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ORV Group Files Lawsuit Over Cape Hatteras National Seashore ORV Management Plan



In a move not totally unexpected, the National Park Service has been sued over its plan for managing off-road vehicles at Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Washington, D.C., by the Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance, an arm of the Outer Banks Preservation Association, claims the seashore staff failed to fully consider proposals offered by the alliance that would meet their desires for ORV access to Cape Hatteras beaches while also protecting threatened and endangered species.

“The Park Service’s new ORV management plan and rules, if implemented, will have a devastating effect on our unique, local shore-oriented culture and economy,” said John Couch, the association's president.  “The OBPA and CHAPA have fought to keep the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area beaches free and open to residents and visitors since 1977. 

"OBPA and CHAPA continuously have maintained that reasonable ORV access and bird and turtle species protection are not mutually exclusive," he said in a prepared statement. "Unfortunately, the Park Service overlooked reasonable recommendations and information that OBPA and CHAPA put forth during the planning process that would have resulted in an ORV management plan and rules that both protect wildlife resources and ensure reasonable ORV access to and over the area’s beaches.”

One of the recommendations Mr. Couch's group has made was to have the seashore use a bulldozer to create new habitat for plovers away from Cape Point, a highly popular and productive fishing area near Buxton.

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

But the suggestion didn't seem prudent to the Park Service.

"Should we go out and bulldoze ponds in different locations? You've got to recognize that it'd be adverse modification of piping plover habitat," Cape Hatteras Superintendent Mike Murray said last summer. "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."

The management plan, rules for which are scheduled to take effect next Wednesday, February 15, was developed after years of acrimonious debate over how to protect species such as the piping plover and five species of sea turtles from disturbance during their nesting seasons on Cape Hatteras. The plan was designed to meet both the Park Service's legal requirement to adopt an ORV management plan at the seashore, and its mandates under the Endangered Species Act to protect endangered and threatened species.

It was another lawsuit, brought in 2007 by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the National Audubon Society and Defenders of Wildlife over the lack of an ORV management plan, that forced the Park Service's hand to develop one.

Since 2008 the seashore has governed ORV use on the beaches under an interim plan approved as part of a consent decree reached in the wake of the lawsuit. Part of the interim plan allowed the Park Service to establish ORV buffers 1,000 meters wide to protect piping plover chicks; the buffer for pedestrians is 300 meters. Both buffers were retained in the management plan the Park Service wants to implement.

While Cape Hatteras Superintendent Murray tried to work with both sides in the matter to come up with a satisfactory ORV plan, one that would provide access and protect wildlife, that didn't go very well. For 18 months committees worked to find common ground, but couldn't.

“The committee worked really hard,” the superintendent said back in May 2010. “We had 11 formal meetings, which was 20 total meeting days. Every couple months there would be a two-day meeting. But we had seven subcommittees that worked on different parts of the plan. They had conference calls and subcommittee meetings and on and on and on.

“They made progress on stuff,” he went on, “but it kind of boiled down to, after all this effort, the parties on the committee were able to agree to the easy things, like speed limits, or vehicle requirements. They couldn’t agree to the hard things, like how are we going to manage ORV use in the real sensitive bird nesting areas?

“So, towards the end of the process, we created a special subcommittee, called the integration group - sort of three from each side and three sort of neutral parties - to try to work out the final recommendation for the committee to consider. And they couldn’t do it. They couldn’t agree to anything.”

In their lawsuit, the ORV interests contend that they have "advocated the protection and preservation of seashore beaches within a framework of responsible and meaningful access to the ocean beaches and sound for all users, including pedestrians and properly licensed drivers and their vehicles."

But the plan scheduled to take effect next week, they claim in their lawsuit, was “foreordained from the time that NPS began its planning process."  More so, the Park Service’s planning and environmental review process under the National Environmental Policy Act was plagued by a series of failures, the filing maintains.

Those failures, the group's press release states, include: a failure to give meaningful consideration to views, data, or information that were contrary to NPS’s desire to impose more severe restrictions on ORV access and use; a failure to look at reasonable alternatives, including smaller and more flexible buffer and closure areas; and a failure to properly assess impacts on the local economy. 

The complaint asks the court to determine that NPS acted improperly and to prevent NPS from implementing its final ORV management plan and rules.


