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Battle Mounts Over Off-Road Vehicles at Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Southern Environmental Law Center photo.

During busy summer days more than 2,000 vehicles a day can be found cruising the beaches of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, according to the Southern Environmental Law Center. Southern Environmental Law Center photo.

For years folks have used off-road vehicles to negotiate some of the farther reaches of Cape Hatteras National Seashore. And for years the National Park Service failed to develop a management plan for those ORVers. And now it's time to pay the piper.

On April 3 a federal judge will consider a request by Defenders of Wildlife and the National Audubon Society to restrict ORV access to South Ocracoke, Hatteras Spit, North Ocracoke, Cape Point, South Beach and Bodie Island Spit for up to three years because of the presence of piping plovers, which have been considered a "threatened" species under the Endangered Species Act since January 1986.

The lawsuit contends the Park Service has run afoul of the National Park Organic Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the enabling legislation for the seashore, and the Park Service's own Management Policies by implementing an interim ORV management plan and failing to produce a long-term management plan.

The National Park Service’s Interim Plan and the ORV use it allows are substantially harming – and will continue to harm – important populations of endangered and threatened sea turtle species, threatened, special concern, or significantly rare bird species, and a threatened plant species, as well as other natural resources, serenity, and other recreational uses of the Seashore generally, reads one of the claims.

On Saturday, in a protest against the conservation groups, an estimated 200 ORV supporters showed up in a gale at Cape Point on the seashore to attend a rally.

In Sunday's editions of the Charlotte Observer, meanwhile, outdoors writer Tim Higgins satirized the situation by looking into the future to listen to a conversation between a young boy and his grandfather over why they no longer fish at Cape Point.

What's unfortunate is that the Park Service might have avoided this situation by acting sooner on developing a management plan for ORVs.


Just because the ORV supporters call it "Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreation Area" does not make it so.
1937: Cape Hatteras National Seashore
1940: Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreation Area
1953: Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

At present, and since its establishment, it is a national seashore, not a national recreation area.

"God writes the gospel not in the Bible alone, but on trees and flowers and clouds and stars." -Martin Luther

Quote from Beach to Desert: "There are many animals that call that area home and may never return if they are scared off by people or vehicles. The land there is constantly changing-staying on the ORV paths is difficult and I'm sure there are the ones who don't care what the signs say, they do as they please".

Beach to Desert you are correct in part of your comment........People on foot and especially those with unleashed animals have proven, in many studies, to be a much greater threat to protected species than ORV's observing the Park rules and Regulations.

Why? ....I have observed literally hundreds of people walking in restricted areas in my 30 years+ on the Outer Banks. Why do they disregard the signs, fences, warnings? Its simple !! The thought process of these folks are....I'm only going in to get a shell. I'm only looking for a handy place to releive myself. I thought I saw a birds nest and wanted a closer look. I was going to pick up some driftwood. My animal ran towards something it spotted. My animal relieved itself there and I was going to pick up the deposit. I am bird watching. The reasons are endless....and unless you are a person with a uniform .......most will tell you to stuff it if you approach them! Enforcement of existing rules and regulations is the issue in this battle not management by lock and key!!

On Holiday weekends in the summer take a picture of any favorite spot on a lake, at a stream, on a ski lift, on a people only beach, at a museum, at an amusement park, or on a ORV accesible beach and the picture is the same. People on top of each other with every conceivable item they can carry. Now take a picture on a non Holiday weekend..........the picture is quite different!! The picture in this article is a classic case of slanted journalism. Most OBX users know that the picture in this article was specifically user to reinforce a point of view.......This picture is the case rather than the rule!

When the Park and then Recreational Area was given to Uncle Sam the native people were promised that they would always have access to the beaches. Now, like the Native Americans were thrown from their ancestral lands, the Outer Banks natives are being removed from their 'promised access to the beaches'.

