Beach Access Issues
March 24, 2008

The fox on the beach: More public comment

By IRENE NOLAN


Rob Alderman of Buxton, who runs the Web site Hatteras Island Fishing Militia and also produces and stars in a cable television show, “The Outer Banks Angler,” spoke during public comment sessions at both days of the March negotiated rulemaking session in Avon.

However, it was on the second day – Wednesday, March 19 – that he really got the attention of the committee members and islanders who were there to listen to comments.

There was a standing-room only crowd at the Avon Fire Hall when Alderman, who was first on the public comment list, took the microphone.  He had a handful of photos which he passed around the table, so committee members could see them.

His handout photos included pictures of a fox on the beach at Cape Point and then a park ranger standing outside the open door of the Park Service truck, aiming a shotgun in the direction of the fox.

According the Alderman, there were about 20 vehicles “with men, women, and children” at the Point when the incident occurred late last summer.  The foxed was killed.

Alderman contrasted a widely circulated letter from Caroline Kennedy, senior director of field conservation for the Defenders of Wildlife to the scene last summer at Cape Point.

Her letter to supporters began with “Each year, more than 10,000 wild animals are poisoned to death with sodium cyanide and sodium fluoroacetate, experiencing horrific deaths that can take hours. These deadly poisons are designed to kill coyotes but they also have killed swift foxes, wolves and other imperiled wildlife… as well as family dogs and people.”

Alderman asked why Defenders of Wildlife could ask supporters to write letters to save wildlife in the western United States, while allowing a fox, a predator of many shorebirds, to be killed on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

“You could take these birds to a dredge island,” he said.  “But, you, as defenders of wildlife, will leave them in place on the beach and then kill more wildlife to protect them.”

After the public comments, Cape Hatteras National Seashore Superintendent Mike Murray addressed the issue of the photos and the fox on the beach.

“The bottom line,” he said, “is that I made the decision to terminate the fox.

The decision, he said, was not made to protect birds but to protect humans.

Murray, who has a degree in biology and has worked in wildlife management at other national parks,  noted that the fox was in a place where you would not normally find one – way out on the beach at Cape Point – and that it was showing “unusual comfort around humans.”

The animal’s behavior was not normal, Murray said, and after conferring with several other staff members, he decided to ask a ranger to destroy the animal.

The fox was tested after it was killed, and it did not have rabies.

The Park Service, he noted, does have a policy of predator management and control on the seashore beaches.  Both foxes and feral cats, as well as gulls and other birds, are known predators of the nests and hatchlings of protected shorebirds.

An irony of the fox on the beach story is that the incident happened while Murray was leading a tour of Cape Point and shorebird nesting areas for members of the negotiated rulemaking committee.


One of the members on the beach that day was Jason Rylander, attorney for Defenders of Wildlife, which is suing the park over its interim plan to protect shorebirds.

Rylander did not defend or criticize the incident with the fox at Cape Point, but he did talk generally about protecting wildlife.

“We stand for biodiversity,” Rylander told the committee members and others after the public comment session. “And sometimes we have to make difficult choices.”


   


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