate in protection. Well, in the Great Lakes region where they are endangered, I agree. However, the Atlantic Coast population is not endangered, it is threatened. Additionally, the Plover is not native to the Outer Banks and Hatteras Island. In fact, the plover did not arrive on Hatteras until the 1960's. And even since then, the nesting numbers have always been low. The environemntalist claim that the recent strict closures have "helped increase" the plover population. Excuse me, but the NPS's own "statistical data" for this time frame shows that not to be true! Yes, some individuals in the pro access crowd do get very pationate about access and there have been some offenseive things said and maybe even done (no real proof of nails in the driveway - only verbal reports). Just remember, it was the pro access groups that entered in to this with open minds and a willingness to have compromise while the environmentalist groups refussed to even consider any change less than full closure. The access groups have been lied to, blamed for things they have not done, and have watched what is essentially an inept group of NPS leadership turn their back on them. Yes Mr.Repanshek, pro access groups are angry. We feel betrayed by the very people (NPS) that were given the responsibility to protect "our" resource and our interests. The real shame is that future generations will never be able to enjoy the true spledor and beauty of CHNSRA because all access will be controlled and they will only be able to see what SELC, Audubon, and DOW want them to see. Control and Power. That, sir, is what this whole issue is about. If SELC, Auduban, and DOW really cared about the environment, they would be willing to work with others instead of refussing to do so.

See page 21 for the environmentalists' view of what should happen. Actually sounds pretty neat unless you are one of the 4,000 residents who would have to try to survive without any roadway or bridge. Reality? Can you spell Portsmouth? But it is only 4,000 working class people and less than $100 million in impact!
http://www.ecu.edu/geology/NCCoastsinCrisis.pdf
Give me a break. We were here first (2,500 in 1940's) . The NPS chose to set up the park with villages within its borders to serve as Islands of commercial activity in support of visitors for accomodations, supplies, and services--all working class, low paying jobs. This is fact. And the fact is the villages cannot survive on birders and ecotourists. The villages cannot survive on the summer tourist content with walking over the dunes from their ocean side rental--we need the shoulder seasons because tourism is our only source of income. We are not populated with high rollers like the Hamptons.
The second fact is if you corale recreational uses into small areas you will have to enforce capacity limits and large numbers of visitors looking for the open spaces we have always enjoyed will not come. Its time to accept this one barrier island as a human sancutary and leave the wildlife sancutaries to the numerous other unihabited islands like Assateague, Cape Lookout and the like.
This is exactly what residents feared and the reason it took from 1937 to 1952 to negotiate the boundaries and the sale of property that made this park possible.

Does anyone notice the scarcity of comments from a certain view point or is it just me. Brings to mind the words from an environmentalist leaning gentleman (I am repeating this second hand) "How does it feel to be a loser, we got everything we wanted". Hope I got it right, I think that is close, someone please correct me if I am wrong.
Ron (obxguys)

Kudos to anyone who cleans up litter and double kudos
to those that, “leave only footprints and take only memories.”

Kurt, Defenders of Wildlife, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center are well on their way to destroying the greatest National Park in the country at Cape Hatteras. Over the past six months I have made several unsuccessful attempts through the FOIA to find out how many American Tax dollars have been paid to DOW. Settlements paid from the" Judgment Fund " and "Equal Access to Justice Act" have not been recorded since 1995. I did find a case in California in 2008 CBD vs Dept. of Agriculture ( Case Nos.C08-01185-MHP and C08-03884-MHP ) Settelment agreement with Judge Marilyn H. Patel where Environmental Plaintiffs Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife recieved $250,000.00 persuant to the EAJA because the Forest Service adopted a revised forest plan with " inadequate environmental review ". When I come upon this , I asked myself several questions. How many billable hours is that? What are the chances that it would come out to a nice round quarter million? What are they charging per hour? Are CBD and DOW eligible for EAJA ? Possibly. Was this the INTENT of the EAJA? Absolutely not. Its intent was for people of limited means, not a $30 Million a year organization like Defenders of Wildlife that pay executives over 300K/ year. DOW has sued Gov. Agencies under DOI 124 times for just such frivolous matters while successfully blocking DOI from securing our border with Mexico.
During the BP gulf oil spill, our current administration awarded (rewarded) a no-bid contract to Defenders of Wildlife to do a “shorebird survey “with a cost to the American taxpayer of $ 216,625.00. Congressional law makers joked that this was payback for DOWs million dollar smear campaign against Sarah Palin or that the former director of US Fish and Wildlife, Jamie Rappaport Clark is now VP of DOW. Perhaps some connection with Robert Derher, who oversees US Marine Fisheries, was a former lawyer for, you guessed it, DOW. I suppose I fail to see the humor in all this because its my Tax dollars. I look forward to seeing DOWs " shorebird survey " and exactly what the American tax payer gets for their $216,625.00. This entire mess is a political issue that stinks of corruption and abuse with no regard for Public opinion. [/i]

