Conservation Groups Seek Responsible Off-Road Vehicle Management within National Park
After a record-breaking year for wildlife at Cape Hatteras National Seashore and visitor occupancy in Dare County, NC, conservation groups are studying the Final Environmental Impact Statement released yesterday by the National Park Service as its latest step in the process of establishing rules for managing beach driving within the seashore. The groups will evaluate the plan to ensure it balances the interests of all seashore users and fulfills the park service’s responsibility to preserve the seashore’s natural resources, including rare sea turtles, birds, and their young, for present and future generations.
The preferred alternative announced yesterday falls short of the U.S. Department of Interior’s own scientists’ recommendations regarding the measures needed to protect wildlife within the national park.
As a unit of the National Park System, Cape Hatteras has been required for decades under federal law to establish guidelines for the use of off-road vehicles (ORVs) in the seashore to minimize harm to the natural resources of the seashore in accordance with the best available science.
“The park service’s final rules must provide adequate vehicle-free space and protections for both pedestrians and wildlife, while still allowing responsible beach driving in some areas,” said Julie Youngman, senior attorney, Southern Environmental Law Center. “We look forward to working with the park service to build on the success of this record-breaking year.”
The park service’s preferred plan in today’s statement allows ORV use on the majority of the seashore. Twenty-eight of the seashore’s 67 miles are set aside as year-round ORV routes, with only 26 miles designated as year-round vehicle-free areas for pedestrians, families, and wildlife. The remaining 13 miles of seashore are seasonally open to ORVs. The plan also proposes new parking facilities, ORV ramps, and water shuttles to increase visitor access.
“As demonstrated by record numbers of visitors and wildlife this year, it is entirely possible for Cape Hatteras to be responsibly shared and enjoyed,” said Jason Rylander, attorney for Defenders of Wildlife. “We hope the park service’s final plan will strike an appropriate balance that meets the needs of the Seashore’s many users.”
2010 was a record-breaking year at Cape Hatteras for wildlife and visitor occupancy under similar, temporary rules for off-road vehicle use within Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Those rules were implemented in April 2008, and include wildlife protections similar to the ones proposed today by the National Park Service.
According to numbers from the National Park Service, sea turtles laid a record 153 nests on the park’s beaches, the most nests ever documented at the seashore and a substantial increase over previous years. Additionally, a record 15 piping plover chicks survived to fledge or learn to fly, the highest number ever documented since record-keeping began in 1992 and a substantial increase since an all-time low when no chicks survived to fledge in either 2002 or 2004.
At the same time, Dare County’s visitor occupancy through August 2010 exceeded prior years for the same period. In addition, according to press reports, the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau reported that Hatteras Island visitors spent a record-setting $27.8 million on lodging during the month of July, which was an 18.5 percent increase over July 2009 and exceeded all preceding years.
“Numbers since 2008 demonstrate that under science-based wildlife management, nesting birds and turtles can rebound, tourism can thrive, and wildlife and people can share the beach at Cape Hatteras,” said Walker Golder, acting executive director of Audubon North Carolina. “The park service’s plan currently falls short of providing adequate science-based, year-round protections for the seashore’s natural resources.”
Note to editors:
• Charts showing data for wildlife numbers at Cape Hatteras National Seashore are available at: https://www.southernenvironment.org/uploads/pages/file/hatteras_beach_driving/11-15-10%20ORV%20Species%20Rebounding%20Graphs.pdf
• Dare Occupancy Receipts Reach an All-Time High, The Outer Banks Voice, Sept. 16, 2010, available at http://outerbanksvoice.com/2010/09/16/occupancy-dollars-hit-an-all-time-high/. See also chart published on the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau website: http://www.outerbanks.org/pdf/Gross_Occupancy_Summary_receipts.pdf
• Video of birds and sea turtles and photos of Cape Hatteras habitats and birdlife in the park are available by contacting email@example.com
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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 10,000 members and supporters in nine 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.