June 25, 2012 UPDATE:
Congressman Walter Jones (R, NC-3) and North Carolina Senators Kay Hagan and Richard Burr have introduced damaging legislation that seeks to overturn the balanced, reasonable and responsible regulation developed by the National Park Service in favor of unlimited off-road vehicles on Cape Hatteras National Seashore beaches regardless of other visitors and wildlife.
Over the past four years, the National Park Service tested its protective measures, including temporary protections for wildlife, safety for pedestrians, and reasonable and responsible beach driving. In that time, wildlife has thrived and tourism has flourished. Since 2008, wildlife has rebounded from the brink, with sea turtles and several rare bird species nesting in record numbers.
During these four years, seashore visitation held steady, even increased during the peak of beach-driving restrictions, and the local tourism board reported growing revenues, despite the nationwide recession. Hatteras Island visitors spent a record-setting $27.8 million during July 2010, and broke that record the next July, spending nearly $29.6 million. Rep. Jones’s bill, and the companion bill introduced by Senators Hagan and Burr, would eliminate these National Park Service measures and, likely, these record-setting revenues for North Carolina and the local area.
While temporary measures were in place, the National Park Service worked hard to develop its regulation to protect people’s ability to enjoy multiple activities safely while accommodating other folks’ desire to drive on the beach. It took into account the comments of tens of thousands of Americans and numerous studies by scientists and economists, culminating in February 2012 in a final beach driving management plan that ensures access for all beachgoers to do what they enjoy most at Cape Hatteras, while also protecting threatened and endangered birds and turtles.
The Park Service enacted the final plan after a long public process. The vast majority of commenters supported even stronger protection of the beach and its wildlife and even stricter limits on beach driving. In the end, the final plan leaves ample sections of Cape Hatteras’ beaches available for off-road driving and all of it open to pedestrians, except for when small areas are temporarily closed to protect actively nesting birds or sea turtles.
The plan is not perfect. Birds and other wildlife are still in jeopardy in parts of the Seashore that are open to vehicles. Pedestrians and families with kids must still be careful on beaches that are open to vehicles. But it’s far better than the Seashore’s policies prior to 2008.
The National Park Service’s plan builds on this success and ensures that all people can enjoy the beach, whether they prefer to access the beach by vehicle or enjoy it on foot. The Park Service is even planning additional infrastructure to further enhance beach access.
Unfortunately, the short-sighted legislation (HR 4094) by Congressman Jones to abolish the park service’s carefully balanced plan and its sensible safeguards was included in broader legislation that passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday, June 19th. Similar legislation has been introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senators Hagan and Burr (S.2372).
The House and Senate bills seek to fix a non-existent problem. Their passage will pave the way to convert Cape Hatteras from a national park into a national parking lot. They jeopardize the economic benefits of a balanced beach management plan. They jeopardize the safe enjoyment of the beach for families and the majority of people who prefer to visit the seashore without driving on it. They jeopardize wildlife that depend on the seashore’s beaches.
The National Park Service, the American public, all park visitors, nesting birds and turtles, and allwildlife that depend on the beaches of Cape Hatteras National Seashore should be given a chance to succeed without political interference. Every indication from the past four years of success gives hope to a future in which both wildlife and tourism will thrive under the National Park Service’s balanced plan for beach driving.
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