April 15, 2015

Access groups make proposals
to NPS on buffers, corridors


The Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance (CHAPA) has made public its proposals to the National Park Service on how it believes seashore resource management policies should be changed to comply with legislation passed by Congress last December.

The Cape Hatteras National Seashore legislation, passed as part of the National Defense Authorization Bill, instructs the Secretary of Interior to review and adjust wildlife protection buffers, keep them in place the shortest possible duration, designate vehicle and pedestrian corridors around resource closures, and confer with the state of North Carolina on certain buffers and protections.

It also makes other modifications to the final Off-Road Vehicle Plan, such as conducting a public process to consider such changes as the earlier opening of beaches that are closed at night during the summer, extending seasonal ORV routes in the fall and spring, and modifying the size and location of vehicle-free areas. And it instructs seashore officials to construct new vehicle access points and roads as expeditiously as possible.

The proposals that CHAPA sent to seashore Superintendent Dave Hallac on April 10 deal with the portion of the legislation that addresses the need for the Park Service to revisit the buffers and designate vehicle and pedestrian corridors around resource closures.

CHAPA is an umbrella organization comprised of groups that support more reasonable access to seashore beaches than is allowed under the ORV plan that became effective in 2012. The alliance includes the Outer Banks Preservation Association, The North Carolina Beach Buggy Association, and Cape Hatteras Anglers Club, and members of the Hatteras Island business community.

In a cover letter to Hallac, David Scarborough, treasurer of OBPA, noted that CHAPA's recommendations were formulated after members of the group met with Pete Benjamin, field supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Gordon Myers, executive director of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, and Hallac and members of the seashore staff.

"The package covered by this letter refines and summarizes proposals we have previously discussed for changes to the current resource management policies and practices that we believe necessary for compliance with the portion of the legislation required to be implemented within 180 days of its passage," Scarborough wrote to Hallac.

The letter notes that the new law requires  “..that the buffers are of the shortest duration and cover the smallest area necessary to protect a species…” and designation of "pedestrian and vehicle corridors around areas of the National Seashore closed because of wildlife buffers, to allow access to areas that are open.”

Scarborough said that CHAPA believes that its proposals provide necessary and appropriate resource protections while allowing more reasonable pedestrian and vehicle access than the current ORV management plan.

The proposal includes documents on protections for American oystercatchers and colonial waterbirds, which are not federally  listed but are state listed as "species of concern," piping plovers, which are federally listened as threatened, and sea turtles, federally listed as endangered and/or threatened.

"The documents have evolved over the course of our conversations," Scarborough said of the meetings with other agencies and seashore staff.

CHAPA outlines a "multi-step decision-making process" for resource management that allows for flexibility.

The documents also include a grid which CHAPA calls a "buffer and corridors decision matrix" that outlines current buffers, proposed new standard buffers, procedures for bypasses and corridors around closures, and the duration of the buffers.

Here are some of the highlights of the CHAPA proposals:

  • Standard buffers for American oystercatchers would not change.  They are 150 meters for courtship, nesting, and abandoned and lost nests and 200 meters for unfledged chicks and post fledging.
  • Standard buffers for colonial waterbirds would be reduced from 75 meters to 50 meters for courtship, nesting, and abandoned nests, and from 200 meters to 150 meters for unfledged chicks.
  • Standard buffers for piping plovers would be reduced from 75 meters to 50 meters for courtship nesting, and abandoned nests and from 1,000 meters to 200 meters on each side of the brood for the first week and 100 meters after that. These buffers, CHAPA said, are based on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's 1996 Piping Plover Recovery Plan.
  • Additional NPS staff members should be used if required to monitor the movement of unfledged piping plover chicks to enable the smaller buffers.
  • Pedestrians and vehicles should not be prohibited in pre-nesting closures for oystercatchers and colonial waterbirds.
  • All pre-nesting closures should be removed no later than July 31.
  • In all cases, if buffers close pedestrian or vehicle access, the park should look first to a bypass, separated from the resource by natural or manmade barriers, such as dunes.  If a bypass is not available, the park should consider a corridor around or through the closure.
  • If neither a bypass or corridor is possible, the park should consider modified, lesser buffer distances.  If the buffer cannot be modified, the superintendent should have the discretion to reduce the buffer to a minimum on a case-by-case basis.
  • The duration of resource closures would be reduced from two weeks to one week if a nest is abandoned.
  • All buffers are to be removed immediately after chicks fledge.
  • Sea turtle nest buffers would be about the same as they currently are under park resource policies. Hatch-window buffers would be reduced and more emphasis would be placed on bypasses and corridors around nests in the hatch window.
  • If no temporary bypass or alternate route is available during the hatch window, the nest would be relocated.
  • The recommendations also call for solid light-impermeable fencing extending to the high tide line during the period of Sept. 15-Nov. 15 when night driving is permitted on ORV routes with no turtle nests. The purpose of the fencing would be to protect hatchlings from disturbance from headlights of vehicles in ORV routes. This would stop situations such as the one that arose last fall when the ORV route from Ramp 44 to Cape Point was closed from Oct. 6 until Nov. 25 because of possible light disturbance to a nest that was adjacent -- to but not in -- the ORV route.

Hallac has said that the seashore's recommendations for complying with the new legislation will be made public in mid- to late April and will be followed by five public meetings.

Seashore staff members have been meeting for several months to collect and evaluate peer-reviewed science on buffers, which Hallac says will also be made public. The Park Service has also included the state Wildlife Resources Commission and Fish and Wildlife in its discussions.

The Department of Interior must report back to Congress on what it proposes to do about modifying buffers and providing corridors and bypasses by mid-June.

It is possible that some, but not all, of the seashore's recommendations could be implemented during the current nesting season.

The Park Service has until the end of the year to comply with the other parts of the legislation.  Hallac says that staff members will turn its attention to them when the first part on buffers is completed.


Click here to see the all of the documents on buffers and corridors that CHAPA sent to the Park Service.


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