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Groups Criticize Senate Bill That Would Require Park Service To Reassess ORVs At Cape Hatteras National Seashore


A Senate committee on Tuesday approved legislation that would require the National Park Service to reassess how to manage off-road vehicles at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, a measure that conservation groups said was unnecessary and would lead to a waste of taxpayer dollars.

The measure, S.B. 486, was sponsored by U.S. Sens. Kay Hagan, a Democrat, and Richard Burr, a Republican, both of North Carolina. As initially introduced, the bill would have eliminated current Park Service safeguards for beach-nesting wildlife and pedestrian beachgoers to favor instead trucks on park beaches, according to the National Parks Conservation Association.

In committee action Tuesday, Sen. Ron Wyden tweaked the measure to require the Park Service to study how wildlife protection measures might be modified to provide more vehicle access while still protecting wildlife and pedestrians.

“The existing wildlife protection measures are already based on the best available scientific information," said Julie Youngman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “We will work to make sure the plan remains scientifically sound. By requiring the National Park Service to redo what it’s already done, the bill wastes taxpayer time and resources.”

According to nesting numbers from the National Park Service, 222 sea turtle nests were recorded in 2012, by far the most nests ever documented at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. At the same time, visitor gross occupancy on Hatteras Island during the bird and turtle nesting season months of April, June, July, and September 2012 was the highest on record, according to the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau.

In February 2011, when the senators sponsored the legislation, Sen. Hagan said she did so to help the economy.

"Beach access is critical to the Dare County economy, and that is why I am working with Representative (Walter) Jones and Senator Burr to make sure federal regulations are not overly restrictive for the local community," Sen. Hagan said at the time. "The Hatteras community has experienced three summers with many beaches closed, and some local businesses may not survive another. I will continue working with the administration, my colleagues in Congress and all relevant stakeholders to balance appropriate beach access with important environmental protections."

But the conservation groups maintain things are fine without changes.

“The existing National Park Service plan is a win-win for the seashore,” said Jason Rylander, senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “The plan restored wildlife to the seashore while increasing visitation and tourism. The vast majority of seashore visitors do not come to drive on the beaches. This bill seeks to fix something that isn’t broken."

Based on a public input and peer-reviewed science, the current National Park Service plan is the result of a public process agreed to by all parties—including Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance and local counties—concerned about beach driving on the national seashore.

“The National Park Service’s current regulation offers a balanced use of the seashore,” said Walker Golder of Audubon North Carolina. “The current safeguards--put in place after much stakeholder input, public discussion, and more than 21,000 public comments—allow for responsible off-road vehicle use, provide areas for people who want to safely enjoy the beach without the danger of trucks, and provide basic protection for birds, sea turtles and other wildlife. The bill sets a horrible precedent for the National Park Service.”

Eleven threatened piping plover chicks survived to fledge (able to fly) from nests laid on the seashore’s beaches during 2012. Before off-road vehicle management practices were implemented in April 2008, piping plover numbers within Cape Hatteras National Seashore declined to an all-time low of no chicks surviving to fledge in 2002 and 2004, the groups noted.

The National Park Service rule designates 61 percent of the seashore’s miles of beaches as year-round or seasonal ORV routes with only 39 percent designated as year-round vehicle-free areas for pedestrians, families, and wildlife. Some areas may be temporarily closed during nesting season to provide the essential protection necessary for birds and sea turtles to nest and raise their young.

Since President Nixon’s 1972 executive order, Cape Hatteras National Seashore has been required by federal law to establish guidelines that manage off-road vehicles to minimize harm to the wildlife and other natural resources of the seashore. The order called for protocols in accordance with the best available science to minimize conflicts with other, non-vehicle-based uses of the seashore and to preserve the seashore for present and future generations. Forty-one years later, NPS’ rule is finally addressing these requirements, but bills like this one hinder the National Park Service’s work at Cape Hatteras.



Yes there have been resource closures in the Park for a long time. But if you believe NPS biologists, coastal geologist and avian biologist they were lacking. ORV groups fight any changes that increase resource protection. There is a documented case of least terns chicks being crushed by ORVs near Hatteras Inlet when ORVers demanded and got a ORV trail opened. Resource measures are not that complicated, the CHNS official web page states:

"At Cape Hatteras National Seashore, beach closures are established to provide undisturbed habitat needed by breeding birds to successfully nest and raise their young."

I am not sure what time of year you visit the beach but I have witnessed parking lot conditions where large (1 mile or better) sections look like they have been cultivated by a blind farmer with industrial farm machinery. To suggest that this type of use doesn't have an affect on emergent vegetation or barrier island ecology is ludicrous. (Any grad students looking for a thesis to work on?)

