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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.


Kurt .........

Sooner or later the American public will realize that the NPS is systematically removing all of us from public lands they manage. This effort at changing NPS plans at Cape Hatteras by the rank and file people of America will be much like the 'shot heard around the world'.

The big winners in this effort are the lawyers of the Southern Environmental Law Center, Defenders of Wildlife and National Audubon.......and the ones we (taxpayer) pay at NPS and DOI.

Please remember that turtles reproduce in 3 year cycles.......The record numbers of turtle nests cited above were hatched 3 years ago before the changes were made at Cape Hatteras.

Good job being mouthpiece for the lawyers representing people who in all likeliness have never ben to Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area. Your article is a copy of their diatribe published yesterday in reply to the BI-PARTISAN effort by US Senators and the people that live and love OBX.

Hatrasfevr, did those groups also cite Sen. Hagan's motivations for introducing the bill?

Also, visitation to Cape Hatteras National Seashore last year was 2.30 million, an increase of nearly 400,000 from 2011, when visitation was 1.96 million. If the Park Service is trying to remove folks from the national seashore, they don't seem to be doing a very good job...

I don't know enough about the CHNS issues to come down one way or the other regarding the management policy. However, I believe this legislation is yet another example of undue interference in NPS operations. Hire the folks to run the parks and let them run the parks. If you don't like what they are doing them, fire them or change their mission but Congress shouldn't be trying to micro-manage their operations.


I just agreed with a post by ec!

Have a great day, friend. I hope the hiking weather is as good in your territory this morning as it in mine.

Kurt, 2011 visitation numbers were affected by virtually no access to the island. Remember this little issue:


Kurt, do you really want to cite turtle nesting numbers in this article? You should take off the blinders and realize turtles nest in cycles. The turtle nesting numbers hit records all over the south eastern coastline and the new NPS policies have nothing to do with its increase.

There are many reasons why 2002-2004 PIPL numbers were low, here are couple:

1. The NPS didn't have the resources to find them and have since increased the number of biologists.

2. Predation was high and have since killed thousands of predators.

3. Particarlly bad spring storms and storm overwash wiped out established nests.

This new legislation still provides resource protection. The DOI/NPS had to accept this reassement because they knew the new plan was jeopardy due to failing to properly follow NEPA process, among other mistakes they made.

Beachdumb, if you've been a long-time reader, you might recall that back in 2010 I wrote about record turtle nesting at Cape Hatteras and the whims of population swings. The experts I talked with back then said yearly swings aren't unusual, so yes, I'm aware of cycles.


Traveler's citing last year's numbers is neither pro nor con the issue at hand, but merely ... citing the numbers. You certainly can argue with the conservation groups and the spin they put on it, but I don't think I provided the spin. And the economic/visitation numbers came from the county.

As for visitation, 2012's attendance was the highest in nine years...

Huh? Of course you provided the spin. Its in this article YOU posted or did someone write this article for you? Its painfully obvious you just copied most of it from the SELC press release.

And you continue to spin, you can see visitation has yet to recover to the levels it was before the Audubon and NPS started this mess.

New policies in place, larger closures, and less beach. The numbers aren't in your favor:

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