The Battle Over a North Carolina Beach Continues

The Battle Over a North Carolina Beach Continues

On Cape Hatteras National Seashore, a revolutionary management plan is finally putting embattled sea turtles and birds on near-equal footing with ORV drivers. But powerful interests are working hard to undo it.

By Ted Williams/Photography by Emiliano Granado
Published: September-October 2012

There's no fish-and-wildlife issue I've complained about more than the mismanagement of off-road vehicles (ORVs) on public land (see "Beach Bums," for example). But there I was on Memorial Day weekend 2012, tooling around in one on Cape Hatteras National Seashore, the 67 miles of "Outer Banks" that seal Pamlico Sound and the coast of North Carolina from the Atlantic. What's more, I was being guided by two public enemies, at least of the local populace. Had I gone over to the dark side?

It depends what you believe to be important. My guides, two Audubon activists, had instructed me not to identify them because they're being threatened and harassed for their wildlife advocacy. As pariahs on the Outer Banks, they fear for their lives.

Observing shorebirds and waterbirds isn't easy when these barrier-beach islands are packed with tourists. But I was seeking something else--answers to how the National Park Service's new plan for managing beach driving was working and how the motorized-access lobby was responding.

When I visited the seashore in 2005 and 2006, I found it managed more for ORVs than for wildlife or the general public. Shorebirds, colonial waterbirds, and sea turtles were at historic lows and declining. Hatchlings and eggs were being crushed. Turtles were being lured away from the sea by headlights. Birds were being driven off breeding and feeding habitat. Deep tire ruts trapped chicks and impeded pedestrians. ORV traffic intimidated and endangered the public.

Now, thanks to a lawsuit filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Audubon and Defenders of Wildlife, the Park Service is doing better. On February 15, 2012, the agency implemented its "final plan" for managing motorized access. While far from perfect, that plan is revolutionary in that it places birds, sea turtles, and pedestrians on nearly equal footing with ORVs.

But pushed by parochial interests, North Carolina lawmakers--Representative Walter Jones (R), Senator Richard Burr (R), and Senator Kay Hagan (D)--are moving to nix the plan and plunge the seashore back into the motorized chaos I encountered on my earlier visits. While the "Beach Roadkill Bill," as their legislation is called by its many critics, succeeded in the House, it may fail in the Senate. Now when tourists enter Outer Banks shops they're provided with laptops and asked to send Senate Democrats this message: "Audubon lies; the [bird] numbers are lies." A friend of mine overheard this exchange between two female shoppers: "I can't believe Audubon makes up such lies. Who would have thought that? So glad we know now."

I asked Walker Golder, Audubon North Carolina's deputy director, to assess the final plan. "It's okay, not great," he replied. "Provisions for sea turtles are pretty good. Night driving is prohibited during nesting season. The plan doesn't provide adequate protection for nonbreeding birds. Different species have separate needs. Red knots move through late in the season. Piping plovers move through early in the season. You can't just focus on breeding and ignore nonbreeding. And the plan doesn't consider how breeding habitats change on barrier beaches."

That said, Golder and the entire environmental community agree that the final plan is light years ahead of what preceded it--no plan at all till June 13, 2007 (in violation of a 1972 executive order by President Nixon requiring the Department of the Interior to complete a regulatory plan for ORVs within six months), and from then till April 29, 2008, a grossly inadequate "interim plan." So for 35 years the seashore had flouted the Endangered Species Act, and for 36 it had flouted its enabling legislation, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the Park Service's own "Organic Act," which directs the agency to "conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein . . . leave[ing] them unimpaired."

Having worked diligently to get a decent interim plan, Audubon and Defenders were left with no option other than to sue. On April 30, 2008, they won a consent decree (a legally binding agreement signed by plaintiffs and defendants and enforced by the court) that provided the first significant protections for birds and sea turtles as well as a blueprint for the final plan. 

 

Meanwhile, the park service was attempting a "negotiated rulemaking," bringing in the U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution. The idea was to get the ORV and environmental communities to engage in rational discourse and compromise on regulations. Twenty-eight negotiators were selected. The four from state and federal governments said little. Of the remainder, 17 represented motorized access; seven, wildlife-pedestrian interests.

