A New Rule Balances Wildlife and Off-Road-Vehicle Use on a North Carolina Beach

A New Rule Balances Wildlife and Off-Road-Vehicle Use on a North Carolina Beach

Congressional legislation and a pending civil suit threaten the future of a new rule that protects wildlife and allows vehicles on Cape Hatteras National Seashore. 

By Anna Sanders
Published: 06/12/2012

"We feel the final rule was very much a compromise," says Heather Starck, executive director of Audubon North Carolina. "It was not everything we hoped for in terms of protecting wildlife," she adds, noting there are more miles devoted to ORV users than she thought were necessary."The folks that use ORVs in Cape Hatteras are only about two percent of the people that visit the seashore."

Still, the Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance continues to fight the new regulations even though the majority of the 21,000 commenters on the final environmental impact statement were in favor of the restrictions. In the past the group successfully lobbied in favor of the interim plan on Cape Hatteras. Between June 2008 and January 2009 members of the North Carolina congressional delegation introduced three bills, two in the House of Representatives and one in the Senate, to return to the more lenient management of ORVs under the Interim Strategy. None of those bills passed, but after the final rule was put in place, Representative Walter Jones presented one bill in the House, and Richard Burr, supported by Kay Hagan reintroduced another in the Senate. Both are designed to abolish the regulation and return to prior management measures under which protected species had declined.

Despite the previous bills' failure to pass, Mike Daulton, Audubon vice president for government relations, is cautious. "As long as there's legislation pending, the birds of Cape Hatteras are in danger," he says.

Even if the bills don't pass the House or Senate, the final ruling's supporters have civil litigation to contend with.

The Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance also filed a lawsuit against the Interior Department alleging that the National Park Service failed to give ORV riders' interests meaningful consideration. Audubon and Defenders of Wildlife joined the National Parks Conservation Association, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, in an effort to help defend the National Park Service's regulation in the lawsuit. (The alliance declined to comment on Cape Hatteras for this article.)

"The case is basically posturing, utterly without merit," explains Ted Williams, Audubon field editor. When Williams visited Cape Hatteras beaches in 2005 and 2006 he encountered the damage ORVs cause to bird breeding grounds (see "Beach Bums," January-February 2007). The park service's new rules, he says, will sustain imperiled species. But for the rules' dissidents, human access, not species protection, is the issue.

"It's sickening to drive down this island and see rope and signs saying no," explains Carol Busbey, who owns the Natural Art Surf Shop on Hatteras Island in Buxton. Busbey has run the shop for more than 30 years, but since the draft interim plan was replaced,her business has lost a lot of weekend business. "They closed off a lot of places that were special for a lot of people," Busbey says. One week, there were two piping plover nests out on the point, she says, and "they've got acres and acres of land closed."

Commenters on Ted Williams's Fly Rod & Reed blog also express their discontent. "It's not just about ORVs," wrote one. "One piping plover nest closes over 700 acres of beach to all. This is the kind of thing we're fighting." (More fervent comments contained obscenities and had to be edited by Williams.)

Williams's response is that "when we talk about 'fairness' we need to consider all Americans for all time, not the immediate appetites of a few loud, greedy ORV operators."

Although the conservation groups are hopeful that neither the bills nor the lawsuit will reverse the progress made, the attacks do distract the groups from determining if the new protections are effective, says Starck. Even more threatening is the potential result if the new rule is overturned, she says. Political camps opposed to wildlife conservation would see the success of these measures and attempt to reverse other rulings. "If that user group sees that it was overturned here, it could be a really dangerous precedent for wildlife in this country," she says.

Keep an eye out for an upcoming story on Cape Hatteras written by Ted Williams. 

*This story was updated on June 13, 2013, to reflect a factual change. 

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Anna Sanders

Type: Author | From: Audubon Magazine


mating birds

.....I saw two oyster catchers mating in the ABC store parking lot in Buxton a week ago. They were not the least bit disturbed by human presence. But, I'm not allowed to walk out to cape point because I might disturb them out there?

"No Value In Desolate

"No Value In Desolate Beaches"

I agree that the spring season will be  slower for  businesses in Buxton due to resources closures but it will not "kill  Hatteras Island" as the the ORV  proponents  like to exaggerate.  It appears the established business on Hatteras Island are not going out of business and that the fall seasons have been above average with the exception of the time when   highway  12 was breached. There are many variables that affect the economy of Hatteras Island other than temporary resource closures but the ORVers don't consider those.

 Wildlife protection measures are necessary to fulfill the Enabling Legislation for this Park. I don't see how the Park can get around that. I think  the regulations should and will be tweaked to allow better access (pedestrian and ORV) but the closures are still going to be a problem for access to Cape Point etc during nesting season.

Many visitors have been duped by the constant rhetoric of the ORVers  who have started and promoted the  doom and gloom scare tatacis in and effort to get what they want. This is about ORV access not economics. Read the position statements, talking points for official public comments sent to ORV members and the public comments that were submitted  to the park that are available for anyone to read via the NP government website and  it becomes  clear their concern for pedestrian access is just about the pedestrians that are accessing the ORV accessible beaches.  The ORV agenda is for less  pedestrian only access areas and shorter pedestrian access only seasons  in front of the villages. They see no value in desolate beaches in the National Park unless they are allowed to drive there.  Their logic is that if  people are allowed  to walk on a beach then they should be allowed to  drive there.


