Press Release | April 16, 2008

Beach driving negotiations successful

The Southern Environmental Law Center, representing Defenders of Wildlife and the National Audubon Society, joined attorneys for the National Park Service, Dare and Hyde Counties, and the Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance in filing a proposed consent decree today in U.S. District Court, that, if accepted, will resolve a lawsuit challenging an interim NPS plan to protect wildlife from the impacts of beach driving along Cape Hatteras National Seashore. If approved, the agreement would safeguard wildlife while still allowing residents and visitors to enjoy fishing, surfing, beach driving and other activities at the Seashore.

“In negotiating this compromise, we worked hard to ensure a balance between natural resources and public enjoyment of Cape Hatteras National Seashore,” said Derb Carter, attorney with the non-profit Southern Environmental Law Center. “Should this agreement be accepted by the Court, we are hopeful that visitors and beach lovers will be able to enjoy all this unique region has to offer, from surf fishing to bird watching.”

The consent decree must now be accepted by Judge Terrence Boyle. If accepted by the judge, the consent decree becomes legally binding, enforceable against the parties, and effectively ends the lawsuit brought against the Park Service last fall. The proposed consent decree would require a final ORV management plan and resolution to be implemented no later than April 1, 2011.

Until a final ORV management plan is adopted, the proposed consent decree would require the NPS to take immediate actions to address declining populations of nesting shorebirds and waterbirds on the Seashore, provide enhanced protection to the threatened piping plover, and provide additional protections to the three species of endangered or threatened sea turtles that nest on the Seashore. The proposal also calls for public education on beach driving and the protection of the region’s natural resources.

“This proposed agreement should lay to rest any concerns that wildlife can't coexist with beach driving at Cape Hatteras,” said Jason Rylander, staff attorney for Defenders of Wildlife. “The partnership that put this deal together has demonstrated that we can protect our wildlife heritage while ensuring that traditions like beach driving, fishing and surfing will continue along the Seashore.”

The consent decree would expire upon the adoption of a final ORV management plan and regulation, a process currently being undertaken by the Park Service and involving various stakeholders, including the conservation groups involved in today’s agreement.

“This agreement would improve protection of bird species that have shown alarming declines over the last decades, while also providing for the enjoyment of the Seashore by all visitors,” said Chris Canfield, executive director of Audubon North Carolina. “We believe birds and sea turtles would be given the chance they need while the Park Service develops a final and more comprehensive management plan – a process we look forward to participating in.”

In the lawsuit filed last October, the conservation organizations challenged the failure of the NPS to have an adequate management plan in place to protect birds, sea turtles and other natural resources from the impacts of beach driving. In a court filing on March 14, NPS stated the conservation groups were likely to win the lawsuit and the parties turned to fashioning a consent decree to resolve the legal issues in the case.

Federal law prohibits driving on national seashores unless the NPS has a plan and special regulations that designate areas for driving and assures protection of wildlife and natural resources. In 1972, President Nixon ordered all federal agencies, including the National Park Service, to regulate beach driving to protect natural resources. Most recently, U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle issued an order concluding that driving on the Seashore is illegal as the Park Service has failed to adopt beach driving regulations.

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