The facilitators directed negotiators to "commit to the principles of decency, civility, and tolerance," proscribed "personal attacks, name calling, and other such negative behaviors," and cheerily predicted that "the negotiated rulemaking process should not delay either the notice or the final regulation."

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Ted Williams

Ted Williams is freelance writer.

Type: Author | From: Audubon Magazine

Comments

the truth is....compromise but where is it?

Dear Audubon and it's many readers/believers you must beware of false teachings and lies that have been portrayed to you about the REAL TRUTH of Hatteras Island beaches and wildlife.

First short background on me....I am a law enforcement officer that patrols the beaches daily inside the park and part of my job is for the preservation of wildlife and the environment so I'm not hole heartedly against destroying what God has gave us to utilize but rather keeping it here for those to enjoy now and in the future.

So now as Paul Harvey would say, "the rest of the story." Audubon would have you to believe that the noxious horror show is;

"ORV drivers have miles and miles of beach to barrel along in their behemoth vehicles, the most noxious among them oppose any driving restrictions whatsoever that would protect beach-nesting birds—even if ignoring those rules means crushing imperiled piping plover and least tern chicks"

however the real "horror show" is that the fact the Audubon, Defenders of Wildlife, and NPS trap and kill other wildlife that they deem "predatory" just to offset the balance of mother nature in efforts to show growth in the claimed species they are protecting. There is picture evidence of a NPS ranger actually shooting a fox on the beach in broad daylight! It's crazy to think that the same groups preaching about protecting and preserving wildlife are playing mother nature and have trapped and killed more natural wildlife in recent years than could ever be fathomed run over or injured from any beach driving in the last 50years since the parks beginning. So beware of the false prophets and teachings that they would have you believe including data. Data is such a great/evil thing it can be construed and made to look as good or bad as you want depending on which way you want it to favor your opinion. Beware it's done on both sides and it's time for an independent non biased organization to give each side the TRUTH! ........now moving on back to the main story of those "behemoth" vehicles......

This is certainly not the case. Again like I said I am on the beaches daily patrolling and these massive "behemoth" vehicles that Audubon speaks of is nothing more than your average 4x4 SUV or pick-up truck that you can get at your local dealership. As a side note Audubon would also have you believe that our beaches are easily accessible from a parking lot, or something to that nature, however truth is 90% of our beach is only accessible by vehicle driving to the location that suits you, our beaches are so remote that walking with all your beach gear,kids,elderly etc is just not feasible. Now yes there are a few vehicles, A FEW! that is, that have been modified to look good, lift kits, and slightly bigger tires to make riding OFF ROAD easier. However again these vehicles ARE NOT riding throughout the dunes or acting a fool on the beaches. 99% of beach drivers are orderly, respectful, and follow common rules of the road which also apply to beach driving, including the speed limits which are marked on the beaches at 15mph. Again I see these vehicles and observe the driving habits ON A DAILY BASIS, but others would have you believe that individuals are taking all their redneck jacked up, ridiculous vehicles out to the beach tearing it up, running thru the dunes (which are where the nesting beach birds are) and just showing complete disregard for the environment and its habitat, when in fact the real people out on the beach are families with young kids, elderly folks who peacefully drive out to the beach to sit and gaze at the beauty of sand and water, taking their daily naps in the truck just so they can get out of the house during the day and fathers bringing out smiles and giggles teaching their sons/daughters how to bait their hook and catch their first fish or in my case continuing to make life long memories with my father/grandfather relaxing and fishing on these remote beaches only accessible by vehicle. I urge you to visit this beautiful place we call Hatteras Island and really see for yourself exactly what I see, The Truth.

The truth is that there is compromise to protecting species here, that compromise doesn't want to be seen or heard from in the special interest groups which is really sad. It seems as if they would rather strong arm a small community, paint them in a negative light and disrupt the livelihoods of the island natives. I wish we could come together and reach some reasonable compromises but I don't think that's going to happen anytime soon b/c it seems as if all this mess is creating a nice monetary gain for the special interest groups involved. So again I urge you to not just read what Audubon would have you believe about our island but gather your family and come see and visit for yourself, talk with the locals to hear, see and live the TRUTH that is Hatteras Island,NC

beach bullies are on both sides

Dear Audubon and it's many readers/believers you must beware of false teachings and lies that have been portrayed to you about the REAL TRUTH of Hatteras Island beaches and wildlife.