As for access only 7.9 miles are open as of last week. on Hatteras and 8.6 0n Ocracoke... and you have to drive miles to get to a on ramp.. on the 67 mile beach.. you call this a fair deal?? where is the 27 miles??? where it it closed permit there are no nests??? things are not right with these rules... Like I said no common sense Bird do change nesting sites.. all the time..and do n ot nest at all in places that overwash... and also where they mate, is not always were they nest, they chase each other around.. I know I have raised birds..and watched them behave..but you should know all about that ....or do you just collect money???


Everyone is nuts.. no common sense.. all the ones talking about ORVS running over birds .. where are your facts?? show me the numbers you like them so much..the only one I know of is a Park Ranger??? none of you live here 12 months out of the year..all you know is the hearsay.. of what your so called experts tell you.. of course we want some .. restrictions but what is in place is not working..even for walkers.. I invite any one of you to try and walk to the point or other places... this is a National Seashore Park for people there are nature preserves on both sides Pea island Portsmith plus many more miles to the north and south and how about the land you just sold to up north to develop..to build house after it was given to you for wildlife???..please do not take the last place that a old person or handicap person can access the beach and enjoy the day...as I am one... get your facts right ...

ORV Crowd Has NO ONE to Blame But Themselves

Let's see.... For all of the years since the Consent Decree has been in place, the tourism $$$ are at all time highs for Hatteras Island-DESPITE record breaking gas prices and the worst recession since the Great Depression. (Stop lying about these numbers business ownersi the taxes and revenues. Don't support your lies). And the wildlife is recovering. Tourists are here in ABUNDANCE. Maybe they just do visit your shops beacuase of your crude and mean ways, OR maybe they are going on the beach because YOU have convinced people they should not come here because you keep telling lies and advertising the 'beaches are closed' when that is not true. IF you are suffering from loss of business-maybe people don't want to be part of bullies, foul mouthed mean crowds.
It is just like when they moved the Lighthouse-everyone here was fuming, screaming that this will take away their livelihood because the structure surely would crumble during the move. Remember that? And what happened? The VERY same people running their mouths made a killing on tourist $ about the move: T shirt designs, photos, stomped coins from the tracks... Greedy bunch of people. And you think our nation wants to let the likes of you be in charge of our natural areas?????
Thank heavens Obama administration just released his opposition to this Bill in the Senate!

orv propoganda

yes, there are people here now, the weekly renters, but this spring was a different story. what is usually a busy season for the tackle shops and motels wasn't. the spring fishing crowd drives our early season economy and they weren't here. (we own a tourist oriented business also and our business was way off this spring too).

secondly, no one is asking for unrestricted driving anywhere on the beaches here, just reasonable access to the most popular and safest beaches we have. i am not part of the fishing crowd but i feel for them the most. and, if there is to be no orv's on the beach, why is the park service allowed to drive on them? if it's going to be no orv, then it should be none.

and,you're not even addressing the beaches closed to pedestrians. that's a whole 'nother story.

ORV propaganda

The propaganda is that the island is under economic collapse due to park management. I am on hatteras island now and the place is awash with tourists. The ORV proponents have done everything in their power to try and make the economy worse because they believe that will improve their chances of making CHNS the first ORV National Seashore. The resource restrictions are diddly compared to the road going out and people relying on a 2 hour ferry ride with a 5 hour wait. Of course they don't want to tell you about that.
The truth is if the ORVes could drive anywhere whenever they wanted on the park beach they would care less about the local economy, the parks tapping program , pedestrian access, turtle nests or any thing else for that matter.

oh boy, crotalus is here

oh boy, crotalus is here

Just imagine your favorite outdoor place..

Just imagine your favorite outdoor place..maybe it is a mountain, a stream, a river, a lake, a beach, or a trail. Maybe its a place where your mom or dad introduced you to when your were a kid. A place that you have brought your own children to enjoy, or plan on it. A place preserved by our great National Park System. Even as a young kid I realized the importance of setting aside special recreational places for the enjoyment of all. I was comforted knowing that this place is always going to be like this. I thought, “Isn't it great that no one is going to build a condo complex or a go kart track here destroying the landscape or cutting off access.” Back then I was proud that there were organizations like the Serria club and the Audobon out there defending our lands keeping anything “bad” in check; an advocate for the environment. How shocking now to realize that these very groups are the ones exploiting the environment for monetary gain, not some greedy developer! Your Federal Parks are now being closed little by little. Using "Ecological misinformation" to flat-out propaganda and lies. The NPS, Sierra Club, and the Audobon Society are systematically shutting down access to your public Federal Parks all over the USA. Week by week they are using your donations to fatten their bank accounts, land grab, hire lawyers, and gain political power. The closing of a Federal Park should be a crime along with the fabrication of photos and so called scientific data they use to do it! --- Our Parks are getting smaller and smaller due to privatized interests and ecological lobbying scams. Its so sad that these once noble organizations have lost their way. Now they are being run by people that are praying on the care and concern of the American people to make easy money. These folks have found out, that it is a lot easier to sit in your pajamas and type up lies on your computer which generates MILLIONS in donations than to actually go out and make a difference by solving the tough problems, "heck trying to stop someone from killing a whale is dangerous, you might get shot at!! Why bother?” Sarcasm aside...don't think for a moment that this is limited to a few obscure areas. They are coming for your favorite place next, they have to keep the revenue stream going.

point of order....

Can you enumerate these alleged lies please? And are they any different/worse from your side's claims - lies - like the one that there are 700 acre buffers around nests, when we all know those buffers apply to mobile chicks and not nests?

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