Beach Access and Park Issues
July 8, 2010

 Park Service turns down SELC request for
stricter night-driving regulations

By IRENE NOLAN

Cape Hatteras National Seashore Superintendent Mike Murray has denied a request by the Southern Environmental Law Center to expand night-driving restrictions after the death of a nesting loggerhead turtle last month on Ocracoke.

The turtle was crushed by an off-road vehicle, probably in the early morning hours of June 24 when the beach was closed to ORVs under the terms of a consent decree that settled a lawsuit against the park for not having a long-term plan for off-road vehicles.  That lawsuit was filed by SELC, on behalf of its clients, Defenders of Wildlife and the National Audubon Society.

The seashore is being managed under the consent decree until there is a long-term ORV rule and a final Environmental Impact Statement, both scheduled to be published by the end of this year.

The consent decree stipulates that the seashore beaches be closed to ORVs from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. from May 1 through Sept. 16.

In the letter to Murray, dated June 30, SELC said it was responding for that organization and for Defenders of Wildlife and the National Audubon Society

The letter, signed by SELC attorneys Derb Carter and Julie Youngman, says that the National Park Service may “enforce more protective closures or take other measures” than those stipulated in the consent decree.

In light of the “imminent danger” of additional turtle deaths, the SELC attorneys asked that the Park Service immediately implement these measures:

1.    Expand the timing of the night driving ban to the hours between sunset and the time at which the beach is cleared by the Park Service turtle patrol each morning.
2.    Erect barriers to physically close all ORV ramps during those hours by, for instance the use of chains between the posts installed at each ramp.
3.    Increase nighttime monitoring of beaches (using turtle-safe lighting) to detect and deter driving in violation of the night driving rules.

In addition, on July 2, the Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance sent a letter to Murray. 

“Despite decades of ORV use at Cape Hatteras National Seashore,” the CHAPA letter said, “this is the first documented incident of a nesting sea turtle being struck and killed by an ORV at the Seashore.  Yet, despite both the unprecedented nature of this incident and the terms of the Consent Decree, the National Audubon Society, Defenders of Wildlife, and Southern Environmental Law Center (collectively, SELC) unfortunately have decided to use this tragedy as an opportunity to press the National Park Service (NPS) to immediately implement several new measures in order to prevent future harm to sea turtles.”

CHAPA urged Murray to increase nighttime monitoring of beaches to detect and deter driving in violation of the night-driving ban.

And CHAPA encouraged the superintendent to reject SELC’s demand for further restrictions and objected to its request that its letter be considered as a supplement to its original comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.  Comments on the DEIS closed on May 11.

In his letter to SELC and CHAPA, Murray noted that the matter of the sea turtle death was still under investigation.

“At the time of the incident,” he wrote, “the National Park Service was in compliance and continues to be in compliance with the requirements of the consent decree.”

He added that the death of the turtle was “totally reprehensible” and that it “underscores the necessity of improving visitor compliance with resource protection requirements.”

“However,” Murray said, “it is important to recognize this incident for what it was – a criminal violation of the night driving restriction that has resulted in tragic consequences.

“While it is a clear example of the risk that night driving can pose to nesting sea turtles,” he continued, “this is the first ORV-caused fatality of a nesting sea turtle ever recorded at the seashore.”

Murray went on to note that he appreciates concerns about the adequacy of the Park Service enforcement staffing, but that “no realistic amount of law enforcement coverage can eliminate all criminal violations of resource protection measures at the seashore.”

Murray then denied the request to expand the hours of night-driving restrictions and erect physical barriers to close all ramps overnight.   He also denied the SELC request to make further comments to the ones the environmental groups have already made to the DEIS.

“The turtle incident,” he wrote, “despite being a despicable criminal act resulting in a tragedy, is also a learning moment that the NPS will seriously consider in making a final decision about night driving restrictions in the ORV management plan and special regulation.”

Murray did not address another point in the SELC letter that the death of the loggerhead “amounts to an unlawful taking in violation of the Endangered Species Act.” 

“The Biological Opinion for Cape Hatteras National Seashore (dated August 14, 2006, and amended on April 24, 2007) does not provide for an incidental take of even one adult sea turtle,” the SELC letter said.