First short background on me....I am a law enforcement officer that patrols the beaches daily inside the park and part of my job is for the preservation of wildlife and the environment so I'm not hole heartedly against destroying what God has gave us to utilize but rather keeping it here for those to enjoy now and in the future.

So now as Paul Harvey would say, "the rest of the story." Audubon would have you to believe that the noxious horror show is;

"ORV drivers have miles and miles of beach to barrel along in their behemoth vehicles, the most noxious among them oppose any driving restrictions whatsoever that would protect beach-nesting birds—even if ignoring those rules means crushing imperiled piping plover and least tern chicks"

however the real "horror show" is that the fact the Audubon, Defenders of Wildlife, and NPS trap and kill other wildlife that they deem "predatory" just to offset the balance of mother nature in efforts to show growth in the claimed species they are protecting. There is picture evidence of a NPS ranger actually shooting a fox on the beach in broad daylight! It's crazy to think that the same groups preaching about protecting and preserving wildlife are playing mother nature and have trapped and killed more natural wildlife in recent years than could ever be fathomed run over or injured from any beach driving in the last 50years since the parks beginning. So beware of the false prophets and teachings that they would have you believe including data. Data is such a great/evil thing it can be construed and made to look as good or bad as you want depending on which way you want it to favor your opinion. Beware it's done on both sides and it's time for an independent non biased organization to give each side the TRUTH! ........now moving on back to the main story of those "behemoth" vehicles......

This is certainly not the case. Again like I said I am on the beaches daily patrolling and these massive "behemoth" vehicles that Audubon speaks of is nothing more than your average 4x4 SUV or pick-up truck that you can get at your local dealership. As a side note Audubon would also have you believe that our beaches are easily accessible from a parking lot, or something to that nature, however truth is 90% of our beach is only accessible by vehicle driving to the location that suits you, our beaches are so remote that walking with all your beach gear,kids,elderly etc is just not feasible. Now yes there are a few vehicles, A FEW! that is, that have been modified to look good, lift kits, and slightly bigger tires to make riding OFF ROAD easier. However again these vehicles ARE NOT riding throughout the dunes or acting a fool on the beaches. 99% of beach drivers are orderly, respectful, and follow common rules of the road which also apply to beach driving, including the speed limits which are marked on the beaches at 15mph. Again I see these vehicles and observe the driving habits ON A DAILY BASIS, but others would have you believe that individuals are taking all their redneck jacked up, ridiculous vehicles out to the beach tearing it up, running thru the dunes (which are where the nesting beach birds are) and just showing complete disregard for the environment and its habitat, when in fact the real people out on the beach are families with young kids, elderly folks who peacefully drive out to the beach to sit and gaze at the beauty of sand and water, taking their daily naps in the truck just so they can get out of the house during the day and fathers bringing out smiles and giggles teaching their sons/daughters how to bait their hook and catch their first fish or in my case continuing to make life long memories with my father/grandfather relaxing and fishing on these remote beaches only accessible by vehicle. I urge you to visit this beautiful place we call Hatteras Island and really see for yourself exactly what I see, The Truth.

The truth is that there is compromise to protecting species here, that compromise doesn't want to be seen or heard from in the special interest groups which is really sad. It seems as if they would rather strong arm a small community, paint them in a negative light and disrupt the livelihoods of the island natives. I wish we could come together and reach some reasonable compromises but I don't think that's going to happen anytime soon b/c it seems as if all this mess is creating a nice monetary gain for the special interest groups involved. So again I urge you to not just read what Audubon would have you believe about our island but gather your family and come see and visit for yourself, talk with the locals to hear, see and live the TRUTH that is Hatteras Island,NC