Did you miss the sign coming into Buxton that states "Park Closing"? It is still there, checked yesterday. Misinformation and the sky is falling alarmist rhetoric abounds on HI. Every negative economic blip is attributed to the new ORV rule but never considers the effect that the only road to the island that has been washed out for weeks at a time has or the national economic recession. The negative PR has gotten so bad that the very pro ORV access local Internet newspaper (Island Free Press) editor has addressed it more than once.

Just what do you think PINWR's version of flora and fauna is? PINWR does close sections off to pedestrians that are not as restrictive. I guess because they didn't have to deal with ORVers demanding that the same rules apply to pedestrians as apply to ORVs, in addition to not having to manage 8000 lb vehicles churning their beaches into rutted messes. Go back to the regneg meetings and listen to what the Cape Hatteras Anglers Club president said about birds and pedestrians. The pedestrians restrictions in the new rule are there because ORVers advocacy and comments. The only time ORV groups are concerned about pedestrians issues is on ORV accessible beaches. It is a token response.

The area between Frisco and Hatteras and Buxton to Avon was never designated pedestrian access beach. That beach was closed to vehicles for vehicle safety reasons, never assigned as pedestrian access only. Parts of those beaches were changed back to ORV beaches at the instance of the ORV organisations before the final rule was established. The beach is so eroded in those areas that highway 12 has been moved west 2 times in Buxton. The beach and highway 12 are close to being in the same place. The same is true outside of Hatteras where the entire road was washed away and a new inlet formed with Hurricane Isabel. Those are the pedestrian beaches the ORV side begrudgingly agreed to.The Park's new ORV rules designates, for now, those areas ( and some others) as vehicle free areas, of course the ORV advocates during regneg wanted the caveat added that should they ever become suitable (wide enough) for driving that it would be allowed. The new amended version of S. 486 continues to take dead aim at reducing and ellimimating as much vehicle free areas as possible.

From the amended bill,

"The Secretary shall undertake a public process to consider, consistent with management requirements at the National Seashore, the following changes to the Final Rule:

(2) Extending seasonal off-road vehicle routes for additional periods in the Fall and Spring if off- road vehicle use would not create resource manage- ment problems at the National Seashore.

(3) Modifying the size and location of vehicle- free areas"

Extending seasonal off-road routes (2) for additional periods because of resource concerns makes no sense because those beaches are closed for pedestrian safety concerns not resource concerns. This is just a ploy to create less vehicle free seasonal time in front of the village beaches.

So yea it is pretty clear to me the ORVers are reluctantly ok assigning pedestrians to recreate in PINWR, small areas that could be changed to ORV routes and shorten seasonal ORV closures.

The commissioner's quote came from an article in the Island Free Press look it up if you are interested. Your wrong about why I redacted the names. I left the Commissioner's name off too, just did it as a courtesy to Kurt. It is clear to me why you added a comment that lent nothing to our discussion or addressed the quote. And yes I take offence when you and your friends describe themselves as the "access side" as if anyone who doesn't agree with your view is not. My history of Hatteras Islands goes back to the late 1950's. I love everything about this Park, even driving on the beach. I particularly enjoy watching visitors enjoying the Seashore. It saddens me that these new regulations were so long in coming almost as much as the changes that required them.

Buxton, it has never been proven that previous management methods had any bearing on species success or failure. There were always closures and protections for species at the seashore for as long as I can remember.

The anti-access “groups” referred to in this article and Kurt attribute the “record nesting” and “restored wildlife” on the seashore to the new management plan. It is just not true, they know it, we know it, but it is regurgitated constantly in defense of their new plan. It is just propaganda that attempts to support their false claims. These “groups” are used to spinning the truth to garner support from their uninformed members. Its seems you've bought it, hook, line and sinker...

I don’t know anyone that is advocating "unlimited beach access" and nor anyone claiming all the beaches are closed, that is rhetoric falsely claimed by those "groups" trying to discredit the pro access groups. Also those “groups” claim that returning the previous plan would have no species protection at all, just more false rhetoric.

Yeah PINWR didn’t restrict ORV access because it affected wildlife, they just did it because it didn’t fit their version of flora and fauna. And they don’t use the extreme “pedestrian buffers” either, wonder why that is?

How about the miles of beach between Hatteras Village to Frisco and Buxton to Avon? They’ve been closed to ORVs for a long time. Again, where have you been? There was plenty of opportunity to have an equitable experience separate from that for a long time, stop pretending you didn’t. I’m beginning to wonder if you really live there.

