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Fish And Wildlife Service Says ORV Plan for Cape Hatteras National Seashore Could Be Helpful to Plovers, Sea Turtles


The National Park Service's preferred plan for dealing with off-road vehicles at Cape Hatteras could potentially adversely impact sea turtles, piping plovers, and seabeach amaranth, but U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials don't think that will happen. NPS photo.

While the potential exists for the National Park Service's preferred off-road vehicle plan for Cape Hatteras National Seashore to be detrimental to piping plovers, sea turtles, and seabeach amaranth, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials believe the plan will be at least minimally helpful to all three in the long-run.

In a lengthy "biological opinion" assessing preferred Alternative F in the seashore's Final Environmental Impact Statement on an ORV management plan, FWS officials conclude that management tools should provide sufficient protection of those three species to endure continued ORV driving on the 67-mile-long seashore.

But that conclusion comes near the end of the 157-page document, one that notes high up that "potential" exists for piping plovers, a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, to be adversely affected during nesting, wintering, and migration seasons; for three species of sea turtles that come ashore to nest at Cape Hatteras, and their resulting offspring, to be adversely affected, and; for seabeach amaranth, a threatened beach plant with distinctive fleshy, reddish stems, to also be adversely affected by allowances for ORVs and pedestrians under the preferred alternative.

The bulk of the document is spent on biological backgrounds on the species, information that addresses their range, population numbers, habitats, population dynamics, existing threats such as predation and coastal development, even how climate change might impact them. It also examines how beach driving and pedestrians could affect the species, and examines baseline conditions for the species.

When it comes to human presence on the seashore, the FWS researchers noted that all of the concerned species are at a disadvantage. Vehicles can, and do, run over piping plovers and their fledglings as well as sea turtle hatchlings and buried nests in these settings, pets can scatter plover fledglings, and beach goers can harass sea turtles and their hatchlings, and crush plover nests as well as amaranth plants and scatter their seeds.

At the same time, the document notes, management actions seashore officials can take under Alternative F can be beneficial to all three species.

"These beneficial effects can be categorized as measures to limit the interaction of vehicles, pedestrians, and their pets with nesting, migrating, and wintering piping plovers and their nests, hatchling and juvenile piping plovers, germinating seabeach amaranth and nesting sea turtles and their nests, eggs, and hatchlings," reads one section of the report.

After analyzing all the potential impacts and the off-setting beneficial effects of Alternative F, the biological opinion concludes that:

* (i)t is reasonable to conclude that implementation of the proposed ORV management plan will allow the breeding population of piping plovers to continue to grow at CAHA, barring events such as major changes in habitat conditions due to storms. Under the proposed management plan breeding piping plovers will continue to be exposed to potential human disturbance that may cause the population to grow at a slower rate than would occur in the complete absence of disturbance, and may cause the breeding population size to stabilize at a level below that which the available habitat could support in the absence of disturbance. Because we do not have a means of estimating the population growth rate at a particular locale (without or without disturbance), or the actual carrying capacity of the habitat within CAHA, the magnitude of these effects is unknown.

* Despite the continued potential for some adverse effects, the USFWS expects implementation of Alternative F should afford a reasonable opportunity for successful nesting of sea turtles annually. The proposed management activities would contribute to achieving the desired future conditions for nesting sea turtles...

* The USFWS expects implementation of Alternative F to afford a reasonable opportunity for at least a minimal amount of successful germination annually at CAHA’s most significant sites (Bodie Island, Cape Point, Cape Hatteras spit and Ocracoke spit). This is expected to potentially produce a slight population increase of seabeach amaranth over the near term.


Please provide documentation of any case of "Vehicles can, and do, run over piping plovers and their fledglings". To my knowledge, there is no documented case of this happening at CAHA.

Anonymous, read a bit more of this sentence:

Vehicles can, and do, run over piping plovers and their fledglings as well as sea turtle hatchlings and buried nests in these settings...

You're right that there has been no documented case of this occurring at Cape Hatteras, but it has happened in a similar beach setting, at Fire Island National Seashore. (Source: The Fire Island National Seashore: A History, by Lee Koppelman and Seth Foreman, page 94.

So we can both agree that there are no documented cases of piping plovers having been run over by vehicles at Cape Hatteras?

Your inclusion of this statement in an article about the CAHA ORV Management Plan suggests that piping plovers have been run over at CAHA. To suggest that this has happened, even with your 'in these settings' qualifier, is a disservice to readers.

Cape Hatteras is not Fire Island. What happens outside of the Seashore boundaries at Cape Hatteras has no bearing on what goes on inside. If it did, the great numbers of least terns nesting on the Cora June dredge island mere hundreds of yards outside of the Seashore could surely be counted in the bird counts. Sadly, they are not.

(Source: Junk Science vs. Cora June Island -


We can agree that the USFWS review found no documented cases. But that's not to say there haven't been any instances. As the biological opinion clearly notes, plovers -- adults or chicks -- could easily be run over without the motorist noticing.

The following, also from the biological opinion, speaks to the potential for plovers being run over:

Despite continuous daylight monitoring of nests and broods at the Overwash Zone, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia in 1999, an experienced plover biologist traveling along the oceanside beach enroute to another site spotted four chicks from a previously undetected nest standing in vehicle ruts in an area open to ORV travel. Absent the fortuitous presence of this biologist, these chicks would likely have been killed without anyone ever being aware of their existence (A. Hecht 2000, in litt.).

Following a 2000 incident when a brood of four chicks moved to the ocean intertidal zone before veteran monitors could alert and remove vehicles, the Chincoteague Refuge manager instituted ocean to bay closures within one quarter mile of all unfledged broods (J. Schroer, USFWS, in litt. June 2000).

