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Consent decree causes first sea turtle death by an ORV on the seashore

Thursday 01 July 2010 at 5:49 pm.

That sounds like a rather ludicrous statement, doesn’t it?

Well, Southern Environmental Law Center and friends, as the proverb says, turn about is fair play.

This statement is no more ludicrous than SELC’s media releases.

SELC has sent out media releases since 2008, noting that bird and sea turtle nesting on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore has increased greatly under the terms of a consent decree that settled a lawsuit by Defenders of Wildlife and National Audubon Society over the Park Service’s lack of a long-range, off-road vehicle regulation on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

The first two years of the consent decree, the bird nesting numbers were only slightly above other years.  This year, there has been what may be a record number of piping plover chicks fledged – 15 of them. However, it is reasonable to assume that factors beyond the extraordinary amount of beach closed down for the federally threatened piping plover and other bird species that are not even federally listed have played a role in this increase.

Two years ago, SELC and friends were claiming that the consent decree was responsible for a record number of sea turtle nests on the seashore when the fact of the matter was that sea turtle nesting had increased in 2008 all along the North Carolina coast and through the southeast United States.

Seashore superintendent Mike Murray has said in meetings with the media and in testimony in the courtroom of the federal judge who is overseeing the consent decree that the increases over the past few years cannot be called a trend – yet – and cannot be directly attributed to the consent decree.

Facts don’t seem to matter much to these environmental organizations when they start putting their spin on what a terrific job they are doing of closing public beaches to increase bird and turtle nesting here by minor numbers, compared to other areas of the country where the species do much better.

So, I say, turn about is fair play.

The fact of this matter is that before there was a consent decree, seashore officials can find no record of a sea turtle being killed by an ORV. Nor can any local remember such an incident.

Therefore, following the logic of the environmental groups, this very tragic death must be due to the consent decree.

Some folks say that if the beaches were not closed from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. to vehicles, there may well have been witnesses to the cruel death of the nesting loggerhead .

Some say other factors play into this incident in which an ORV crushed a loggerhead in the early morning hours of June 24. The Park Service has made no headway in identifying the ORV or its driver.

The Park Service doesn’t have enough law enforcement to sufficiently cover all the miles of seashore closed at night.  It doesn’t have the equipment that might have videotaped the truck that traveled over the ramp to the beach after it was closed.

Last year, local beach access advocates offered to form a “community watch.” They proposed these volunteers would park their ORVs at the ramps – not moving and staying all night -- to watch for violators of resource closures.  

For whatever reason, the Park Service never took them up on the offer.

The Park Service has been handed increased responsibilities under the consent decree with precious little money for all the policing that the environmental groups want.

Now the environmental groups want everyone off the beach from sunset to sunrise and all the ramps physically closed – as in chained – until turtle patrols have cleared the beach.

None of this is required in the consent decree under which the seashore is now being managed.

If park officials cave into this demand by special interest groups on a power trip and seemingly hell bent on closing public lands in a dubious attempt to protect birds and turtles, it will an inexcusable affront to all of us who live here and who love to visit these islands.

Negotiated rulemaking failed.  The Park Service took over with its Draft Environmental Impact Statement and their preferred alternative, issued in March, and proposed rule, which is due this fall.

The park now has public comment from the DEIS and will issue a Final EIS later this year. And there will be a public comment period on the proposed rule.  

They – and we – need to let the process run its course.

Meanwhile, there is no record of a turtle being killed by an ORV on the seashore before the consent decree.

Therefore, the consent decree caused the death of the turtle.


It makes about as much sense as the media releases from the special interest groups.


More stories on the death of the loggerhead turtle on Ocracoke can be found on the Beach Access Page.


Mike McNichol

In fact I feel the consent decree is directly responsible for this turtles death. The most likely scenario is that someone trying to hide their presence on the beach by driving without their headlights on struck the turtle. Everyone knows that headlights on the beach can be seen for miles at night. Maybe not a kid or a drunk just someone trying to sneak in a little night fishing.

Mike McNichol (Email ) - 01-07-’10 18:03
<span class='registered'>Denny in Dayton</span>

What is particularly troubling to me is not just the NPS’s apparent inability to catch those who vandalize and violate the rules, but what appears to be a lack of desire to catch those individuals.

As pointed out in the article, there have been offers from the access groups to set up volunteers. It’s been pointed out in this turtle incident that the only way off the island is via the ferries, did they inspect the under carriages of ORV’s leaving the island the next day? We’ve seen this inability to catch the individuals in other violations; the signs that were torn down and used to make a bon fire on the closed beach, or the quad runner that left tracks all over the dunes a year or two ago (it was probably brought on/off the island in a pickup or on a trailer, anyone watching?) The person who hit the turtle is a menace and everyone wants them not only off the beach, but the roads as well.

This all leads me to the simple conclusion, they aren’t catching people because they don’t want to. In fact have they caught anyone since the events (4-5 years ago?) that led to this whole thing landing in front of Judge Boyle? If they catch an individual, they have to punish that individual. If they don’t catch them they can instead punish all of us collectively with new rules and closures.

