Seashore plans science workshops to evaluate bird, turtle management
By CATHERINE KOZAK
Cape Hatteras National Seashore faces growing pressures from climate
change, public recreation, and tight budgets, a panel of scientists
will meet at a workshop in Kill Devil Hills this month to evaluate the
evolving factors that affect protected shorebirds and sea turtles
within the park.
And, for a change, the subject will not be centered around controversial beach driving issues.
“This is not an ORV management workshop,” said David Hallac,
superintendent of the National Park Service Outer Banks Group,
“although there will be some discussion of human impact on these
species. But that’s not the only thing we’ll be discussing.”
The two-day workshop at the Ramada Plaza hotel will be held all day on
Monday, Sept. 26 and until noon on Sept. 27. It is open to the public.
A half-hour comment period will be offered at the end of the first day.
Presentations by scientific experts on the species’ habitat, behavior
and population dynamics will fill the first day. Meanwhile, an
objective panel of scientists will listen to presenters, and on the
second day, a discussion will be held.
“It will be really cool,” Hallac said. “It’ll be an opportunity for
some of the panelists to start to work through the questions we’re
The event is fulfillment of the plan laid out in the June 2015 FONSI –
shorthand for Finding of No Significant Impact - modifying the off-road
vehicle buffers in the seashore’s beach driving management plan.
With the stated goal of guiding adaptive management of the species, the
FONSI promised that the Park Service would implement science workshops
“to ensure that current research and monitoring activities are
appropriate to help understand the impacts of human use of beaches on
The workshops would consider trends, conditions and desirable outcomes
in evaluating the success of wildlife nesting and factors that affect
habitat, the document said, leading to “an improved understanding of
the impacts of recreation and seashore management on wildlife.”
A work plan for an adaptive management program, including
recommendations for future monitoring and research, is supposed
to be completed within two years after the FONSI was finalized.
The panel’s report will synthesize known scientific factors that could
affect the birds’ and turtles’ use of the seashore, assess how the
factors determine the species productivity and use of the seashore
habitat, assess management targets and whether they are reasonable, and
provide conclusions on key variables and future needs to help reach
management objectives through adaptive management.
The Park Service can choose what part of the report to follow, but
Hallac said he expects that there will much in the recommendations that
will help the park improve its management.
“We will certainly very carefully and seriously review the findings,” he said.
Hallac said that the workshop is a standard agency tool used to pull
together current science to meet or update management objectives.
The big daddy of such science panels was put to task in the seashore in
1987, when the Park Service asked the National Academy of
Sciences for assistance in deciding how to save the Cape Hatteras
Lighthouse from being undermined by the sea. A year later, the panel
produced a report recommending that the 1872 tower be moved inland from
its perilous perch at the edge of the Atlantic.
After much debate, the lighthouse was finally relocated in 1999 in a
dramatic move covered by media outlets from around the world. Time
appears to have proven that the science panel made the right call, as
the beach at the former location has severely eroded.
Granted, the upcoming science panel’s assignment is not quite as sexy
as saving an iconic lighthouse. But Hallac sees it is an
important step in harnessing the best updated science and management
strategies to take the seashore into a well-balanced future.
Looked at metaphorically, the superintendent compared the overall goal
to what a person has to do stay healthy -- eat right, exercise, avoid
stress. But even the healthiest person might have an accident, so a
person also has to take steps to protect themselves from harm.
“We’re trying to take a holistic look at the health of the species at Cape Hatteras National Seashore,” Hallac said.
Panel members scheduled for the workshop are:
Dr. Jeff Walters, chairman. Walters is avian expert and professor of biological sciences at Virginia Tech.
Lou Browning, Hatteras Island licensed wildlife rehabilitator.
Dr. Matthew Gottfried, a sea turtle biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.
Dr. Stan Riggs, distinguished professor of marine and coastal geology at East Carolina University.
Steve Dinsmore, avian ecologist, professor of wildlife ecology at Iowa State University.
Dr. Erica Nol, avian ecologist, professor of biology at Trent University in Ontario.
Ashley Dayer, conservation social scientist, assistant professor of human dimensions at Virginia Tech.
Cheri Gratto-Trevor, (unconfirmed), shorebirds and climate change researcher for the Canadian government.
Presenters and their topics include:
Ted Simons, professor of applied ecology at NC State University: American oystercatchers.
Jim Fraser, professor of wildlife conservation at Virginia Tech: piping plovers.
John Hammond, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, endangered species: sea turtles.
Ben Gutierrez, coastal geologist at USGS’s Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center: sea level rise and coastal geology.
Sara Schweitzer, colonial water bird biologist, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission: shorebirds.
Additional presentations may be added.
The workshop will start at 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 26 and
continue until 5 or 6 p.m. It will resume at 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 27 and
conclude at noon. The Ramada Plaza Nags Head Oceanfront is located at
1701 S Virginia Dare Trail (the Beach Road, Milepost 9) in Kill Devil
A draft agenda will be distributed about one week prior to the workshop.