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Record of Decision on Cape Hatteras National Seashore ORV Plan OKed, But Implementation Months Away


Although an off-road vehicle plan has been approved for Cape Hatteras National Seashore, it will be months before it actually is implemented. NPS photo.

While the final paperwork has been signed concerning an off-road management plan at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, the arduous task of formalizing a rule means the seashore will continue to operate next summer under a consent decree.

The National Park Service's Southeast Region office signed off Monday on the seashore's preferred alternative for managing ORV traffic in a way to protect bird and sea turtle species that receive protection under the Endangered Species Act. To mark the occasion, Tom Strickland, the assistant Interior secretary who oversees fish and wildlife and parks, congratulated the Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for developing a plan that blends recreation and species protection.

"The work of these two agencies shows that the conservation of fish and wildlife and its habitat on the Outer Banks can be consistent with the transportation, recreation, and economic needs of local communities,” said Mr. Strickland in a statement. “I applaud the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service for their commitment to engaging the local communities, gathering ideas, and applying the best science to guide wise management decisions.”

An ORV management plan has been long in coming for Cape Hatteras, though it remains to be seen whether this plan will survive intact. In 2007 two conservation groups -- the Audubon Society and Defenders of Wildlife -- sued the National Park Service for lacking an ORV management plan at Cape Hatteras, which offers nesting and breeding habitat for piping plovers (a threatened species) and five species of sea turtles (Kemp’s ridley, leatherback and hawksbill are all listed as endangered species, while the loggerhead and green are listed as threatened in North Carolina).

Under a consent decree issued as a result of the lawsuit, and intended to guide ORV use on Cape Hatteras until a formal ORV plan could be adopted, tight regulations have governed ORV travel -- overnight driving was banned and temporary closures at times were enacted during breeding seasons.

The ORV plan that the seashore arrived at has been criticized as overkill by ORV and surf caster groups -- they argue the federal government has greatly exaggerated the threat posed to wildlife by ORV driving on the beach, and that the current rules make it unreasonably difficult to get to traditionally popular fishing areas -- and termed lacking by conservationists, who say it fails to provide adequate year-round protections for wildlife.

Under the Record of Decision signed Monday, the one both sides have criticized, new parking areas will be built along Highway 12 as well as new access ramps to the beach, and a new trail will allow pedestrians to walk down through the dunes to the beach. It also provides for a "seasonal night-driving restriction ... established from 9:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. during turtle nesting season, although areas with no turtle nests could open to night driving from September 16 through November 15." Additionally, it calls for an "alternative transportation study and would encourage the establishment of a beach shuttle or water taxi."

Overall, the approved plan will allow for 27.9 miles of year-round designated ORV routes on the seashore, 12.7 miles of seasonal routes, and 26.4 miles of vehicle-free miles.

Whether this option will be challenged in court remains to be seen.

While the Record of Decision has been approved, much work remains before the ORV plan will actually be implemented at Cape Hatteras, according to seashore Superintendent Mike Murray.

The Record of Decision was needed before the seashore staff could draft a proposed rule, which in turn must be approved by both the Interior Department and Office of Management and Budget, the superintendent said Monday. Then draft rule then must be published in the Federal Register and go through a 60-day public comment period, he continued.

After the comment period closes, seashore staff must review the comments and, if necessary, tweak the draft proposed rule.

“The likelihood is that the proposed rule will be published in the first quarter of the new year," said Superintendent Murray. "The final rule is likely to be published sometime in the summer.”

Rather than change the management direction in mid-summer, seashore officials will wait until the fall before implementing the new ORV management plan.

"It would be challenging for everybody. It's kind of hard to switch horses in the middle of a busy season like that," Superintendent Murray said. “We’ll operate under the consent decree until then.”


Kurt in the same area a "Record of decision" was signed also for the construction of the new bridge alongside the old one. That is until the Enviro law suit comes into play.

As far as the above... We will see when it is finally completed if I ever go back. There are too many variables in play here that go against the ORV Crowd. Those 27.9 miles that are open to ORV travel will for the most part close down as of April 2011 due to predetermined pre nesting and then actual nesting. So the term "Year Round" Is only to pacify those who do not know the truth and give some groups ammo for stating that the ORV groups have more mileage than the birds. Even though this is like all other items in this document a "False Truth" created to pacify the masses.