Hypocrisy: On Hatteras Island

Even though the Audubon has made some horrific animal rights mistakes,such as letting any animal be killed instead of trap and relocate especially cats who do not go to the beach or kill anything resembling an endangered bird;the local animal abusive culture( which includes running down any animals for fun that try and cross the road - even off the pavement,using stray cats as targets to shoot at and shooting endangered birds like pelicans by the dozen)(after Irene and Sandy they ran over downed Cormorants like bowling pins) caused environmentalists to take action.The very people who are crying about their loss of money instead of cleaning up the animal abuse in their community decided it would be best economically to insult every animal loving person on the planet and wonder why they are being boycotted!Then there is the Real Estate/Appraiser fraud where special people can still get appraised at full price when everyone elses houses are down 45%.Now that Hwy 12 needs fixing they want Gov. McCrory to give the "Environmentalist Terrorist's" tax money to them for their road. All while asking for the Endangered Species Act to be repealed.While Comm. Warren Judge has been apprised of the local hypocritical nepotistic economic suicide pact,he still does not have any plan to protect the Islands Wildlife off of the Park other than "we aint rich enough yet".

Beach closures

Fishermen and birders alike should just keep going south to Ocracoke Island. While there is some friction here over this issue, it is a much more civil discussion. There is plenty of reason to have a discussion and there are some ways the NPS could accomplish its mission while still being more open to the concerns expressed by the beach drivers. Bottom line: come to Ocracoke - more open beach than closed, more open minded than closed. Welcome ALL.

I have been vacationing to

I have been vacationing to the Outer Banks since 1971 and have been driving on Hatteras since the early 1990's. I am not one of those motorheads who believe that Hatteras seashore exists for them to drive unencumbered upon. I am also a birder and lover of the seashore. I would not under any circumstance drive in an area in which plovers were nesting or could nest. I have volunterred on several sea turtle projects along the East Coast and adopted one nest in Kill Devil Hills in 2002. I also own property in OBX and spend most of my summers there in one of them, rotating between properties in Avon and Kill Devil Hills. What has happened in Hatteras is that the motor heads believe the beach exists for them. Period. They complain about the density of trucks due to beach closures, but all this indicates is that too many vehicles are permitted. The thugs that run around forcing local businesses to put the anti plover stickers in their windows are pathetic. One of them threatened me last fall in a bar/resturant in Nags Head (I was wearing an Audobon Gulf Coast Christmas bird count tee shirt). A couple of his rabble friends stood up, but when they saw who I was with (a former Purdue U linebacker), they quietly sat backed down. He then advised me to "keep an eye on my care". For those of you who don't drive on the beaches, you should know that what happens in the summer high season is not a line up of people fishing. It's a line up of people parking and primarily drinking. The beach basically becomes a tailgate party equal to a tailgate party on a fall afternoon at any major college football venue. Old time OBX off-road fishermen do not frequent the beaches during this time frame due to this scene. We go in March - April and then after September. This isn't about hurting OBX econcomies - this is about extreme anti-government politicians that use propaganda and misinformation to rouse up the rabble. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Audubon society is a

Audubon society is a communist organization that hates children.

Audubon society is a

Audubon society is a communist organization that hates children.

Cape Hatteras Natl. Seashore

The situation at CHNS involving ORVs and their miscreant operators is bizarre. It's a travesty when a few narrowly focused people believe that they can own a place that was set aside to protect an entire ecosystem for all visitors not just a perverse few. The last time we visited CHNS, the ORV people were so contentious and rude that I gave up fishing and left for a more amenable place two states away. From many of the comments I've heard from them, there is no amount of science based data that could change their misguided minds. They are misfits who need to go.

Cape Hatteras Natl. Seashore

It's a shame that a few individuals can try to disrupt and sabotage efforts to protect some of our ecological treasures so that they may pursue their narrow interests. The last time I visited CHNS, ORVs and their operators were so contentious that I gave up trying to fish and left for more peaceful and pristine locations two states away. Our National Seashores are created to protect ecosystems, not to favor a few who care nothing about nature and only about themselves.

Open all beaches

Orv do not hurt wildlife. If it wasn't for the fishing there would be no cape Hatteras. How do you people sleep at night knowing your hurting so many business by trying to do something so stupid by trying to close beaches. The Audubon are nothing but complete liars and fakes. I will continue to drive on the beach how I want and will not hurt and wildlife. I can't wait till the OBPA wins and anyone who even says the word Audubon will be kicked off the island.

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