April 29, 2015

State makes proposals to Park
Service on wildlife buffers


The  North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission has made its recommendations to the National Park Service on how it should respond to requirements in legislation passed in December by Congress that requires some changes in the seashore's Off-Road Vehicle Plan.

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 state Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC) staff has been meeting with Park Service staff for several months to work out the recommendations on reducing buffer distances to gain more public access to the seashore beaches.

Gordon Myers, WRC executive director, outlined the state agency's recommendations in an April 15 letter to seashore Superintendent David Hallac.

"This letter provides our current thoughts on appropriate buffers for listed species conservation," Myers wrote to Hallac.

In the letter, Myers outlines the differences between state and federal law on endangered species. While human disturbance can affect wildlife nesting, Myers writes, "there is a need to modify buffers on occasion to maintain public access while reducing disturbance to nesting birds and sea turtles.

The WRC staff is proposing that the Park Service use an "iterative" decision model to modify buffers, which "can help balance wildlife conservation and public access needs."

The iterative approach is what the Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance also proposed in its recommendations to the Park Service on how to meet the legislative mandate.

An "iterative" approach is a process or arriving at a decision or desired result by repeating rounds of analysis. It is sometimes used in processes in which the decision is not easily revocable or where the consequences of revocation could be costly.

In this approach, an optimum buffer distance is set for such events as nests or hatched chicks. If the optimum buffer does not block public access, it is applied.  If it does block public access, an alternate route is examined. If the buffer continues to block access with an alternate route, a modified buffer is applied. And so on.

This approach is more flexible than under the current plan and allows for adaptive management by the superintendent -- changing the plan to meet the current circumstances.

"In the application of appropriate buffer protections," Myers wrote, "the NPS should use adaptive management practices to refine its management strategies."

The optimum buffers proposed by WRC for nesting birds and turtles are similar to those now used by the Park Service.

However, WRC proposes modified buffers when public access is blocked, and those are very close to what the access groups have proposed.

Some changes to the current buffers include:

  • 50 meters for American oystercatcher breeding behavior and nesting compared to the current 150 and 150 meters instead of 200 for unfledged chicks.
  • 50 meters for colonial waterbird breeding, nesting, and unfledged chicks compared to the current 200.
  • 50 meters for piping plover breeding and nesting, compared to the current 75, and 200 meters compared to the current 1, 000 for unfledged chicks.
  • 3 meters instead of 10 for sea turtle nests during incubation. Also, WRC proposes that when no corridor or bypass is available around some nests, NPS could relocate them according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service guidelines to reduce some access conflicts.

The WRC also acknowledges that reduction in buffer distances might require more intensive monitoring by seashore biologists.

"Beach access closure should always be the last option and is at the sole discretion of the superintendent," Myers concludes in the letter.

He also notes that WRC can provide funds to support research or other adaptive management actions that conserve wildlife resources.

Click here to read the entire letter from the state Wildlife Resources Commission to the Park Service.

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