Press Release | March 7, 2013

Senators File Bill to Overturn Successful Balance of Tourism and Wildlife at Cape Hatteras

After a record-breaking year for both local tourism and beach-nesting sea turtles at Cape Hatteras National Seashore under a rule that manages beach driving, Senators Burr (R-NC) and Hagan (D-NC) today filed a bill to overturn it.

“Visitation is up, wildlife is making a comeback and the local economy is improving, all under the Park Service’s current off-road vehicle management plan,” said Jason Rylander, senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “You can’t argue with success, but some politicians insist on doing just that.”

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 of Dare County during the bird and turtle nesting season months of April, May, June, July, and September 2012 was the highest on record, according to the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau.  Hatteras Island also enjoyed record-setting occupancy in April, June, July, and September 2012.

“The Cape Hatteras beach driving rule strikes a balance that led to record-setting success for both tourism and sea turtles,” said Julie Youngman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center.  “The rule’s a proven win-win for both the local economy and wildlife so this Congressional bill to overturn it makes no sense.”

The off-road vehicle management rule 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 balances the needs of birds and sea turtles with recreational enjoyment by people,” said Walker Golder, Audubon North Carolina.  “We are very disappointed that the senators would reintroduce this misguided and unnecessary legislation.”

Eleven rare piping plover chicks survived to fledge (learned 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.

According to the National Park Service, it sold a total of 27,109 ORV permits (7,456 annual and 19,653 weekly permits) for its fiscal year 2012. The plan under the new rule proposes new parking facilities, access ramps, and water shuttles to increase visitor access to Cape Hatteras National Seashore beaches.

The National Park Service rule designates 42 percent of the seashore’s miles of beaches as year-round ORV routes with only 39 percent designated as year-round vehicle-free areas for pedestrians, families, and wildlife. The remaining 19 percent of the seashore’s beaches are seasonally open to ORVs, but reserved for pedestrians during the peak tourism seasons.  Some areas may be temporarily closed during nesting season to allow birds and sea turtles to nest and raise their young.

As a unit of the National Park System, Cape Hatteras National Seashore has been required under federal law since 1972, when President Nixon issued an executive order to establish guidelines that manage off-road vehicles in such a way to minimize harm to the wildlife and other natural resources of the seashore 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.

Note to Editors:
The Gross Occupancy Summary from the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau can be found at
A chart of Hatteras Island Occupancy 2007-2012 is at https://www.southernenvironment.org
Charts showing numbers of rare wildlife at Cape Hatteras over the years are at https://www.southernenvironment.org

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.

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


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Kathleen Sullivan

Senior Communications Manager (NC)

Phone: 919-945-7106
Email: [email protected]