There has always been a co-existence on these barrier islands with animals until man interfered.......not with ORV's, which have been present on the beaches for more than 75 years but with groins and jetties to reshape the shoreline.....NPS Rangers killing foxes, skunks, raccoons and other native species in the name of protecting birds at the extreme southern limit of their range. Bulldozing habitat into oblivion in the name of safety. Allowing brush and scrub vegetation to grow in areas closed in the name of species preservation..brush and vegetation that eliminated the natural overwash areas so desired for nesting by the shore birds especially the Plovers.

Now the extremists even want the Assateague Island National Seashore to eliminate the number of native horses on this Barrier Island. Why, you will ask........because their hooves are 'compacting' the sand to undesired levels restricting vegetation growth. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

At Cape Cod National Seashore the recovery plan has been so effective in the Plovers natural reproductive range the the NPS has them everywhere!! The interesting issue is that ORV beach access has had little or no effect on their recovery. Now NPS is in a quandry because the Plovers are everywhere and there is no Management plan to deal with the glut of birds which are still protected by ESA and NEPA.

Management by Lock and Key is not acceptable.... but folks .......thats where we're headed if the extremists get their way!!

Let's be fair here. If we are going to block off Hatteras to all but walk-ins, let's also do that for ALL National Parks. Auto pollution, asphalt, truck fumes, dripping oil, tourists, litter, etc., etc. are just as noxious in Yellowstone as Hatteras.

Yap! Once you start labeling those (as "extremist") who oppose you Mr. Metzgar in defense of ORV's at the Cape, your points of view begin sound more like your in favor of less preservation for wildlife. I think your distorting the facts about the "effectiveness" of the Plover Recovery program at Cape Cod National Seashore...and it's so call glut of birds. Maybe the glut of Plovers has a lot to do with it's shrinking habitat. What about the glut of human species and there oil spewing ORV's at the Cape (which I think is very valid issue). Can you give me one good reason why ORV's can be good for the beach environment at the Cape. May I recommended that you read some of Rachel Carson's books like: Under the Sea-Wind, The Sea Around Us, The Edge of the Sea, The Rocky Coast and finally The Sea. Just perhaps maybe you can find a small inkling to read a few of these precious books and truly see and feel the power of the sea and why it's so important to conserve and protect a few special places like Cape Hatteras...and not ruin it with more ORV's!

big oil and gas dripping ORVs?? i dont know about you but if my truck was leaking oil id fix it before id take it to the beach but thats just me. look fellas we all need to be fair here. on one hand we've got the ignorant and selfish people who don't give a flyin sh** about the environment and will leave the beach a dump. on the other hand we've got the ignorant and selfish people who assume that EVERYONE who drives on the beach is in this category. both probably make up 1% of people who drive on the national seashore... it is what it is.

Believe me, i'll be the first person to confront someone leaving any kind of trash on the beach. and if i could stop someone from driving like a complete idiot putting people and wildlife in danger than i would certainly do that, too. but to say that we need to close the beaches to all ORVs is a little bit extreme, if not ridiculous to me. People have been driving on beaches ever since vehicles had that capability. they arent "big oil dripping" monsters as some of you have referred to them as. NO KIDDING THEY AREN'T CLEAN. but we've come a long way in terms of making these things as clean as possible. you don't hear of anybody suffocating in New York City like in the '70s do you??

as an avid surf fisherman, i am all for the conservation of endangered animals, including the plovers. but to say that we are a realistic threat to these birds just isn't right. Foxes, for example, are a much more formidable threat to them than we are.

one other thing i would like to touch on is some of the businesses on Hatteras Island that WILL go out of business if the beaches were to get closed to ORVs. There are several tackle shops on the island that have depended on people fishing the national seashore to keep their business going ever since they opened. is it really fair to them especially, to close the beaches to ORVs because of a handful of people who treated the beach poorly?? You don't have to answer that, i think it speaks for itself.