It just keeps getting better and better the longer it goes on. Just like we're going broke so lets borrow some more money so we can spend some more, that will fix it. I understand it better after reading anon's comment. There are 'organizations' out there that need it and I'm not talking about The National Park System. It's entitlement throught the court system. We've been hearing about it for years now but, nothing being done about it. Disgusting !
Ron (obxguys)

Just as a point of order:

* Payments made under the Equal Access to Justice Act are only made to a "prevailing party" in a lawsuit. So if the case brought by Defenders and Audubon had no merit, they wouldn't have been able to seek compensation.

And you're right, Anonymous, trying to find out what payments have been made is tough at best. According to a post back in February by LegalTimes, "there’s no centralized information about which lawyers and plaintiffs are getting the fee awards."

* It also should be noted, though, that an arm of the Outer Banks Preservation Alliance has successfully sued the federal government over shorebird decisions involving habitat, and so they, it would appear, should likewise be able to seek renumeration.

The alliance, in Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance v. US Department of the Interior, convinced the court that "previous economic analysis failed to consider the effect of possible closures to beaches on off-road vehicle (ORV) use and potential administrative costs to the National Park Service (NPS) resulting from section 7 consultation."

Does anyone know if the alliance sought reimbursement through EAJA, and if so, for how much, and did they recover their fees?

I suppose that depends on your idea of merit. I'm no Lawyer, just a dumb fireman who loves to fish the beach at Cape Hatteras. But I have enough common sense to know that what the park service and environmental groups are doing is simply wrong.

Kurt ( Does anyone know ...)
I do not know. I recall conversation that litigation was entered on two occassions by organizations other than SELC,etc. concerning issues at Cape hatteras. Do not know who or for what but, seems that one ruled in favor and one not. Don't know anymore.
What alarms me is that it seems to have become overly prevalent with some organizations and some law groups. And please don't ask me to substantiate that, cause I can't.
You know, most people don't mind seeing their tax dollars going to things that they feel are necessary, when they are done in a manner where the dollars are actually spent on the necessity. what bothers people is when half of it goes toward the necessity and the other half goes to who knows what in the form of studies and litigation. I know some is necessary, but I believe we are experiencing far too much these days. The Country simply can't afford it.
Ron (obxguys)

If these are truly admirable organizations why don't they do this as a service to the resource and quit banging the tax payers! Yes, the endangered tax payers. I feel a wind change. Maybe, something much stronger. Think the taxpayers appreciate the selling of Treasuries increasing our debt (Downgrade to AA+) to pay scammers/career litigators? Let me guess, Libs/Progressives?

Wind Change,

Sorry, but the devil's advocate has to ask:

Is there proof anywhere that 1) Defenders and Audubon billed the govt under EAJA and 2) they were paid and 3) ditto for OBPA?

If it's good for the goose...

Kurt, I don't know who was or was not paid in the Cape Hatteras situation. Maybe those listed organizations will comment, in the interest of transparency. They don't say much unless it's PR Specialist stuff. Myself, I'm pretty tired of that, from anyone. Must have to do with PC/agenda replacing truth. They aren't alone in that regard but thankfully it's "unsustainable" at great cost.

Kurt,
The answer to your question is yes the county and ORV groups were compensated (well) by the government for prevailing in the initial lawsuit challenging designation of critical habitat for the piping plover on the Seashore. Attorney fee recovery was based on prevailing in an Endangered Species Act enforcement action. The attorneys for the county and ORV groups actually made the environmentalists' argument that critical habitat designation provides more protection than just the normal endangered species review, and that the agency failed to consider the economic impact (if any) of the additional protection resulting from critical habitat. The government argued that critical habitat designation does not provide additional protection from normal review, and therefore there would be no econmic impact. Interestingly, the decision is now a precedent for greater protection of species when critical habitat is designated.
After the decision, the Department of the Interior went back and assessed the potential economic impact of the critical habitat designation and made the decision again to designate it. The county and ORV groups sued again and this time lost with the court agreeing with the governments economic analysis and conclusion that critical habitat designation would have little economic impact. Of course, if you lose you do not recover fees from the government.
Thank you for your balanced article.


Page 19 of 38 of settelment agreement

38. Attorneys' Fees: Federal Defendants agree that Plaintiffs' are prevailing parties and entitled to reasonable attorneys' fees and costs pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. 2412, up to and including the date of execution of this Consent Decree.
Just because Plaintiffs are the Prevailing Party, dosent mean that were right.

