Conservation groups defend Cape Hatteras National Seashore

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New National Park Service rule protects visitors & wildlife, allows responsible beach driving

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (March 13, 2012) - The U.S. District Court for Washington, D.C. granted conservation groups’ request to help defend a new National Park Service rule against a lawsuit by an ORV enthusiast group. The lawsuit seeks to overturn the long-overdue rule, required by a presidential order, that balances the safety and protection of beach-nesting wildlife and pedestrians with off-road vehicle traffic within Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The conservation groups filed their initial response in the litigation.  

Defenders of Wildlife, National Audubon Society, National Parks Conservation Association, and the Southern Environmental Law Center support National Park Service limits on off-road beach driving issued after an extensive public process. During its rule-making process, the National Park Service received thousands of comments from the public and the majority of comments supported such beach driving limits or even more stringent limits.

“We’re confident that the court will uphold the National Park Service rule that protects wildlife and balances all uses of the seashore – not just off-road beach driving – as required by federal law,” said Julie Youngman, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center.  “The rule’s safeguards are needed to protect pedestrians as well as beach-nesting birds and sea turtles within the national seashore, and prevent this unique national park from becoming a national parking lot.”

The National Park Service’s rule follows interim measures under a Consent Decree for managing ORV traffic within the national seashore.  While those interim measures were in effect, visitation to the seashore increased, tourism grew within Dare County, and beach nesting wildlife began to rebound. The lawsuit, brought by the Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance, or CHAPA, seeks to stop the new park rule, despite CHAPA’s participation in the rule-making process and despite the successful tourism and wildlife breeding seasons under the interim measures.

“The Park Service’s rules represent a compromise between responsible beach driving and necessary protections for wildlife and pedestrians that was years in the making,” said Jason Rylander, senior attorney for Defenders of Wildlife. “We’re committed to defending that balance to ensure Cape Hatteras continues to be enjoyed by all.”

The new National Park Service rule allows ORV use on the majority of the national seashore and keeps all of the seashore’s beaches open to pedestrians. Twenty-eight of the seashore’s 67 miles are set aside as year-round ORV routes – including a year-round ORV route to Cape Point – with only 26 miles designated as year-round vehicle-free areas for pedestrians, families, and wildlife. The remaining 13 miles of seashore are seasonally open to ORVs, but reserved for pedestrians during the peak tourism seasons.  While limiting off-road vehicular traffic, the new plan also proposes new parking facilities, access ramps, and water shuttles to increase visitor access to beaches.

“The new rule is an important tool for preserving the National Seashore for present and future generations to enjoy,” said Chris Watson, the southeast program manager at NPCA. “As became clear during the rulemaking, the majority of park visitors come to the national seashore to enjoy things other than off-road vehicles.”

The interim measures and final rule were both implemented under a Consent Decree agreed to by all the parties in a 2007 court case, including CHAPA, yet CHAPA’s lawsuit seeks to stop the implementation of the rule that would allow beach driving with safeguards for beach nesting wildlife and pedestrians.  

“The increasing success of nesting birds and sea turtles coupled with increasing tourism during interim measures at the national seashore are encouraging.  We look forward to continued success under the new rule’s protections for wildlife from increased off-road vehicle traffic and protections for families and other visitors who want to enjoy beaches without vehicular traffic,” said Walker Golder, deputy state director at Audubon North Carolina.

Background:

  • The long-awaited ORV management rule is the final step in a process agreed to by all parties—including CHAPA—concerned about beach driving in the national seashore. During an interim management period prior to the Park Service’s January rulemaking, rare bird and sea turtle populations showed signs of recovery, park visitation held steady or increased annually, and tourism remained strong in Dare County, NC, where much of the seashore is located, despite a nationwide recession.
  • Tourism flourished in Dare County during the period when interim protections under a Consent Decree were in place.  Rental occupancy receipts in Dare County increased by millions over the previous decade as recorded by the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau. Park visitation and gross occupancy in Dare County during peak breeding and nesting season under interim management held steady or increased compared to the three preceding years. According to a state report on tourism for 2009-2010, Dare County experienced an 8.8 percent growth in tourism—placing it among the top growth counties in the state during a recession.  The county’s strong tourism industry employed 11,260 people with $172 million in payroll and generated $44.55 million in tax receipts for the state and $39.78 million in local tax receipts.
  • As a unit of the National Park System, Cape Hatteras National Seashore has been required under federal law since 1972 to establish guidelines that to manage off-road vehicles in such a way to minimize harm to the wildlife and other natural resources of the seashore 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. After decades of non-compliance, the new rules bring the NPS into compliance with that requirement.

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Learn more about how the new regulations will protect Cape Hatteras wildlife while allowing enjoyment of the seashore. 

Contact(s)

Caitlin Leutwiler, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-3226

Kathleen Sullivan, SELC, (919) 967-1450

Ida Phillips, Audubon North Carolina, (919) 929-3899

Perry Wheeler, National Parks Conservation Association, (202) 419-3712

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  

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 467 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 14,000 members and supporters in ten chapters across 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.ncaudubon.org

Since 1919, NPCA has been the leading voice of the American people in protecting and enhancing our National Park System. NPCA, its more than 600,000 members and supporters, and many partners work together to protect the park system and preserve our nation’s natural, historical, and cultural heritage for generations to come. For more information, please visit: www.npca.org

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

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