News | June 17, 2015

Protections reduced for beach-nesting birds, sea turtles at Cape Hatteras

By decreasing the required space between the tires of off-road vehicles and beach-nesting wildlife, as announced yesterday, the National Park Service threatens gains made by these animals that were thriving, along with tourism, at Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

The new off-road vehicle management plan was developed in response to federal legislation passed in late 2014 that required the National Park Service to review its current guidelines. The existing plan, parts of which have been in place since 2008, safeguarded beach-nesting wildlife and pedestrian beachgoers on national seashore beaches while still allowing beach driving within the park.    

The ORV management plan in place in recent years led to notable growth in beach-nesting wildlife populations, while maintaining 61 percent of the seashore’s miles of beaches as year-round or seasonal ORV routes. Some indicators of the plan’s success:

  • 2014 was a record-setting year for tourism spending in the Hatteras area, with more than $170 million spent
  • Sea turtle nesting numbers are up significantly from 82 in 2007, before the plan was implemented, to 254 in 2013
  • Piping plovers, a threatened species, are raising fledglings every year in Cape Hatteras after raising none in 2002 & 2004

Despite these positive indicators, in December 2014 Congress passed a law that included a last-minute amendment requiring the National Park Service to review and potentially modify wildlife protections, but only if the changes are supported by science and consistent with all applicable federal laws. Conservation groups will review today’s final plan for compliance with those limitations and to ensure that the NPS’s plan will not endanger wildlife or disrupt the present successful balance between pedestrian and motorized uses of the beach.

As Geoff Gisler, senior attorney in our Chapel Hill office noted, “stronger, science-based wildlife buffers used by the National Park Service in recent years saw record-setting wildlife breeding success. The departure from those protections unnecessarily threatens these recent successes.”