Bill Passed by Senate Committee Undermines Successful Balance at Cape Hatteras
Conservation groups today said that bill S.B. 486, sponsored by Senators Hagan and Burr and approved today by the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, is unnecessary and undermines successful National Park Service management of beach driving at Cape Hatteras National Seashore under which both local tourism and wildlife have thrived. The committee chair, Senator Wyden (D-OR), worked to modify the bill in an effort to minimize damage to wildlife and the integrity of the park before its passage by the committee.
As introduced by Senators Hagan (D-NC) and Burr (R-NC), the bill would have eliminated current National Park Service safeguards for beach-nesting wildlife and pedestrian beachgoers to favor instead trucks on park beaches. As modified in committee today, the bill requires the National 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.
“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 final step by the National Park Service in 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 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.
About National Audubon Society
The National Audubon Society has more than one million members and supporters, offices in 23 states, and a presence in all 50 states through more than 450 certified chapters, nature centers, sanctuaries, and education and science programs. Locally, Audubon maintains a North Carolina state office which works on behalf of Audubon’s more than 14,000 members and supporters in ten chapters across state. Audubon’s mission is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity. It carries out that mission nationally through a variety of activities including education, habitat conservation and public policy advocacy. www.ncaudubon.org
About Defenders of Wildlife
Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org.