Kurt, I'm going to send you a brush and paint for Christmas to help you continue white washing the facts and well-being of the people of Cape Hatteras in the coming turbulent year.

Let's take your post from the beginning -- in calling this an Off Road Vehicle (ORV) management plan. No one is buying that term anymore. We all know that the beaches become closed. Period. To all human access. Walk over and pick up a seashell beyond an enclosure and you can be ticketed. Happens to unwary tourists often, who, by the way, don't come back.

I'm glad to see everyone congratulating each other now with big pats on the back after 30 years of not doing their job. I think if it took me 30 years to mow my grass, my neighbors would probably do the same. Had Parks done their job as mandated by President Nixon THIRTY years ago we would not be having this discussion. I'll jump points here, if they don't listen to a president, what will be the point of having public commentary later?

To say this plan 'blends' recreation and species protection is ludicrous and disingenuous. There is no blend. If a Plover nests, over a mile of beach is closed until the chicks fledge. CLOSED. Not blended. Regarding the assistant secretary's comment about considering the economic needs of the area...consider this -- over 50 businesses have closed since the closures began and many more are teetering. A business owner from Cape Hatteras said on FOX & Friends yesterday his business loses over $30,000 each summer now, since the closures began. Perhaps he hasn't blended yet.

Also, to imply the protesters of these actions are the "ORV crowd" and surfcasters and cubbyhole them as boisterous yahoos is also absurd. But they are correct. The closures are exaggerated and extreme and follow no rational science whatsoever. The 1.2 mile (1,000 meters both ways) buffer zone for one nest is an arbitrary number, one not used anywhere else, and for all intent closes a beach or access to one. There is absolutely no science in place here approved by any group or peer group outside of the NPS or Audubon or DOW.

I do think, however,it's wise to remain under the consent decree the summer. It's good to keep public outrage at a minimum during heavily trafficked periods. What's very, very sad to me is the clear and obvious backlash that is mushrooming against the environmental movement because of the lack of science, perspective and rational thinking. If history has taught us anything, to divide and conquer always leads to rebellion, and I fear that the good intentions of environmentalism will be forgotten and trashed by coming generations.

The organizations associated with the rule-making process, as mentioned in the article, are quick to pat themselves on that back for the continuation of a self-fulfilling strategic agenda. Mr. Strickland’s rhetoric implying significant community involvement with the development of a final plan demonstrates a lack of local awareness or an intentionally deceptive overview of the process. The citizens of Hatteras Island are overwhelmingly against an increase in beach restrictions. The local, and majority pro-access position is held largely in part to documented, detrimental effects felt by beach closures in regards to the mentioned “transportation, recreation, and economic needs of local communities.” The studies that many of the decision-making bodies hide behind are internally implemented, managed, and interpreted. The science being used is the only available due to large cost, but represents a governing conflict of interest that produces scientific evidence best described as invalid. To label those who criticize the new plan into “ORV and surf caster groups” is a mistakenly narrow perspective perpetuating both, misinformation and issue ignorance. The positions of the National Park Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service lack the crucial scientific, social, environmental, and economic balance in which they claim to hang their hat. The upcoming 60 day public comment period is essential in establishing America’s voice in frustration to inept political entities, in the effort to preserve a treasured piece historic national recreational area.

Um, Jeff, I didn't use the term "ORV crowd." That was actually from an ORV supporter. And "boisterous yahoos" was your term, not a description in the article above.

That said, it was entirely accurate to say the plan was opposed by "ORV and surfcaster groups." And I don't think writing that those groups "argue the federal government has greatly exaggerated the threat posed to wildlife by ORV driving on the beach, and that the current rules make it unreasonably difficult to get to traditionally popular fishing areas" is a white wash or an exaggeration.

As far as tourists who "don't come back," according to the Dare County Visitor's Bureau July's vacation rentals along Cape Hatteras were at a record high; the motels, hotels, B&Bs, and campgrounds took in $101.7 million in July, a 16 percent increase over July 2009 revenues.

There are arguments on both sides of this issue, no doubt. Neither side is happy with the current proposal. If it takes another decade to resolve this issue, as has been the case with Yellowstone snowmobiles, no one wins.

