April 29, 2015
NPS releases proposed changes
to wildlife protection buffers
By IRENE NOLAN
National Park Service today released proposals for how it will
comply with changes in wildlife protections on the Cape Hatteras
National Seashore that are required by legislation passed last December
by the U.S. Congress.
Among other things, the Cape Hatteras
National Seashore legislation, passed as part of the National Defense
Authorization Bill, instructs the Secretary of the 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.
The legislation is intended
to provide more access to the seashore for pedestrians and ORVs during
the nesting season for shorebirds and sea turtles.
released is an Environmental Assessment that is titled "Review and
Adjustment of Wildlife Protection Buffers." It analyzes the
potential impact of two courses of action -- Alternative A, which is
"no action" or continuing with current management and is the
environmentally preferred alternative, and Alternative B, which
modifies buffers and/or provides additional access corridors and is the
park's preferred alternative.
The Park Service is proposing some
reduction in buffers or other means of increased access, such as
corridors, for all protected species on the seashore at some point in
the nesting process.
Here are the highlights of the plan:
American oystercatchers: There would be an ORV corridor at the
waterline during nesting, but only when no alternate route is
available, and the nest is at least 25 meters from the vehicle
corridor. Buffers for nests and unfledged chicks would stay the same as
they are now. The corridor would provide access around some, but not
all, oystercatcher nests on the seashore.
piping plovers: The buffer during nesting would be reduced from 75
meters to 50 meters for both pedestrians and ORVs. For unfledged
chicks, the buffer would be reduced from 300 meters to 100 meters for
pedestrians and from 1,000 meters to 500 meters for ORVs. Where the
standard 500 meter buffer blocks ORV access, the buffer may be reduced
to no less than 200 meters to allow an access corridor along the
shoreline. This proposal has the potential to open up more access to
areas that piping plovers nest at Cape Point and South Point on
- For Wilson’s plovers: The buffer
during nesting would be reduced from 75 meters to 50 meters for
pedestrians and ORVs. The pedestrian buffer for unfledged chicks would
be reduced from 200 meters to 100 meters, the same as for piping
plovers. The ORV buffer for unfledged chicks would increase from 200
meters to a standard 500 meters. However, where an ORV corridor does
not exist, the buffer may be reduced to no less than 200 meters to
allow an access corridor along the shoreline.
least terns: The buffer for unfledged chicks would be reduced from 200
meters to 100 meters for both pedestrians and ORVs. The buffer for
nests would stay the same.
- For common terns,
gull-billed terns, and black skimmers: The buffer for these species
during nesting would be reduced from 200 meters to 180 meters for both
pedestrians and ORVs. For unfledged chicks, the buffer would be reduced
from 200 meters to 180 meters for both pedestrians and ORVs.
sea turtles: The expansion buffer would be reduced to 30 meters (15
meters on either side), and, when light filtering fencing is installed,
5 meters minimum behind the nest. This buffer would be the same for
vehicle-free areas, village areas, and ORV routes. Visitors would be
able to walk behind the buffer or in front of a nest, walking as close
as practicable to the surf line. For ORVs, visitors would use an
existing corridor around a nest, if available. In the absence of an
existing corridor, the shorter buffer behind the nest would allow ORVs
to travel behind a nest where sufficient beach width exists. Where a
turtle nest blocks access from one ORV area to another and no way
around the nest exists, visitors could drive in front of the nest if
NPS resources exist to monitor the nest and remove ruts.
nests laid prior to June 1, the seashore would retain the option of not
expanding the buffer until day 60, unless signs of hatching prior to
day 60 were detected. Currently, the nests are expanded at 50 to
55 days. For nests laid after Aug. 20, the seashore would retain the
option of not expanding the buffer for nests that block access to ORV
passage. Instead, these nests laid after Aug. 20 would be monitored
daily for signs of hatching and managed appropriately to avoid impacts
if signs of hatching are observed. Where signs of hatching are observed
-- for instance, a depression -- buffers would be expanded as outlined
for nests laid before Aug. 20.
The Park Service says that the
proposed buffers and corridors are contingent on having the resources
to do intensive or increased monitoring to protect species. If
resource management personnel observe adverse impacts to wildlife, the
seashore could revert to the resource protection measures that are
According to the document, the Park Service
would need $260,000 in additional funding to provide more intensive
monitoring. That amount includes $80,000 for four additional
employees to monitor sea turtle nests, $120,000 for six additional
employees to monitor bird nests and chicks, and $60,000 for three
additional law enforcement personnel. The amounts include salaries and
additional expenses, such as housing.
The wildlife protection
changes included in the Environmental Assessment include some, but not
all, of the modifications that were proposed to the Park Service by the
Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance and the North Carolina
Wildlife Resources Commission.
Seashore officials have scheduled
five public meetings next week at which they will explain the proposals
and answer questions. The Environmental Assessment document will
be open for public comment until May 14.
David Hallac has said that after public comments are reviewed, a final
document will be issued. That, he said, will be by the June 16
deadline mandated by the legislation.
He also has said that
whether the reduced buffers and/or corridors can be implemented for
this spring and summer nesting season will depend on funding and
hiring additional staff members.
The Park Service last week
released a list of expedited construction projects that will provide
increased access by ORVs. That was also required by the
After June 16, Hallac says that seashore staff
members will turn to the final part of the legislation. That portion
requires the Park Service to conduct 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.
The Secretary of the Interior must report back to Congress on how it has complied with all requirements by the end of the year.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Click here to read the entire document, Environmental Assessment/Review and Adjustment of Wildlife Protection Buffers.
Click here for a table of buffers for birds and turtles under the Park Service's proposed preferred alternative.
Click here for a table that compares current buffers and proposed buffers.
public meetings are scheduled for the week of May 4 to provide the
public with the opportunity to learn about the proposed actions.
They are scheduled for:
- Monday, May 4. Ocracoke School, 1 Schoolhouse Road, from 6 to 8 p.m.
- Tuesday, May 5. Buxton at Cape Hatteras Secondary School, 48576 Highway 12, from 6 until 8 p.m.
May 6. Raleigh, North Carolina. N.C. State University Campus, McKimmon
Conference and Training Center, 1101 Gorman Street, Raleigh, from 6
until 8 p.m.
- Thursday, May 7. Hampton/ Norfolk, Virginia. Embassy Suites Hampton Roads, 1700 Coliseum Drive, Hampton, from 6 to 8 p.m.
- Friday, May 8. Kitty Hawk. Hilton Garden Inn, 5353 N. Virginia Dare Trail, Kitty Hawk, from 6 until 8 p.m.
on the Environmental Assessment must be delivered or postmarked no
later than May 14, 2015. The Park Service says it prefers electronic
comments, which can be made on the park's planning, environment, and
public comment (PEPC) website, http://parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?parkID=358&projectID=56762&documentID=65752.
Comments can also be mailed to: Superintendent, Cape Hatteras
National Seashore, 1401 National Park Drive, Manteo, NC
27954. Comments will not be accepted by fax, e-mail, social media
or in any other manner than those specified above. Bulk comments
in hard copy or electronic formats submitted on behalf of others will
not be accepted.