Press Release | April 29, 2015

No Need to Disrupt Thriving Wildlife and Tourism at Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Chapel Hill, N.C.—The proven track record of both beach-nesting wildlife and tourism thriving in Cape Hatteras National Seashore under successful National Park Service management of off-road vehicles should not be disrupted, said conservation groups commenting on proposed changes announced today.  Earlier today, the National Park Service issued an environmental assessment evaluating its proposed response to federal legislation passed in December 2014 requiring the National Park Service to review and potentially revise limited parts of its off-road vehicle management plan.

In the seven years under the National Park Service’s science-based management of beach driving by ORVs, beach-nesting birds, sea turtles, and tourism have all thrived.  The current management plan safeguards beach-nesting wildlife and pedestrian beachgoers on national seashore beaches while still allowing beach driving within the park. 

“Hatteras Island is enjoying record-setting tourism proceeds and wildlife breeding success under the current science-based plan,” said Julie Youngman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center.  “The current park service plan has created a win-win situation for all seashore visitors that should be continued.”

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 where doing so could allow beach drivers to bypass nests and chicks to reach areas of the beach that are open to ORV use but temporarily inaccessible, but only if the changes are supported by science and all applicable federal laws.  The conservation groups will review today’s proposal for compliance with those limitations and to ensure that the NPS’s proposal will not endanger wildlife or disrupt the present successful balance between pedestrian and motorized uses of the beach.

“We all share the responsibility to protect the sea turtles and shorebirds that call Cape Hatteras National Seashore home,” says Jason Rylander, senior staff attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “The National Park Service needs to stay true to its mission of science-based management. If these changes have a negative impact on imperiled beach wildlife, it will be critical to restore the current protective buffer zones.”

A new NPS report for 2014 shows that over 2.8 million visitors to Cape Hatteras National Seashore and two nearby national historical sites spent more than $170 million in communities in and around the parks. This spending supported approximately 2,683 jobs in the local area and had a cumulative benefit to the local economy of more than $212 million dollars.  With the current beach driving restrictions in place, Hatteras Island enjoyed record-setting spending on tourist occupancy last summer.

According to nesting numbers from the National Park Service, 124 sea turtle nests were recorded in 2014 and 254 in 2013  (up from 82 nests in 2007, the year before current wildlife protections were put in place, with 2013’s number being by far the most nests ever documented at Cape Hatteras National Seashore). 

“Because the current plan is based on peer-reviewed science and has been so successful, we’ll be looking hard at any changes to wildlife protections,” said Heather Hahn, Executive Director of Audubon North Carolina.
 
As many as 15 threatened piping plovers have fledged in a single year in the years since ORV 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, with no chicks surviving to fledge in 2002 and 2004. 
 
The National Park Service current rule already 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 years later, the Cape Hatteras rule finally addressed those requirements. 

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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. 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

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. www.SouthernEnvironment.org

Press Contacts

Kathleen Sullivan

Senior Communications Manager (NC)

Phone: 919-967-1450
Email: ksullivan@selcnc.org