five dozen scientists have signed on to a letter drafted by Audubon
North Carolina which solicited signers to add their support in asking
the National Park Service to adopt the "highest degree of protection"
listed in the US Geological Survey's management protocols that include
full year round closure to all recreation -- both ORV and pedestrians
-- of Bodie Island Spit, Cape Point, South Beach, Hatteras Spit, North
Ocracoke and South Ocracoke.
The protection called for also would limit recreational use of the
remainder of seashore under National Park Service control to protect a
"zone of the ocean backshore at least 10 meters wide and running the
length of the site from recreation. This zone should be adjacent to the
toe of the primary dune wherever a primary dune exists (i.e.,
recreation should be restricted to a corridor between mean high tide
line and the edge of the zone of protected backshore)...Management
should revert to Option A item 1 if plovers are documented in an
area..." states the protocol for piping plovers. Option A item 1 is a
complete closure of all potential nesting, roosting and
At the very least, states the letter, the "moderate level" of
protection described in the protocol should be adopted. This measure
also would close the areas to ORV use year round and keep boats"
outside of 50 meters from the habitat at the sites, where applicable."
"Pedestrians may be permitted within a narrow walking and sunbathing
corridor extending landward from the mean high tide line, from sunrise
to sunset, on the oceanside only," states the protocol.
"Pets, kite-flying, Frisbee and ball-playing, fireworks, wildlife
feeding and trash disposal should be prohibited." The protocol document
also notes that the corridor could be narrowed or eliminated if
necessary to prevent disturbance to plovers.
Since the letter was discovered by the Outer Banks Sentinel on
Audubon's Internet site earlier this month, that area of the Web site
has become password-protected.
The signed letter, dated Dec. 21, 2009, was sent to Mike Murray,
superintendent of the Outer Banks Group and copied to
Jarvis, director, National Park Service (NPS) as well as several other
high level NPS employees.
"... scientists working for USGS developed specific protocols for
management of certain protected species on the Seashore. We urge you to
strictly adhere to the expert guidance presented in scientific studies,
conservation plans, recovery plans, and recommendations from experts as
you develop the regulation for ORV use on Cape Hatteras National
Seashore," states the letter.
"...We urge the National Park Service to implement the highest level of
protection to the extent possible, but certainly no less than the
moderate level of protection as described in the USGS protocols."
Of the signers, several were involved in creating the protocols, some
were Audubon employees or board members, and others were scientists
working for the federal government in other agencies.
Also signing the letter was Sam Pearsall who, during the
process, represented The Nature Conservancy. The conservancy eliminated
itself from the process by sending a letter to Murray stating that the
process wasn't being based on science. Since that time, Pearsall has
left that organization and is now with the Environmental Defense Fund.
In comments from some of the signers attached to the letter, Pearsall
stated: “I sign this petition enthusiastically, strongly
supporting its intentions and recommendations. I am not an expert on
shore birds or turtles, but I have 30+ years of experience in large
systems ecology, coastal habitats, and conservation."
Asked to clarify the reason for The Nature Conservancy leaving the
negotiating table, Debbie Crane, spokesperson for The Nature
Conservancy, responded by e-mail: "Sam resigned his job here and went
to EDF about the time the letter was written. We've never filled his
position, so there really isn't anyone here with the expertise he
brought to the table on this issue, which was largely centered around
counting the species."
Pearsall did not respond to an e-mail asking for clarification. Emails
were sent by the Sentinel to several signers asking if they had read
the protocols and if it concerned them that the management documents
have not gone through peer review, there is little data, no models and
no goals listed.
Christine Bates, fish and wildlife biologist in the Burns District
office in Hines, Ore., responded that, yes, she had read the protocols.
"One of the scientists’ mistakes is that they did not estimate
the populations obsession with ORV activities. Therefore, we are just
starting to set up monitoring protocols for this rapid soil disturbing
activity. Funding is a problem and the absence of models, goals and
data should be a concern, but it should not stop the decision to have
an emergency closure of specific sensitive areas," wrote Bates.
Funding for studies is often a problem for scientists, wrote Bates.
"Sometimes in our data gathering we forget that the ORV groups should
complete the data gathering to prove that their activities are not
jeopardizing the existence of species that utilize that habitat...
“Therefore, I believe that the ORV groups should be responsible
for proving that their activities do not have an effect.
“They should develop the scientifically sound models, goals, and
data to prove that they can effectively monitor the activities of every
"...I believe that ORVs are fun and I have one, but areas should be
excluded for wildlife protection. When it comes to seashores, there can
be a happy medium like Camp Pendleton, CA where the Least Tern has its
nesting grounds and the U.S. Marines play everywhere else..."
While the letter writing campaign rages on both sides of the issues,
release of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement continues to be
expected at some date in the future.