Column: Why Park Service policies are bad for wildlife protection
By BOB DAVIS
results indicate a record breaking year in Cape Hatteras National
Seashore Recreational Area for sea turtle nesting as global warming
shifts the turtle population northward from Florida. Derb Carter of the
Southern Environmental Law Center, as expected, took credit for the
increased nesting in Cape Hatteras and shared the accolades with the
friendly U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle.
will he also take credit for helping to push the turtles into
extinction, which is the consequence of this increased nesting?
of human interest in the decreased turtle population and the Endangered
Species Act, the nesting of sea turtles is monitored all along the U.S.
coast. All beaches are patrolled for turtle activities. When nests are
detected, the degree of protection afforded a nest varies widely in
different coastal areas.
most common protection is by relocation of the nest to a safer location
to prevent damage by weather, humans or predators. The greatest
protection is practiced in Texas, where each nest is either relocated
to a laboratory hatchery or a screened corral on the beach. All
hatchlings are counted and escorted safely to the sea to begin their
life journey until they reach maturity after 20 to 30 years and return
to some shoreline to repeat the cycle. In other states, the nests may
be relocated into corrals or selected safe areas with the practice of
human nest sitters to ensure that hatchlings reach the water without
predation or mishap.
nearby Virginia at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, the nests are
relocated into individual cages and clustered behind the primary dunes
with close monitoring until release into the ocean. In Pea Island
National Wildlife Refuge (within CHNSRA), the nests are relocated to
safer high beaches with nest sitters who deploy birth canals of garden
fencing to manage the usual gauntlet of ghost crabs that would prey
upon the hatchlings.
CHNSRA practices a natural nesting policy advocated by Dr. Matthew
Godfrey of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. Nests are
left in place where they are laid and moved only if in imminent danger
of washout or deep-sand burial. Under this policy about 15 to 20
percent of the nests are relocated each year. This relocation is not to
a selected safe area. The nests
are merely moved closer to the nearest dune.
SELC encourages this policy since relocation to the dune base will
close that beach to vehicular traffic in line with the Defenders of
Wildlife agenda to remove all public vehicles from federal lands.
CHNSRA, only a few nests convenient to the villages are provided with
nest sitters. The majority are left to the natural predation of ghost
crabs. These predators have flourished by the National Park Service
restrictions on vehicle operations. The result is that the NPS has no
idea how many hatchlings escape to the ocean. Instead, park officials
remain ignorant of their status in aiding or hindering the sea turtle
recovery effort under the ESA.
CHNSRA turtle policy has produced the worst record along the coast.
Within the sea turtle protection community, any loss of nests greater
than 20 percent is considered catastrophic. CHNSRA routinely loses 20
to 40 percent of the nests every year.
survival as a species would be better served if the NPS erected fencing
along the entire shoreline to force the turtles to nest elsewhere,
where they would receive proper care. With better management, the
turtles could survive the “Killing Fields” of the Hatteras dynamic
beaches, but the Park Service steadfastly refuses to change its tactic
of closing the beaches to human use as the choice for “protection” for
birds and turtles.
Here is the
seashore’s proud record of turtle nest loss since the 2008 consent
LOST PERCENT NEST LOSS
Nests lost includes nests in which no eggs hatched and those noted as
“lost nest,” which are washed away so that eggs could not be counted.
Every year produced a catastrophic loss of nests. These results are
similar to the experience prior to the consent decree. The Park Service
has killed thousands of mammals as potential predators, closed the
beaches at night, and severely restricted travel and access in the day
time -- all to no avail.
attempt to promote turtle recovery is miserable because the NPS
management is wrong. The greater the number of turtles that nest under
the NPS control in CHNSRA, the greater will be the nest losses and the
greater will be the decrease in species survival.
do not fare much better under NPS management.
early spring, the birds are lured into large pre-nesting areas which
have historic poor fledging success. The purpose of the ESA is to
prevent extinction and increase the wildlife species population.
Increased nesting is only beneficial if it leads to increased fledging
to improve the population. Humans are denied the use of the inlet
shorelines to provide bird nesting.
all these years, there has never been one successful plover fledge at
the inlets, with the exception of 2011 when two chicks fledged on Bodie
Island. The fledge rate (fledges per pair) for the past 10 years has
averaged 0.75, which is only half the 1.5 target for recovery of the
encouragement of bird nesting at these inlets has been a serious waste
of bird energies when the birds should be sent elsewhere for some
degree of success.
plover fledging has always been best at the Cape Point dredge pond,
which has contributed to 80 percent of the plover fledging in CHNSRA.
This man-made feature with ephemeral ponds and good feeding habitat has
produced the best source of food to aid in fledging for plovers. The
NPS mismanagement has reduced the good habitat by encouraging
vegetative growth. As with the turtle resource, the NPS
to change its management policies so as to help the piping plovers.
public has been misled by the SELC and the Park Service into believing
that beach closure is necessary to protect wildlife. In some instances,
the public has been actually lied to in that regard. Closure has been
non-viable for propagation.
movement by the NPS in that direction justifies the suspicion that the
NPS is not dedicated to wildlife protection but merely wants to placate
environmental lawyers and ally themselves with such groups to deny
public use of this National Seashore.
the NPS has concluded that the public protest to closure would be
ineffectual whereas the SELC lawyers were a clear and immediate danger
to be mollified.
could be the ultimate bureaucratic cost cutting for austere times:
Restrict the public to the village fronts and run the rest of the
CHNSRA as a wildlife sanctuary. During the failed negotiated rulemaking
effort, the representatives from Audubon wanted the inlets and the
Buxton-Frisco South Beach for birds and free of human recreation. They
got much of their wish, even though these areas have proven to be
unproductive for birdlife.
Davis lives in Buxton and is an advocate for wildlife and for more
reasonable public access to the seashore. He participated in the failed
attempt at negotiated rulemaking.)