Denny in Dayton (Email ) - 02-07-’10 13:33

First let me say that I am not accusing anyone in particular of anything! That being said, what better way to make a case for not allowing ORV driving on the beach at any time than the deliberate murder of the sea turtle?? Just thinking outloud. Would a member of the environmental groups or one of their supporters really stoop that low? I pray not… They seem to be trying to build a case for beach clousure. We need to keep the beaches open for vehicles as well as citizens!

Ken - 02-07-’10 16:04

“This all leads me to the simple conclusion, they aren’t catching people because they don’t want to.”

Yes, I guess it is pretty “simple” isn’t it? Your crack investigation experience is appreciated to come up with such a sound conclusion. Perhaps the law enforcement agencies in Dayton don’t want to catch criminals, but my simple conclusion is that is not the case with the National Park Service Cape Hatteras Group.

In my opinion your conclusion deserves as much merit as “The consent decree causes first sea turtle death by an ORV on the seashore.” Simply put, zero.

Dennis - 03-07-’10 10:30

The NPS cannot catch a criminal unless they leave tracks to their location, because there is no NPS rangers patrolling after midnight. There is not enough rangers period and their budget goes more to protecting the animals, than enforcement.

But yes. The CD killed the 1st turtle by ORV. Funny how there wasn’t a turtle death by ORV on record prior to the CD.

Whatever. - 04-07-’10 05:00
Fred Westervelt

I fully agree with the reasoned logic presented here- that the CD and its advocates are responsible for the turtle’s demise.
One need go no further than to invoke the legal premise “post hoc, ergo propter hoc”* for confirmation.

  • for those in need “after this, therefore because of this”.
Fred Westervelt (Email ) - 04-07-’10 08:59

Anyone who’s ever witnessed a sea turtle nesting knows their carapace can be covered with sand and can be barely visible, even with headlights on. I saw one years ago near ramp 44 and the only reason I saw it was because I was low on the beach and recognized her crawl coming up out of the surf.
And anyone who knows the person who committed this criminal act was driving without headlights, obviously has direct knowledge of the case and should be taken into custody for questioning.
What’s lost in all of this is that there was also a turtle nest ran over. Maybe Irene can look into it, but from what I recall of the turtle reports that makes several in the last few years and who knows how many have been documented in total.

And as far as I know, we do not need NPS permission to monitor the ramps at night.

But the NPS should either bring in the man power to monitor the ramps, or lock them up at night.

Crotalus (Email ) - 06-07-’10 17:36
Mike McNichol

So since I come up with “the most likely scenario” I must know the person who committed the crime and should be brought in for questioning. Makes as much sense as locking up the beaches at night. NPS knows who I am and I haven’t heard from them yet.

Mike McNichol - 06-07-’10 23:57

“Nothing is more discouraging than unappreciated sarcasm.”

Boogamite - 07-07-’10 09:49

it is hard to respect editorial when it is based on prejudice and emotion, not facts or logic.

the consent decree killed no turtles, someone driving illegally or recklesslly drove over and killed the unfortunate turtle.

and to try and be clever by saying the statement is no more untrue than that of the SELC is completely beside the point. the rhetoric is Palin-esque, blaiming environmentalists for the gulf oil spill because they objected to drilling on the North Slope.

People on this island are spoiled, adolescent and obsessed about their alleged god-given right to drive like hell all over the beach all the time. they won’t brook any argument or fact that contradict their obsession. they won’t share. it’s sad.

tony (Email ) - 07-07-’10 13:04

Wow, If anyone is spoiled and adolescent here it would be the enviromental do gooder crowd that thinks taking away someones rights and livelyhoods is just dandy as long it is not their rights or livelyhoods. Just like the liberal elites who have real compassion for the poor. It makes them feel good to help the poor as long as it is someone elses money.

Here are the facts of this incident. No event like this EVER occurred prior to the consent decree. Fact.

Whether or not the loss of the turtle is the result of the consent decree is open to speculation whether you think it should be or not. There is no way to prove either argument.


Mike - 07-07-’10 13:45

if the environmental groups are so worried about protecting the animals why don’t they volunteer (no pay) to help police the closed areas?

mom - 07-07-’10 17:19

I wasn’t addressing your post and don’t see anything in it that implies you know the specifics of what happened. It’s just rank speculation.

… and not one single right has been taken away. We do not have a right to even drive on a highway, much less a beach. Driving anywhere, is a regulated privilege.

crotalus (Email ) - 07-07-’10 20:51

I am sure that there has been incedents where an ORV has run over a fresh nest and that probably lead to the death of some unhatched turltes.

However, I am also sure that more turtle nests have been lost, because of the NPSs no action policy where perfectly good non-run over nests have been left for the ocean to claim.

IF the NPS really cared about saving these creatures they would do more than shut down beach driving to save them.