About time Lee, About time...
I really hope that the bad science and poor management choices over the past few years are exposed.
Think about it, Why did it take 20 years after putting these bird on their precious list to even start talking about altering the landscape of this "Fishing Town" (sorry to steal that one Kevin in PA) But it really makes sense if you indeed have ever been to the island. As all islands they tend to lean towards the body of water to draw in visitors. Without access to the world class fishing and recreation from the beaches then the highlight of Hatteras is a lighthouse and highway 12...

And now our Congresscritters are wading into the surf. This is from this morning's Weekly Legislative Activities Report found on NPS Digest. (The official daily report from WASO)

On April 27th, the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands (Bishop) will hold a legislative hearing on H.R. 4094 (Jones, W., R-NC-3), to authorize pedestrian and motorized vehicular access in Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area, and for other purposes, and an oversight hearing on “Access Denied: Turning Away Visitors to National Parks,” which will focus on Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Biscayne National Park. The hearing is scheduled at 10:00 am in room 1324 of the Longworth House Office Building. The Department’s witness will be Bert Frost, Associate Director, Natural Resources Stewardship and Science, NPS.

I believe, from everything I've read and seen over the past 7 years is that there are a lot of people on both sides of the argument that are not willing to bend. But more toward the side of the park management and the organizations protecting the birds. Are people this blind to see that most of the argument is because they are closing the point. I think that it is ludicrous that of all the miles of beach on hatteras, you pick the most important couple of miles. To me that is lack of respect to the individuals who live there and to the fisherman who visit. In case you didn't see the 20 fishing shops when you drove across the island, then this is a heads up to the blind, this is a fishing town. And you can not take a man's favorite fishing spot from him and expect no confrontation. Leave the point open, and the other popular fishing spots and shut down the other 30 or 40 miles of beach. Some of these fisherman have fished here there whole lives, and this should not end because of a bird, turtle, or any other animal. There is to much of the beaches on this island that are rarely ever used. This is were the birds should make there homes, or be relocated to. I guess I'm just amazed, with were we are today as human beings, in the regards of intelligence, that it is this difficult to appease both sides. I do not agree with what the park is doing, and I don't believe the point should EVER be closed to fisherman. It will be the dedicated fisherman/family man/hard working American, who suffers because of the ignorance of many who are not making good decisions that for the most part appease everyone.

SS! you have my pity. You have taken every single thing ever said out of context. I have always stated that I believe in Access. I know for a fact as Ron states this will n ot stop here. The next efforts will be ti further restrict access because the areas they deem ORV accessable will be so over crowded that hey will now use it against access at all. 

I do agree that pedestrians got shafted, but disagree to what extent... You see pedestrians do not use the areas that ORV's use as they choose not to parade themselves over hot sand and long distances. This is not a hike in the woods, but more akin to hiking in the desert. Your blatent disregard for reasonable access (Again I will mention not just ORV) is similar to those who were the forst to agree on the REGNEG and then turned around and sued when things did not go their way. These Enviro groups have attempted several times to do exactly wht they succeeded at this time. Where is the same disdain for that behavior???
You keep mentioning that ORV access was not mentioned specifically in the E.L., but you put on blinders to the fact that this was the only means of travel on the island at the time it was written. Where again were the ORV's back then and where exactly is the mention of the Ommission of ORV use in the E.L.
One sided and propoganda driven along with decades old legislation... That is indeed your agenda with the statements here 
"[size= 14px; line-height: 18px]ORV access groups have no interest in the access [/size][size= 14px; line-height: 18px]issues I'm interested in. They have consistently demanded that this park’s [/size][size= 14px; line-height: 18px]beaches be ORV accessible."[/size]
[size= 14px; line-height: 18px]Yes we would like access and it seems you would not let us have it... Who is pandering now.[/size]

The way I see it, among other things, the ORV access
side keeps harping about the other side getting everything they wanted because
the ORVers still want everything. No compromising, all the beaches a potential
ORV route. I wonder if they really believe cramming visitors who don't want to
recreate in ORV routes into tiny roped off areas for a few months of the year is
a compromise. I hear all about how they love the wildlife and have been such
good stewards, whatever that means, at the same time demanding that their
vehicles be allowed to drive as close as they think they need around nesting
birds, their chicks and turtles any time of the day or night.

Pedestrian access issues got the short end of the stick in
the ORV plan not because of conservation groups input but because of ORV
organizations political involvement and their influence with local NPS mangers.
I'm not at all happy with the Parks ORV plan and don't know anyone that is.