Pulled the names from the quote, because you didn’t want to offend your buddies? Birds of the feather flock together. ;-)

Oh Brother

Buxton, that is one excellent comment.

Beachdumb it is a one way street with you guys, when baselines look good it has nothing to do with the new ORV rule but when the same baseline show a decline it is fault of the new rule.

I am suspicious when visitors to CHNS become concerned with the local economy. I feel if they were that concerned they would quit exaggerating all the hype that the beaches are closing, the Park doesn't want visitors, there is an environmental conspiracy, I'm never coming back etc. The negative PR,that people with no economic interest, have promoted has absolutely harmed this economy, all because they basically want unlimited ORV access on the Park's beaches. Under the new ORV rule you have miles of the best fishing, surfing, kiteboarding, shelling beaches to drive on outside of the known resource closures in the spring and early summer. Your combative in your face attitude is the mirror image of the modus operandi of the ORV representatives that are negotiating for ORV access. It is too bad because there could and should be responsible adaptive management practices that would provide more and better access for all.

Yep Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, glad you brought that up. PINWR is wonderful area north of Rodanthe and contiguous with CHNS. They don't allow driving on the beach. The Refugee allowed driving on its beaches years ago but stopped it, not so the greenies would have a place to sing Kumbaya but because they acknowledged ORV use as a problem for the flora and fauna of refugee's beach. They don't see pedestrian access as such. And in case you don't know management of PINWR is not connected with management of CHNS other than policing the highway and some maintenance overlaps. And no I don't think telling me to go drive 25 miles to PINWR to get that experience is equitible.

The junk I was referring to was not trash that was left but tents, umbrellas, pig cookers, volleyball nets, flags etc etc (in addition to the parking lot conditions and vehicles coming and going all day long) that people in vehicles feel they need to take to the most remote sections of the Park that I find obnoxious. You guys are welcome to all that just give me an opportunity to have an equitable experience separate from that.

Public quote from Dare county Commissioner actively involved in ORV access negotiations, individual names in quote redacted by me.

"Once again the special interest groups dedicated to the ruin of all human life on Hatteras Island are working overtime on the propaganda that supports their false claims. We must work overtime to counter the misleading tales from XXXX. XXXX , who lives in Wilmington, N.C.; XXXX. XXXXX , who lives in Chapel Hill, and XXXX. XXXX , who lives in Washington, D.C. How these men have any credibility on the status of Hatteras Island is beyond me. However, they create havoc in Washington, D.C. "

A few years ago, I tried to retire. I got voted down. How do you tell your son and all the guys that worked for you and helped you be successful that you won't help them now. I have to tell you, I had it easy running the show. I had more free time then than I do now. They made it easy for me. But, with what they are up against today trying to make it with a small business, I don't know. I fear many will fail. I can't help them as much as they helped me. They will make it and I will give them all that I can because they are all like sons to me.

I keep saying that the time for fishing will come. Maybe when we stop spending so much time fighting for the right and the access. Some times I wonder if I even know what it is all about anymore. Then somebody lights a new fire under my butt.

I am on volunteer standby to go out on head boat with kids tomorrow if they need me. HOFNOD ( Hooked on Fishing - Not on Drugs) Virginia Beach. I would get to bait hooks and release fish, probably Croakers. Great organization. Might be as close as I get to a fish for a while.

Hope you are doing well and the offer still goes if you can make it down. You owe me the opportunity to try and tweak your opinions just a little. I swear, it won't hurt a bit.

Best to you,


You better get that line wet soon, Ron, summer's practically half over....;-)


As I said, it is happening all over and a lot of folks have had enough. We may very well lose the battle but, they will know they were in a fight. I have already asked my congressman to co-sponsor HR1493. You know, I have never minded a good fight, just don't like paying for both sides just to be in it. I remember friendly exercises at PI back in the 60s. You knew who you were fighting because you were looking him in the eye. Things have not been that clear since then. Probably never will.

To Buxton,

I am sorry but I have not seen that "junk" come off those trucks on the beach, much less left there. I have seen stuff left by some that walk on and I probably would have had to think twice about carrying it back off myself. And I have done my turn cleaning the beaches. This occurs, as often, in front of camp sites, villages and "vehicle free areas". I also just remembered an old saying, "One man's junk is another man's treasure". Just came to me. Figured a little humor was due about now.

This will probably do it for me.

Thanks for the conversation.

Lets go fishing. Have not had a chance to wet a line this year. Hope you guys have.

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