Many thanks to those who contacted their Senators about maintaining protection for sea turtles and other wildlife at Cape Hatteras National Seashore through driving restrictions in selected areas of the National Seashore. A bill recently introduced in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee by North Carolina Senators Hagan and Burr would have significantly reduced these protections. An 11th hour compromise was reached before the hearing and an amended version of the bill passed the Committee unanimously on June 18th.
According to Julie Youngman at the Southern Environmental Law Center : “The bill was amended so that, instead of revoking the Park Service’s management plan and eliminating limits on beach driving altogether, it merely requires the Park Service to review its current management measures and modify them as necessary to protect species. It actually leaves open the possibility that the Park Service could modify the plan to be more – rather than less – protective of wildlife and non-driving beachgoers. In the meantime, the Park Service will keep managing the seashore under the great plan that has led to record-setting turtle and shorebird nesting.” The bill amendment will appear here: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d113:S.486:
In this case, the legislation worked out but Congressional interference with a management plan developed by the National Park Service after significant public input sets a bad precedent. The text of the press release BELOW provides more detail. Again, thanks for your help! Public vigilance and participation are key to putting and keeping environmental protections in place.
Sea Turtle Conservancy
Press Release from Audubon North Carolina, Defenders of Wildlife, the National Parks Conservation Association, and the Southern Environmental Law Center
Kathleen Sullivan, SELC, 919-967-1450
Walker Golder, Audubon North Carolina, 910-686-7527
Jason Rylander, Defenders of Wildlife, 202-682-9400
Kristen Brengel, NPCA, 202-454-3380
Bill Passed by Senate Committee Undermines Successful Balance at Cape Hatteras
CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—Conservation groups today said that bill S.B. 486, sponsored by Senators Hagan and Burr and approved today by the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, is unnecessary and undermines successful National Park Service management of beach driving at Cape Hatteras National Seashore under which both local tourism and wildlife have thrived. The committee chair, Senator Wyden (D-OR), worked to modify the bill in an effort to minimize damage to wildlife and the integrity of the park before its passage by the committee.
As introduced by Senators Hagan (D-NC) and Burr (R-NC), the bill would have eliminated current National Park Service safeguards for beach-nesting wildlife and pedestrian beachgoers to favor instead trucks on park beaches. As modified in committee today, the bill requires the National Park Service to study how wildlife protection measures might be modified to provide more vehicle access while still protecting wildlife and pedestrians.
“The existing wildlife protection measures are already based on the best available scientific information," said Julie Youngman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “We will work to make sure the plan remains scientifically sound. By requiring the National Park Service to redo what it’s already done, the bill wastes taxpayer time and resources.”
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 on Hatteras Island during the bird and turtle nesting season months of April, June, July, and September 2012 was the highest on record, according to the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau.
“The existing National Park Service plan is a win-win for the seashore,” said Jason Rylander, senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “The plan restored wildlife to the seashore while increasing visitation and tourism. The vast majority of seashore visitors do not come to drive on the beaches. This bill seeks to fix something that isn’t broken.”
Based on a public input and peer-reviewed science, the current National Park Service plan 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’s current regulation offers a balanced use of the seashore,” said Walker Golder of Audubon North Carolina. “The current safeguards--put in place after much stakeholder input, public discussion, and more than 21,000 public comments—allow for responsible off-road vehicle use, provide areas for people who want to safely enjoy the beach without the danger of trucks, and provide basic protection for birds, sea turtles and other wildlife. The bill sets a horrible precedent for the National Park Service.”
Eleven threatened piping plover chicks survived to fledge (able 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.
The National Park Service rule 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. Some 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 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-one years later, NPS’ rule is finally addressing these requirements, but bills like this one hinder the National Park Service’s work at Cape Hatteras.