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.
"Restricting ORV use on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore has a negative impact on local communities and the local economy," proclaims Senator Burr. Nosing this popular untruth all the way from Bellevue, Washington, the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise descended on the Outer Banks like a blowfly to a squashed shorebird. In one of his "Conservative Action Alerts," entitled "Big Green Beach Bullies Strangling Cape Hatteras Families," the center's executive vice president, wise-use guru Ron Arnold, accuses Audubon and Defenders of Wildlife of "choking off the lifeblood of communities that depend on" the seashore.
But in the four years since the consent decree restricted beach-driving, Dare County, which includes the seashore, has prospered while North Carolina's other coastal counties have not. Occupancy tax revenues hit a record high in 2010 and a near-record high in 2011, despite Hurricane Irene, which blocked road access to Hatteras Island from August 27 to October 10. Hatteras Island visitors spent $27.8 million on lodging in July 2010, an all-time record until July 2011, when they spent $29.59 million. Visitation to the entire seashore has hovered between a 2006 low of 2,125,005 and a 2009 high of 2,282,543. And the state reports that during the period of recession from 2009 to 2010, Dare County experienced an 8.8 percent growth in tourism, from $766.56 million in 2009 to $834.29 million in 2010.
Why the boom? I asked Golder. "Visitors can now go to the beach without worrying about getting run over," he replied. "They can walk without having to slog through eight-inch-deep tire ruts. They can have a memorable, safe experience without all these vehicles blasting by them. I think people have enjoyed the return of birds to the beach."
Ever since I linked my "Beach Bums" piece in a fishing/conservation blog I administer for Fly Rod & Reel magazine, I've been accused of being "anti-fishing" by anglers who run ORVs on the Outer Banks. That's like accusing the "real Ted Williams," as I've heard him called to my chagrin, of being "anti-baseball." From some of the posted invective I could have told the Park Service it was wasting taxpayer money and everyone's time with negotiated rulemaking. Herewith, a couple of the politer comments: "BS! JUST LOTS OF BS. YOU SUCK TED!" and: "Showing your true colors there Ted!!! Nice, how much did Defenders of Wildlife, Southern Environmental Law Center, and Audubon pay you to say that?"
But this contingency only outshouts other beach anglers; it doesn't come close to outnumbering them. The national perspective was apparent in comments such as this: "I have fished all the spots at Cape Hatteras over nearly four decades. The new plan to manage ORV use is the best thing that has happened for the seashore. . . . ORVs on the beaches were totally out of control. . . . So managing this mess is not just about birds or turtles, it is about a better experience. There are many of us sportsmen down here in Carolina quietly cheering on the enviros. Don't believe this crap about not being able to drive anywhere on the beach or that you can't get to a good place to fish. The loudmouths around Hatteras have had their way for too long. They need to get over it. Hatteras is going to be a better place for birds, turtles, and true sportsmen. Thanks for your help, Ted."
After I'd said goodbye to my guides I dug out my binoculars and pointed my rental car north on Route 12, stopping every few miles to glass shorebirds and waterbirds settling onto newly protected habitat. I recalled all the boot prints I'd left here and on other Atlantic beaches with angler friends for whom sharing space with wildlife makes fishing far more than just sport.
Why is it so different on the Outer Banks? Until 1954, when the seashore got its first superintendent, locals had been allowed to do anything they pleased. And from then until 2008 they'd been allowed to do almost anything they pleased. They've never liked feds, especially feds who tell them they can't do things they and their elders have done all their lives and then make them pay for what's left. And they've never liked environmentalists, especially those from away who come in and dictate beach policy by suing misfeasant managers.
But national seashores belong to all Americans, not just a few loud, local property-rights radicals who have bullied and lied their way to dominance. The current ORV plan is a decent starting point. Now it's time for all wildlife advocates to stand up and speak for vanishing creatures that can't speak for themselves.
Learn more Go online to read more at http://audm.ag/OBXupdate.
Take action Let your members of Congress know that you support a balanced approach to protecting the Cape Hatteras Seashore for ALL visitors--wildlife AND people, at http://audm.ag/CHWriteIn.
This story originally ran in the September-October 2012 issue as "Beach Bullies."