It may be “back to the drawing board” for off-road vehicle rules at Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
Back in February North Carolina Congressman Walter B. Jones, Jr. introduced a bill to void the latest “final rules” regarding pedestrian and ORV use on the seashore. After extensive recent public comments and years of legal wrangling, those final National Park Service rules were announced on January 23 and took effect February 15.
Proponents of Rep. Jones' legislation have named H.R. 4094 the “Preserving Access to Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area Act.” If passed, the legislation would roll back management of ORVs and pedestrians to the regulations that were in place under the Interim Protected Species Management Act issued by the National Park Service in 2007.
The bill also would permit future restrictions under the Endangered Species Act, “based on peer-reviewed science and after public comment.” But it would also constrain managers’ choices, requiring that future closures under the Endangered Species Act may “only restrict, by limitation, closure, buffer, or otherwise, pedestrian and motorized vehicular access ... for the shortest possible time and on the smallest possible portions” of the Seashore.
The Act would also require that Cape Hatteras’ restrictions be “no greater than” those in place “for that species at any other National Seashore,” and that pedestrian and vehicular corridors be designated “of minimal distance on the beach or interdunal area around closures implemented” ... “to allow access to areas not closed.”
Passage of the proposed bill would specifically eliminate and make non applicable the recent “final rule” Off-Road Vehicle Management (77 Fed. Reg. 3123-3144), and the consent decree of April 30, 2008.
In March the bill was referred to the House's Subcommittee on Courts, Commercial and Administrative Law.
On Wednesday a petition campaign was launched by the North Carolina Conservation Network in association with the Southern Environmental Law Center. The group’s petition urges North Carolinians to contact their federal legislators to oppose the bill.
The groups’ e-mail stated that, “The good news is, after an extensive review process the NPS has released a plan to limit off-road vehicle (ORV) use at Cape Hatteras. The bad news is U.S. Representative Walter Jones introduced a bill, that would circumvent the NPS’ off-road vehicle management plan and allow for ORV use across the entire park putting nesting sites for sea turtles and rare shorebirds in danger.”
Similar legislative efforts to overturn park management plans have resulted in the past after public comment periods. In 2008, U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Elizabeth Dole, both of North Carolina, offered similar legislation to overturn ORV regulations contained within a consent decree that settled a lawsuit over the seashore's lack of ORV regulations. In defending her legislation, Sen. Dole testified before the committee that her constituents were suffering undue economic hardships as a result of the consent decree.
Under that consent decree, the seashore's staff greatly restricted off-road vehicle travel and limited pedestrian travel to protect nesting shorebirds and sea turtles. Opponents of the decree, though, claimed it was over-reaching what reasonably was needed and that the economy that depends on Cape Hatteras was tanking.
Another attempt, also unsuccessful, was made in 2009 to reject the temporary ORV regulations contained in the consent decree.
In its February 2012 final rules announcement, the National Park Service said the rules designate, “ORV routes and authorizes ORV use within the Seashore in a manner that will protect natural and cultural resources, provide a variety of safe visitor experiences, and minimize conflict among users.” The announcement stated that “in general,” ORV use was prohibited off road unless specifically permitted and that an ORV permit would be required.