True, on the "yahoos." That was meant as implied as it's worded. As far as the ORV and surfcasting community the entire argument, as well as this post, either says directly or implies that the people unhappy with the closures are those communities.

On the tourism numbers -- an enormous misrepresentation of facts. I haven't read your bio, so I will assume you're not from the Outer Banks area. If you are, you're aware that Dare County is a very long strip of land, and it's two worlds. The northern end of the cape, with Kitty Hawk and the heavily commercialized areas are indeed up. There are no closures there and it's very much a toned down "Myrtle Beach" type of destination. South of the Bonner Bridge, 40 plus miles away, it's a completely different world. Little commercialization aside from rental units, shops, and of course, beach. Walk in ANY shop, store, restaurant, and ask anyone there if the closures have affected their business. You will hear a resounding YES. Bar none.

And yes, you are right, those groups adamantly oppose the buffers as currently imposed. They are completely unreasonable.

"Yahoos" was not implied in the article, Jeff.

Sorry. Stated a while back that I wouldn't be posting any more but, here I am. This will be a little different. Spurred by something that Mr. Johnson said.
I look back in time and must admit I have been in agreement with a great deal that the Environmental community has brought to our attention and the good they have accomplished. I preferred to think of myself as a part of that community, though not agreeing all the time. During this same period of time I hunted, fished, got an education, served my country, worked and now am semi retired. I always felt I could do these things and maintain a respectful attitude as to the environment. Along the way I developed a love for surf fishing and enjoyed driving to The Point to do so. All with the greatest respect for nature and it's wonders. I love everything about God and what he has given us.
However, somewhere along the way, my feelings began to change. I began to look at the Environmentalist community differently. I started associating them with bad lawyers. I say bad because I am friends with some really nice ones. Actually, I have to admit, I have friends in the environmental community that I feel are great people. As everyone knows, I am part of the dreaded ORV community. Don't want to short the NPS. I unfortunately like some of those folks. Love to talk to them on the beach, especially during Operation Beach Respect, and at meetings.
Just as the environmental groups and NPS are made up up some very nice people, I would note that the ORV community is made up of surfers, shellers, kayakers, bathers, children, teenagers, parents, grandparents, greatgrandparents as well as fishermen and women. I see all these people enjoying the beach side by side and interacting with each other. It's wonderful. Now, I would be remiss if I didn't admit there is an occassional group that even I feel participates in undesirable activity. And yes, there needs to be control for this. Unfortunately that exists in every area of our lives. Yes, there needs to be control for the benefit of the birds and turtles. EVERYONE loved them before they became a fire cracker with the fuse lit being tossed back and forth.
Now the point. Every group mentioned above consist of people. I believe mostly good people. Friends and neighbors. I believe that there is undoubtedly some involved with less than desirable motivation and intentions, saying things they don't really believe in their heart, for whatever reason. But. what has brought us to this point? What has brought us to harbor such feelings toward one another as groups? As Mr. Johnson stated, what is going to be the aftermath of this. Will this forever turn group against group. Man against man. I don't think these feelings started entirely with the issue at hand, but it sure has changed me and my general perception of the environmental community and NPS, as far as groups go. I expect those groups feel the same about me. I don't like any of it. Bad thing is, I guess everyone believes they are right and justified. Saddest thing will be if we look back and realize we destroyed what could have been a good partnership for whatever reason, you try and convince yourself, you did it for. Those that are wrong will know it soon enough, if they don't already.
Merry Christmas Kurt, Jeff, NPS and all the ORV Gang

Ron (obxguys)

Another downfall for Cape Hatteras will be the permit ruling. If they decide on daily, weekly, or even yearly permits and out cost the visitors such as other parks this will surely restrict the people who visit. It is also stated that those who want the permits will have to obtain them in person which will bog down the already understaffed NPS. The only benefit will be that it would accurately show the numbers of visitors who choose to access the beaches by ORV. This is something I agree with the gentlemen above is that the number for visitation are greatly skewed because of the inclusion of the northern non driving beaches. That world and the world on the island are two different entities and cannot be combined and still be used to reflect this issue. Though it would be unpopular I suggest adding permits to all who choose to use the beaches and not just the ORV crowd. This could be added at the new bridge entrance just like Skyline drive NP and it would be much more accurate of the activities of all visitors who frequent the island. Using skewed numbers like they do simply is unacceptable.

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