A congressman from North Carolina is making a second bid to force the National Park Service to reverse itself on managing people, birds, and sea turtles at Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
Rep. Walter Jones recently reintroduced H.R. 819 - the Preserving Access to Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area Act. The bill is tentatively scheduled for a hearing before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation on March 14th. Congressman Jones introduced the bill in the last Congress and it passed the House of Representatives, but the Senate version failed to make it out of committee.
The bill, if passed by the Congress and signed into law by the president, would overturn the seashore's management plan for off-road vehicles and pedestrians and put in place regulations that were followed 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.”
“This bill is about jobs and the taxpayers’ right to access the recreational areas they own,” said Jones. “It’s about restoring balance and common sense to Park Service management. I would like to thank the Natural Resources Committee for scheduling a hearing and for doing what is right for the people of eastern North Carolina.”
According to the congressman, the Interim Strategy was backed up by a 113-page Biological Opinion issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that found that it would not jeopardize the species of concern, namely piping plover and sea turtles.
Similar legislative efforts to overturn park management plans have been launched 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.