And the SELC attorneys note that NPS is responsible for “actions that authorize acts that result in a taking of endangered or threatened species.” They go on to note that the Endangered Species Act prohibits the action of those people who actually cause the taking – or death -- but third parties, such as the Park Service, whose actions cause the death.

In other words, SELC, Defenders and Audubon are saying that the actions that the Park Service took – or maybe in this case did not take – caused the death of the loggerhead and that park officials are as guilty as the person who drove the ORV over the sea turtle.


FOR MORE INFORMATION

Click here to read the text of the SELC letter to the seashore superintendent, Mike Murray.

Click here
to read the text of a letter by the Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance to the superintendent.

Click here to read the text of Mike Murray’s response to both groups.





July 1, 2010

UPDATE: SELC demands more night driving restrictions and
local groups offer rewards in aftermath of sea turtle death

By IRENE NOLAN

There have been several developments in the aftermath of the death of a nesting loggerhead turtle that was crushed by an off-road vehicle on Ocracoke Island, apparently in the early morning hours of June 24,

The Southern Environmental Law Center has sent a letter to Cape Hatteras National Seashore Superintendent Mike Murray, demanding that the night driving ban be expanded, that the seashore ramps be physically blocked at night, and that the nighttime monitoring of the beaches at night be increased.

Also, the Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance (CHAPA) and the Ocracoke Business and Civic Association are offering rewards for information leading to the arrest of the person or persons responsible for running over the turtle.

CHAPA is offering a $1,000 reward.  The Ocracoke association is offering a reward that currently stands at $2,250 – with businesses still contributing to the fund. That’s a total of $3,250.

An ORV ran over and crushed the loggerhead, which had come ashore to nest, between Ramps 70 and 72 on the southern end of Ocracoke Island.  The turtle was discovered around 6:10 a.m. on Thursday, June 24, by the Park Service’s turtle patrol.

The National Park Service has said that this is the first known incident at the seashore of a turtle being killed by an ORV.

Night driving is prohibited on the seashore from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. to protect nesting sea turtles. Park Service investigators think the turtle was killed during those hours by an ORV driver who was violating the night closure.

Chief enforcement ranger Paul Stevens said today that the investigators have made no progress in tracking down the person responsible for the death of the animal.

Cameras at the ramp, he said, recorded three vehicles entered the area after 10 p.m. The cameras were working, and there are photos, Stevens said, but the camera system has a problem with providing photos of the vehicles at night – the photos are overexposed. He did note that the contractor that installed the system is going to be seeing what can be done about having photos that could better indentify vehicles.

In the letter to Murray, dated June 30, SELC said it was responding for that organization and for Defenders of Wildlife and the National Audubon Society.  The latter two groups filed suit again the Park Service in the fall of 2007 and were represented by SELC  That lawsuit was settled by a consent decree, signed off on by all parties and by a federal court judge.

The seashore is being managed under the consent decree until there is a long-term ORV rule and a final Environmental Impact Statement, both scheduled to be published by the end of this year.

The consent decree stipulates that the seashore beaches be closed to ORVs from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. from May 1 through Sept. 16.

The letter, signed by SELC attorneys Derb Carter and Julie Youngman, says that the National Park Service may “enforce more protective closures or take other measures” than those stipulated in the consent decree.

In light of the “imminent danger” of additional turtle deaths, the SELC attorneys have asked that the Park Service immediately implement these measures:

1.    Expand the timing of the night driving ban to the hours between sunset and the time at which the beach is cleared by the Park Service turtle patrol each morning.
2.    Erect barriers to physically close all ORV ramps during those hours by, for instance the use of chains between the posts installed at each ramp.
3.    Increase nighttime monitoring of beaches (using turtle-safe lighting) to detect and deter driving in violation of the night driving rules.


The SELC noted that the death of the loggerhead last week “amounts to an unlawful taking in violation of the Endangered Species Act.” 

“The Biological Opinion for Cape Hatteras National Seashore (dated August 14, 2006, and amended on April 24, 2007) does not provide for an incidental take of even one adult sea turtle,” the letter said.

And the SELC attorneys note that NPS is responsible and liable for “actions that authorize acts that result in a taking of endangered or threatened species.” In other words, the Endangered Species Act prohibits not only the actions of those who "directly exact" the taking -- the driver who ran over the turtle -- but also bans those acts of a third party -- in this case the National Park Service -- that enable the person to kill the turtle.  One assumes that means NPS is responsible since it does not sufficiently patrol the beaches at night to keep such lawbreakers who would harm turtles off the beach.