Chicks can end up in or near tire ruts, and sometimes have difficulty crossing or climbing out of them. The normal response of plover chicks to disturbance could increase their vulnerability to vehicles. Chicks sometimes stand motionless or crouch as vehicles approach, and their lack of rapid movement could lead to mortality (USFWS 1996a).

While the DEIS does not document any vehicle collisions with piping plover chicks within
CAHA (NPS 2010a, p. 210), the chances of finding a crushed chick are very small, and the potential for collisions to occur remain extremely high during the day and night. In fact, the majority of piping plover chicks at CAHA are lost within the first ten days after hatching.

At Cape Lookout National Seashore, where vehicles operate on the beach under similar rules as CAHA, there have been several instances were American oystercatchers (Haematopus palliates), which are considerably larger that piping plovers, were run over by vehicles (NPS 2010a, p. 234). Direct mortality of oystercatcher chicks from vehicles has been documented since 1995, when three chicks were found crushed in a set of vehicle tracks at the Seashore (Simons and Schulte 2008). Similar events have been documented at neighboring Cape Lookout National Seashore, where studies documented five chick deaths related to vehicles in 1995 (Davis 1999), and one chick and two clutches lost in 1997 when they were run over by vehicles (Davis et al. 2001). Three oystercatcher chicks were killed during the 2003 and 2004 breeding seasons at Cape Hatteras by being run over by vehicles (NPS 2004b, 2005c), as documented by Seashore
resource protection staff.

And a bit further it says this:

However, about 50 to 60 occurrences of ORVs entering protected areas in the (Cape Hatteras) Seashore were recorded each year from 2000 to 2002 (NPS 2010a, p. 210). In 2003, 13 bird closure posts/signs were driven over by an ORV, and several instances of ORVs within the protected area were observed (NPS 2003a, 2004a, 2005a). A total of 105 occurrences of ORVs entering posted bird closures were recorded in 2003. This number represents a substantial increase compared to 52 recorded in 2001 and 63 in 2002 (NPS 2004a). In 2004, 227 pedestrians and 65 vehicle tracks were reported within posted bird resource closures, including those for piping plovers.

While there are no specific records of vehicles disturbing piping plover nests or the loss of chicks within CAHA (NPS 2010a, p. 210), the number of violations (e.g., vehicles entering closure areas) provides some indication of the potential for vehicles destroying nests. The potential for vehicles running over plover nests also exists when those nests are constructed outside of the closure areas and remain undetected.

To say that "what happens outside of the seashore boundaries at Cape Hatteras has no bearing on what goes on inside" is debatable in the case, at least, of plovers and vehicles and pedestrians. Obviously the USFWS reviewers thought plover incidents outside Cape Hatteras were germane to their review of the preferred alternative.

As far as the FWS comparing the outside world to the Cape Hatteras World of plovers...

Why does Cape Hatteras have 1000 meter buffers and all other locations much less?

Answer: The FWS reviewers were evidentally asked only to review Biased Anti orv facts!

As far as ORV tracks in enclosures... The numbers are far exceeded by pedestrians and no one is crying about regulating them?!

As far as you stating "But that's not to say there haven't been any instances." That is like me stating that these birds never existed on the island before the late 1980's because no one was counting them!

In turn I am in full agreement with Anon above because the NPS FWS and DOI all word these inflammatory statements to make the ORV groups look bad to 80% who read and cannot comprehend what they are reading.
It is like stating that the plovers had a record year but not mentioning that over 50% of the chicks were killed by Ghost crabs and the like and not ORV's.


Both Alternative F and the biological opinion address pedestrians, as well as predation. Neither single out ORVs. The rub, no doubt, stems from the fact that this is an "ORV" plan, not an "ORV and Pedestrian" plan or a "Wildlife Protection" plan.

As for ghost crabs and plovers, here's what the biological opinion had to say about them:

Ghost crabs have occasionally been implicated in the loss of nests (Watts and Bradshaw 1995) and chicks (Loegering et al. 1995). Research on ghost crabs conducted in the lab and at a breeding site at Assateague Island in Virginia suggests that crab predation is generally uncommon. However, this study indicated that the presence of ghost crabs could have a more indirect effect on plover survival. Adult plovers may shepherd their broods away from the foreshore, where the best forage normally exists, due to the abundance of ghost crabs at that location (Wolcott and Wolcott 1999). Poor forage was found to be a more likely contributor to chick mortality than predation by ghost crabs (Wolcott and Wolcott 1999). However, anecdotal records indicate that ghost crabs may be more of a problem in North Carolina than at sites farther north (Cohen et al. 2010). In 2007, one egg in an exclosed nest was lost to a ghost crab (NPS 77 2008a) and in 2008, ghost crab predation was suspected in the loss of three piping plover nests because ghost crab holes were found inside and around the nests and predator exclosures (NPS 2009b).

Without documentation you have no real science, just the 'maybe', 'probably', and 'possibly' junk science that is passed off as 'best-available science'.

Again, without documentation you have NO science.

I've been driving at CHNRS since early 70's. I've never even come close to hitting a bird, why? Because God gave them wings to escape danger. If the birds were that dumb and vulnerable they would have been extinct thousands of years ago from predators who are much better adapted to catch them. Vehicles are not the problem, if anything they keep the predator numbers down and help the birds. But this is not really about the birds is it Audubon? No, it is about you and your lawyer's cash flow isn't it? Another freedom lost, another community gravely injured, another government promise broken and stomped into the ground. Sure It's criminal but the government thrives on that, give em a chance to make some MORE laws..yeah, thats what we need alright....never bs.

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