If anyone disagrees with anything i've said i would like to know. Again, all i want is for people to be fair and realistic here.


It's time you opened your eyes to the real world!

When the D.O.W and the National Audubon Society became involved a few years back and through the intervention of the S.E.L.C it began to put pressure on the CHNPS. The world there changed as they filed and threatened lawsuits and demanded certain actions be taken.

It no longer was about the protection of wildlife it suddenly became an issue of a cause that became a cash cow to the above groups.

However you made some valid points in your post even though slightly misguided.

1. There does need to be a O.R.V usage plan in place.
2. Certain areas need to be off limits during limited times of nesting and mating to all.
(By this I do not mean that these areas should be construed as justification for year round habitat creation for a migratory species)
3. There needs to be a daily, monthly or yearly usage fee in place based on individual head count.
4. There needs to be a reasonable O.R.V daily, monthly or annual fee in place in addition to the personal usage fee.
5. Along with the four above there also needs to be a required usage course in place that is mandatory of at least four hours before any and all
individuals are permitted access to the park.

Now back to the reality!

Snowbird above you made the following comment: Sunshine, you forgot to mention one thing: the preservation of wildlife for all generations to come...not just for the fun frolicking beach hogs alone.

That's a fantastic idea Snowbird but when idealism hits reality head on and the D.O.W and the National Audubon Societies as represented by the S.E.C.L and money and politics take over strange things happen!

Below you will find the links to a couple of very disturbing photos taken at Cape Hatteras just before Christmas. The photos depict what has happened and is still happening at this moment there. The innocent fox pictured ( which by the way is native to the island as is the Raccoon ) did not survive and neither did HUNDREDS of Cats, Raccoon's and other animals all because they were a danger to the non native migratory Plover's according to the three groups above.

These photos underscore that the O.R.V are but a small part of the problem that exist now.

Big Red

PS: The fox above had pup's and later that day when found they suffered the same fate!!!

Big Red: You made some interesting proposals but yet no one has answered my question: Give me one good reason why ORV's can be good for the beach environment? Also, you mentioned the catastrophic conditions some of the wildlife is place under...referring to the photo links. Who's responsible for this out-of-whack environment? I have my own personal opinions regarding this. I assume your one conscientious outdoorsmen who truly cares about the Cape and it's holistic environment. I have worked in marshland and inland bay park setting for some 25+ years and do know something about the delicate ecosystems that it has and how easily it can be destroyed by careless and ruthless planning from over zealous developers and slap happy politicians. I have seen the onslaught of this type reckless development destroy one marshland habitat after another. The development is called: Redwood Shores of California!

We do need a healthy balance here.

The National Park Service, (i.e., management at Cape Hatteras NS) is responsible for an ORV plan, and as Judge Boyle this summer pointed out, nationwide ORV plan requirements have been on the books since Nixon was president, so the NPS and National Seashore don't really have an excuse for not having a plan in effect 30 years ago.

Judge Boyle pointed out, also, that since there is no ORV management plan on the books at Cape Hatteras NS, then ORV use is illegal at the Seashore. That said, everybody who is operating an ORV at the Seashore is in violation of the law. The judge didn't order the NPS to shut down the beaches, so the NPS didn't. And the NPS isn't enforcing the judge's ruling.

One thousand vehicles at Bodie Island Spit on Memorial Day weekend is far too many vehicles and people in one place--a rather sensitive place, at that. So there should be some limit on the number of people and vehicles that can be in one place at one time, especially in the sensitive places like Bodie Island Spit, Cape Point, etc.

Some of the economy does depend on ORV use, and it should be allowed, but not "just wherever there aren't closures." I don't know what the rulemaking committee will decide, but there should certainly be more regulation and oversight on ORV use at the Seashore than there is now. As it is a Seashore, and supposed to be protected as a "primitive wilderness," we should endeavor to be responsible with the resources we have--with a priority on the natural resources.

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