Bill undermines national park protections for wildlife and seashore visitors(08/11/2009) -
CHAPEL HILL, NC – U.S. Senator Hagan (D-NC) joined U.S. Senator Burr (R-NC) in a legislative move to withdraw national park protections for baby birds and sea turtles endangered by off-road vehicles. The bill, S. 1557, seeks to subvert a consent decree for ORV management at Cape Hatteras National Seashore agreed to as "fair and just" by all parties--including ORV enthusiasts and Dare County, N.C.--before U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle on April 30, 2008.
"This attack on the laws that safeguard our parks and seashores could set a dangerous precedent," said Jason Rylander, attorney for Defenders of Wildlife. "If management of Cape Hatteras can be based on the desires of motorized users alone, our entire national park system is at risk. The wildlife and natural resources that national parks were created to protect, and the millions of people who visit parks to appreciate their wild nature, should not be subverted to the wishes of ORV users."
In addition to undermining wildlife protections supported by the National Park Service, the bill would delay resolution of the situation by removing the deadline in the consent agreement for rules on ORV use within the national park. The bill also opens the process to continued litigation.
"The proposed legislation doesn't respect the resolution of a lawsuit by unanimous agreement and endorsed by federal court," said Derb Carter, director, Carolinas Office, Southern Environmental Law Center. "This ‘Cape Hatteras National Parking Lot' bill promotes the interests of a small but vocal minority that seek to turn our national park beaches into roadways and parking lots without consideration for pedestrian and wildlife needs."
Beach driving restrictions under the consent decree affect only limited areas within the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and primarily during the bird breeding season, between April and August. Many miles of beach have remained open to ORVs and pedestrians throughout the breeding season, providing ample access to all who seek to enjoy the national seashore. Visitation to the seashore increased in 2009 during months affected by the consent agreement according to park service statistics. Despite the nationwide economic recession, overall tourism on Hatteras Island held steady during the same time period according to the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau.
"We're very disappointed in the introduction of legislation that would withdraw national park protections for baby birds and sea turtles endangered by off-road vehicle traffic," said Chris Canfield, executive director, Audubon North Carolina.
While Cape Hatteras National Seashore drew more visitors, wildlife numbers reversed their downward trend and showed signs of recovery under the consent agreement according to National Park Service reports. Under the management measures in the consent decree, overall colonial waterbird nests more than doubled with 535 nests according to 2009 data in comparison to 212 nests in 2007. Black skimmers nested on the park's beaches for the first time in three years. The number of least tern nests more than doubled with 464 nests according to preliminary 2009 data in comparison to 194 nests in 2007.
The park service reports also documented incidents of vandalism during nesting season, ranging from vehicle tracks in closure areas to stomping on sea turtle nests and baiting nests to lure predators.
The consent agreement protections are based on the recommendations of leading scientists hired by the National Park Service which is in line with President Barack Obama's directive to restore scientific integrity to government decision making instead of politics.
Last year, Senators Burr and Dole (R-NC) introduced an identical bill to subvert the consent agreement in favor of a less effective interim management strategy, but the bill was opposed by the National Park Service and defeated by a U.S. Senate committee. The deputy director of the National Park Service testified before Congress in September 2008 that "the consent decree will accomplish [the] objective" of allowing public use and access to the national seashore's beaches to the greatest extent possible while still protecting the park's wildlife "better than the original 2007 Interim Management Strategy." Despite this testimony, the re-introduced bill turns back to the less effective interim management strategy.
Note to editors:
- National Park Service statistics for Cape Hatteras National Seashore 
- Tourism statistics for the Outer Banks: Occupancy  and Visitation .
- Photos and information about piping plovers  and sea turtles .
- Video b-roll of sea turtles and piping plover 
- The latest U.S. National Park annual reports for piping plover and sea turtles .
- National Park Service interactive map of current beach closures at Cape Hatteras National Seashore 
- Additional background: The National Park Service has been out of compliance with federal environmental laws, park management rules, and presidential executive orders regarding ORV use at the seashore for more than 30 years. In 2007, Audubon North Carolina, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Southern Environmental Law Center sued to compel the federal government to prepare an ORV management plan that complies with the law and protects threatened and endangered species . The consent decree--negotiated and agreed to by conservation groups, Dare and Hyde counties, ORV user groups, and the park service--increased protections for wildlife on a temporary basis until the park service approves a final ORV plan. The park service recently concluded a two-year long negotiated rulemaking process to use input from various stakeholders in crafting a final ORV strategy. If the process is uninterrupted, the park service is scheduled to release its preferred plan in fall 2009--to be finalized, after public comment, by April 2011.
About Defenders of Wildlife Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1 million members, supporters and subscribers, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. www.defenders.org 
About National Audubon Society The National Audubon Society has more than one million members and supporters, offices in 23 states, and a presence in all 50 states through more than 450 certified chapters, nature centers, sanctuaries, and education and science programs. Locally, Audubon maintains a North Carolina state office which works on behalf of Audubon's more than 10,000 members and supporters in the state. Audubon's mission is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth's biological diversity. It carries out that mission nationally through a variety of activities including education, habitat conservation and public policy advocacy. www.audubon.org 
About the Southern Environmental Law Center The Southern Environmental Law Center is the only regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of 40 legal experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use. www.southernenvironment.org 
Contact(s):Derb Carter, Southern Environmental Law Center, (919) 967-1450
Julie Youngman, Southern Environmental Law Center, (919) 967-1450
Kathleen Sullivan, Southern Environmental Law Center, (919) 967-1450
Chris Canfield, Audubon North Carolina, (919) 929-3899
Erin McCallum, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 682-9400