Press Release | June 20, 2014

Federal Court Upholds Successful Balance of Wildlife and Tourism at Cape Hatteras

A federal court today upheld the successful balance of wildlife and tourism at Cape Hatteras National Seashore under U.S. National Park Service management of beach driving by off road vehicles (ORVs). The National Park Service management safeguards beach-nesting wildlife and pedestrian beachgoers on national seashore beaches while still allowing beach driving within the park.

“The Park Service’s plan is based on the best available science. Under it, Hatteras Island is enjoying record-setting tourism proceeds and wildlife breeding success,” said Julie Youngman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The plan has created a win-win situation for all Seashore visitors. We’re pleased the court ruled that the Park Service conducted a thorough review and complied with all applicable federal laws in adopting the plan.”

In 2012, Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance (CHAPA) sued the National Park Service, asking the court to set aside the plan. Defenders of Wildlife, National Audubon Society, and National Parks Conservation Association, represented by Southern Environmental Law Center, intervened in support of the Park Service and its rule. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina entered a judgment today in favor of the National Park Service and those conservation groups and against CHAPA on each of CHAPA’s claims, ruling that the plan did not violate federal laws.

“It’s just common sense to balance beach driving and wildlife protection, and it’s working: sea turtle nest numbers have increased and tourism is thriving,” said Jason Rylander, senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “Because the court made the right decision today, people and wildlife alike will continue to benefit from the Park Service’s sensible management plan.”

According to nesting numbers from the National Park Service, 254 sea turtle nests were recorded in 2013, by far the most nests ever documented at Cape Hatteras National Seashore (up from 82 nests in 2007, the year before current wildlife protections were put in place). At the same time, visitor gross occupancy proceeds on Hatteras Island in 2013 were the highest on record, according to the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau.

“It is a great day for birds and sea turtles that depend on the beaches of Cape Hatteras National Seashore,” said Walker Golder of Audubon North Carolina. “The recovery of sea turtles and birds has been well underway since the Park Service adopted a responsible management plan. Today’s decision will let the recovery continue for the benefit of both wildlife and people. North Carolina’s beach-sharing formula is showing success and is a model for coastal states throughout America. The benefits to wildlife and future generations are priceless.”

As many as 15 threatened piping plovers per year have fledged in the years since off-road vehicle management practices were implemented in April 2008. Before then, the numbers of that shorebird species within Cape Hatteras National Seashore had declined to an all-time low of no chicks surviving to fledge in 2002 and 2004.

Based on public input and peer-reviewed science, the current 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 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. Additional 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 executive 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, the Cape Hatteras rule finally addressed those requirements. Today’s court ruling rejected CHAPA’s claims that the plan was unlawful, and upheld the rule instead.


Note to editors:

The Gross Occupancy Summary from the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau can be found at

A chart of Hatteras Island Occupancy Revenue 2007-2012 is at

Charts showing numbers of rare wildlife at Cape Hatteras over the years are at

About National Audubon Society

The National Audubon Society has more than one million members and supporters, offices in 22 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.

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

About Southern Environmental Law Center

The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of almost 60 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use.


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