If the Park Service is touting the use of GIS to track and manage the Birds and Turtles, why aren't they disposed of publishing the Data and Maps from the previous years? Is there something in the data that doesn't hold up to their spin on Resource Management???
I fully understand, though don't totally agree, that they can't release the data on this years stock. They fear that it would possibly increase vandalizim of the nests... again not my particular view. However, Every single fence post, nest, abandon nest, crawl, false crawl should be geocoded and kept for PUBLIC RECORD. Is we could download the previous years data and review it ourselve, maybe we could understand the position of 1000 meters (6/10 of a mile) But... we don't see these maps and data, so how can we believe what the Park Service and the SELC, Audobon et.al are putting out as their truth?
One other note, 1000 meter perimeter is only a 1000 meters on the nearest beach (sand and dunes) Once the 1000 meters encrouches on the Park Service Campgrounds the Highways and other Government locations, that 1000 meter circle get some very deflated sides. Anyone with a simple computer can pick a single spot on the open beach at Cape Point and draw a 1000 meter circle and find that it encompasses the Park Service Campground... there's money to be made the so the Park Service doesn't include it in their buffer. They excuse it by saying that the parking lots and fields are the enviornment of the Plover... But if the public has to forfiet the beach, so the Park Service should share in the restrictions. Our country has, unfortunately, turned into a courntry of "what's good of one is good for all" Majority Rule doesn't exist in our government any longer (Hey, ask Al Gore :~)... )

Jack,
Maps are published with the annual reports. (see here: http://www.nps.gov/caha/naturescience/natural-resource-reports-and-publications.htm)
Cape Point campground is a (mosquitoe-filled) money pit and probably not a great revenue generator. I really doubt the NPS recovers its maintenance costs and would actually benefit from it being closed.

Kurt,
There's an interesting study going on right now wrt the nesting population of sea turtles (see here: http://www.seaturtle.org/nestdb/genetics.shtml?program=1&beach=2 ) on the beaches of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
What I find interesting is that it appears first that while there may have been an increase in the nesting population, Cape Hatteras has had more of an increase in nests than the rest of the region.
The interesting question is what could cause this disporportional increase at Hatteras when turtles are laying nests as far as 400 miles apart on as many as four different beaches?

From the Enabling Legislation
Sec. 4. Except for certain portions of the area, deemed to be especially adaptable for recreational uses, par­ticularly swimming, boating, sailing, fishing, and other recreational activities of similar nature, which shall be developed for such uses as needed, the said area shall be permanently reserved as a primitive wilderness and no development of the project of plan for the convenience of visitors shall be undertaken which would be incompatible with the preservation of the unique flora and fauna or the physiographic conditions now prevailing in this area:
There is a big difference between protecting the resource and maintaining its wilderness characteristics in areas not "especially adaptable for recreational uses" and setting aside "primative wilderness areas", the latter must be designated by Congress. Furthermore, CHNSRA does have 13 miles set aside as a Wildlife Refuge. So to say that the enabling legislation was violated because no areas were set aside is a stretch.

DOW filed suit requiring USFWS to designate Critical Habitat for the Piping Plover. DOW secured a court opinion directing USFWS to designate Critical Habitat. USFWS exempted Padre Island based upon economic impact but included Cape Hatteras and all emerging sandbars in Oregon and Hatteras Inlets.
OBPA/CHAPA challenged the Critical Habitat Designation for the Piping Plover on the basis that USFWS had not conducting a economic impact study and on the area lacking the PCPE (or whatever it is called). USFWS asserted that they did not need to do an economic impact study.
The court agreed that the USFWS needed to conduct the economic impact study and that USFWS had not supported the existance of conditions that constitute PCPE's. When USFWS came back with required study, the court accepted it even though it was based upon the Vogelsong study (A peer review had concluded that this study did not include data that could be used to determine economic impact). OBPA/CHAPA challenged the courts decision and lost.

Sorry sir but the park's campgrounds do not need to be money pits. We camped in the 80's when the campgrounds were part of the national reservation system and they were always filled. I mean think about it. Who is going to travel 8 hours or more without knowing they have a camp site secured?
The second issue is the Cape Point campground only became a mosquitoe infested site whent he park let the drainage system installed to support the campground fall into disrepair and stopped using it. And don't give me the tired argument that the drainage system drains wetlands--thanks to the man made pond, the campground, and the drainage system which arguably is creating wetlands because it has changed the natural flow nothing in the area can be construed as a natural process. This being the case, the only rational thing is to manage the man made processes for the benefit of man and wildlife.

Correction to Ginny's claim. The NPS was/is prohibited from releasing run-off from the campground into the ocean by the NC Dept of Water Quality. It has nothing to do with "disrepair".