ORV access groups have no interest in the access
issues I'm interested in. They have consistently demanded that this park’s
beaches be ORV accessible.  This is
what the lawsuit, the political pandering of congressmen's Jones proposed bill
to rescind the Park’s ORV plan and the current petition that is circulating is
about. Pedestrian access, resource conservation, give me a break, just more
bait and switch in the ongoing PR campaign to designate all of CHNS beaches an
ORV route

where were these VFA's during neg-reg? Where were they during the consent decree? Where was the discussion of them during the public comment periods and open public forums? Guess the were dreamed up during closed session. They just kinda showed up. 
Does anyone wonder why we say there is an agenda and its not about the birds and turtles. Does anyone really think it will stop here, no matter what the plan is for now. You are running out of things to throw at us SS1. Why do you go on, you won, didn't you
Ron (obxguys).

It is a fact that CHNS is designated by the NPS as a
National Seashore not a National Recreation Area.

Recreation is an important component of CHNS. Recreation
is ONE of the reasons CHNS (the first National Seashore) was created. It is
primary reason I visit this park.

Resource protection and ORV use have disrupted my
recreational activities. The difference between the two is that resource
protection is demanded by the EL, Organic Act, MBTA, GAA, Redwood Act, and the
ESA while ORV access on the park beach isn’t. Recreation in this National Seashore
should not be a carte blanche check for unlimited ORV access.

In addition the Park must address recreational
conflicts. There are written and public comments stating categorically that
there are recreational conflicts concerning ORV use in this National Seashore.  Personally I appreciate being able to
drive to Cape Point, for at least part of the year, and wouldn't mind walking
to get there at certain times. I totally get why ORV access is important for
recreational fishing. Cape Point will be open to ORV access for the majority of
each year. It is paramount that some of the designated vehicle free areas (VFA)
have scenic wilderness attributes to them 
(few do). Having some VFA situated inside of ORV routes is a good idea.
Driving to a place where visitors can get out of their car and hike on a beach
without deep ruts in the sand or seashells that have been ground into rubble by
passing vehicles should be an option. You can still participate in all the
other kinds of recreational activities in the VFA, like fishing, shell
collecting, bird watching or exercising while doing it in a place that isn't a
parking lot.

The problem is that the ORV access organizations
are not just condemning NPS resource management but want this Seashore to be
managed almost exclusively for ORV access. The current petition condemning the
Park’s ORV plan, the access groups lawsuit against the NPS and Representative
Jones proposed congressional bill to rescind the Park's ORV Management plan are
about making all of CHNS beaches a potential ORV route. The OBPA, NCBBA, CHAC
groups are suggesting to their members to not just reverse the resource
protections but the VFAs as well. They are not just opposed to the amount and
placement of VFA but the very premise of them, that is a fact. Read the local
message boards and the aforementioned ORV access groups’ websites. Their
advocacy has little to do with anything other than ORV access to Cape Hatteras
National Seashore. They are actively lobbing to reverse all the VFAs in the
park's new ORV plan.

[size= 14px; line-height: 18px]"The NPS dropped, "and Recreation Area" when referring to this park years ago. ORV access advocates use the amended antiquated name Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Recreation Area erroneously believing that by referring to the National Seashore as a recreation area it grants them ORV access privileges."[/size]
[size= 14px; line-height: 18px]Do not assume as I simply believe the Recreation in the name was to differentiate from the wildlife refuge at pea island and was for ACCESS and  not just ORV Access![/size]
[size= 14px; line-height: 18px]"[/size][size= 14px; line-height: 18px]The economic indicators for Dare County and Hatteras Island don’t suggest economic collapse." [/size]
[size= 14px; line-height: 18px]Dare county includes areas before the bonner bridge that are unaffected by these closures. Area businesses after bonner bridge are those that are affected.[/size]
[size= 14px; line-height: 18px]"[/size][size= 14px; line-height: 18px]THE NPS received a large number of written comments indicating that ORV use in the National Seashore (in addition to resource concerns) constitutes recreational conflicts for visitors who want to recreate on beaches that are not ORV routes."[/size]
[size= 14px; line-height: 18px]Where are these people that walked to the point before being forced to? I have never seen them so they must not exist like the over protected plovers I cannot see in the aircraft carrier size protected zones.[/size]
[size= 14px; line-height: 18px]"[/size][size= 14px; line-height: 18px]The Park’s recent ORV plan is an attempt to address those concerns by establishing vehicle free zones in the selected ORV plan. ORV organizations continue to be highly critical of and lobby against vehicle free zones in the park."[/size]
VFA's are another example of my above mentioned comments that NON orv users do not use the same areas... and even if they wanted to they cannot because of extremely large bird closures...

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