The National Park Service is diligently working to comply with the National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2015 pertaining to Cape Hatteras National Seashore’s off-road vehicle management plan. Right now, National Park Service is considering modifying morning opening of beaches to vehicles, extending the length of fall and spring seasonal beach driving routes, plus modifying the size and location of vehicle free areas. They are currently seeking input from the public to help in the development of alternatives that will be analyzed in a public document to be released later this year.
It is unfortunate that the National Park Service seems destined to cave to vocal special interest groups and whittle away at the reasonable, rational and balanced off-road vehicle regulation implemented in 2012. The 2012 regulation was developed with extensive input from diverse stakeholders and the public, and it is one that was showing great promise restoring sea turtles and birds while still allowing driving on the vast majority of the seashore’s beaches. The record numbers of sea turtles, increase in nesting birds, and return of species once extirpated from the Seashore are no coincidence. The 2012 regulation also set aside areas of beach where families could let their kids run safely and where visitors who prefer beaches without deep tire ruts or speeding vehicles could enjoy beaches that are worthy of being called a National Seashore.
Yet, in June, the National Park Service drastically reduced protections for nesting shorebirds by reducing the buffer distances that protect them, all in an attempt to allow driving on more areas of beach or allow driving for a few extra days of the year. Peer-reviewed science to support the changes is lacking and the actions tread on laws established to protect our National Parks. Only time and hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra monitoring and staff costs will tell if this decision was wise.
Beginning this week, the National Park Service will hold a series of public meetings in North Carolina and Virginia. They are seeking input from the public. It is the opportunity for those who enjoy the Seashore for all that it offers to birds, sea turtles, other wildlife, and people to speak up. The National Park Service will also accept comments in writing through August 21st here.
Walker Golder, Audubon North Carolina Deputy Director