In other words, SELC, Defenders and Audubon are saying that the actions that the Park Service took – or maybe in this case did not take – caused the death of the loggerhead and that park officials are as guilty as the person who drove the ORV over the sea turtle.

Murray, the seashore’s superintendent, said in an e-mail today that the park received an electronic copy of the letter from SELC yesterday and a hard copy by mail today.  He said he did not expect that there would be a response this week.

The North Carolina Beach Buggy Association issued a statement in response to the ruest of the environmental groups for increased night-driving restrictions.

“The environmentalists (DOW, SELC, and Audubon) who want to close our beaches have responded to this incident by calling for a lock down of the seashore from sunset to sundown,” the statement said. “Instead of offering a reward of their own or condemning this deliberate act of vandalism, they use this terrible tragedy as another way to further their agenda of turning Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area into a gated community to which we the taxpaying public have no access. Common sense not irrational reactions should prevail’

The NCBBA went on to argue that “Installing barriers will not stop those intent on breaking the law and this might just force lawbreakers to drive around the barrier doing more damage to the dunes themselves. Locks only keep honest folks honest; those intent on breaking the law will do so.”


FOR MORE INFORMATION


To report any information about the death of the sea turtle on Ocracoke in the morning hours of Thursday, June, 24, please call Dare County Crime Line at 252-473-3111.

To read the SELC letter to Seashore Superintendent Mike Murray demanding more protections, click here.

To read the SELC media release of June 26 on the death of the sea turtle, click here.

To read the North Carolina Beach Buggy Association’s statement on the turtle fatality, click here.



June 25, 2010

Park Service seeking driver of ORV that crushed loggerhead on Ocracoke

By IRENE NOLAN


The National Park Service is seeking information from the public about the death of a nesting female loggerhead turtle that was crushed by an off-road vehicle during the night-time hours between June 23 and June 24. 

The turtle had crawled out of the ocean and attempted to lay a nest between Ramps 70 and 72 on Ocracoke Island.  It was hit by an ORV and dragged about 12 feet, causing extreme injuries to its carapace and plastron. 

According to law enforcement ranger Jon Anglin, the Park Service investigators think the driver of the ORV hit the turtle, dragged it, got the vehicle hung up on it, then backed up to get the vehicle free.

Anglin said the person or persons in the truck apparently knew they hit the turtle because there were footprints around the scene.

The Park Service believes it is the first time a nesting sea turtle has been killed by an ORV at the seashore. 

Loggerhead sea turtles are federally protected as a threatened species.  They nest on the seashore beaches from late spring until early fall.  Adult turtles can grow up to three feet across and can weigh up to 250 pounds.


The animal was found dead by Michele Bogardus, lead sea turtle biologist on Ocracoke,
about 6:10 a.m. on  the morning of June 24. 

“It was a devastating accident,” Bogardus said about the very gruesome scene she encountered. “I personally could go the rest of my life with seeing anything like that again.”

Bogardus said that some of the dead turtle’s eggs were rescued and transplanted to a nest at the toe of the dunes.

Park Service law enforcement rangers who are investigating believe the incident happened during the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. when the beach is closed to vehicles under the terms of a court-enforced consent decree that settled a lawsuit against NPS for not have the required rules for operating ORVs on the seashore.

The vehicle that struck and killed the turtle is likely to be a four-wheel drive sport utility vehicle (SUV) or pick-up truck, park officials said. It entered and exited the beach via Ramp 72.

Anglin said the Park Service is consulting with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the investigation.
Park officials urge anyone who has any information about this incident to call the Dare Community Crime Line at 252-473-3111.
“There are people out there in the community who were not involved but who have heard something,” Anglin said. Those are the people he hopes will come forward with any small piece of information.

Also, at 6:52 a.m. on the same day, June 24, the turtle patrol discovered tire tracks over a new loggerhead nest that had not yet been marked. That nest was in the same area, just south of Ramp 70 on Ocracoke.

Park officials are not sure if that incident happened overnight when beach driving is prohibited, nor are they sure whether one or more vehicles drove over the nest.

Twelve eggs were crushed. The nest was relocated to a new safer site.




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