Whatever. - 08-07-’10 07:08

My understanding of turtle is that sand temperature is a determining factor in the sex of the hatchlings. Moving nests from near the water to the toe of the dunes may actually disrupt the long term viability of the turtle population by causing an imbalance between the male/female ratio. Loggerheads frequently lay up to 3 nests, one near the ocean in the cool sand, one midway and one at the toe of the dunes. This may be to balance the sex of the hatchlings.
The bottom line is that there is an agenda here by the enviromentalists to close these beaches year round to ORV’s and pedestrians. Funny how these beaches are of critical importance but the 14 acre oceanfront tract Audubon owns near Duck has “no conservation value”…their words, so they are selling it for $25 million to a developer. The replacement bridge at Oregon Inlet has been delayed for nearly 17 years by lawsuits from environmental groups. Now they want a 17 mile long bridge to bypass Pea Island instead of a replacement bridge of less than 3 miles while at the same time they vehemently protest a new 3 mile crossing to Corolla because it will disrupt the environment.

On Cora June Island, a man made dredge island just over a half mile from the ferry docks there are perhaps over a hundred American Oyster catchers and untold numbers of other birds including plovers that neat there every year but they are not counted because this is not part of CHNSRA. If Audubon and others were truly concerned they could have spent their millions in lawsuits to build more predator free islands. The sad thing is that every time they win a case they get paid for their expenses by the federal government. So the feds are paying people to sue them with taxpayer dollars!

Mike - 08-07-’10 07:59
tom zirkle

the time of all these incidents seem mighty strange to me. they all seem to be keep the pot boiling. nothing like this to keep the contributions flowing.

tom zirkle (Email ) - 09-07-’10 18:01

FACT a Govt operated Vehicle has been the only Vehicle to ever run over any Critter…

Why must everyone ASSUME it was a DRUNK, A RED Neck, A Fisherman, A Nasty ATV operator… Done Intentionaly……

Why has no-one ASSUMED it was a NPS TRUCK, with its lights off, trying to sneak up on law breaking citizens… Put youself in that truck doing your job and wham, an accident happens and YOU crush a Turtle.. Would you fess up?? Loose your Job over it??…..Call yourself in???? I think not…

If ya can’t tell, I am tired of being blamed for all the worlds ills.. Let nature take its course, survival of the fitest…

After the Turtle Patrol Donut incident, which was witnessed and reported by CITIZENS a few days ago… After further investigation the NPS said the SAND was Soft there and no signs of Donut tracks…Do you realy think we will get a fair break??….Do you think the NPS will give any consideration to the 30,000 Public Comments? They are just going through the motions…

It used to be a Great Place, but I am begining to check out other options, for Island living… It ain’t the same anymore, and it never will be… Ruined it….


JAM (Email ) - 10-07-’10 11:29
Hawk Hawkins

As always,I love the “NO RIGHT has been taken away…a regulated PRIVILEDGE…“Since when was access to a recreational area a PRIVILEDGE?When we stupify ourselves to the level that the Wizard of Oz,only,can give us heart,brains and COURAGE, then we will believe,blindly,that the government hands out “priviledges” in denial of rights,such as persuit of happiness.These truths are held self evident…

Hawk Hawkins (Email ) - 10-07-’10 12:07
Jam and Bread


You have a strange idea of facts. Year after year, the resource reports document vehicles crushing turtle nests and violating turtle enclosures.

As for other options, I hear real estate is cheap in the Gulf right now. But I suppose the oil spill is the environmentalists fault too?


Jam and Bread - 13-07-’10 11:26

Actually the envirobabblists are partly responsible for the Gulf spill. It was their demands that forced drillers to go deep. Shallow water drilling was deemed to risky because of its proximity to the beaches. A shallow water spill is a hell of a lot easier to plug than one at 5000 feet.

If you also read the reports on who rescues turtles you will find that recreational and commercial fisherman find most of them. Last falls cold snap cold stunned dozens of turtles who were rescued by fisherman. I have personally rescued 2 in the last 2 years. One Kemps Ridley and one Green. How many have been rescued by the environmental crowd? Over the last 40 years I have never seen an environmental group do anything to physically help with the beaches, just fuss and moan about others. NCBBA sponsors 3 beach cleanups every year posting volunteers with materials at almost every ramp. Aububon? SELC? DOW? None, just more lawsuits so you can feel good at someone elses expense.

Mike - 14-07-’10 08:33


IF you participated in the NCBAA sponsored cleanup over the last 40 years, then perhaps you can be loosely be classified as an environmentalist. IF that is the case, then do not be so hard on yourself.

Environmentalist - 14-07-’10 09:15

Ladies and Gentlemen wecome Ray Midgette to the Forums.. He likes to post under different names to hide… Never seen any of those reports Ray can you provide them to me.. And yes Mike took care of you other question… I believe that too… JAM

JAM (Email ) - 14-07-’10 09:22
John Alley

Dear Jam and Bread

I quote.

“Year after year, the resource reports document vehicles crushing turtle nests and violating turtle enclosures.”

Certainly there have been incidents where ORV’s violated turtle closures but Crushed?

That implies that the eggs were lost. I don’t think that the resource reports support your bias.

Let’s look at the most recent resource report and count the violations.

Closure intrusions:

Bodie District:
7/8- Three sets of pedestrian tracks entered the pre-nesting closure on Bodie Spit and walked to the Bait Pond area, then returned the same way.
7/9- An ORV parked outside of the pre-nesting closure on Bodie Spit approximately 0.7 mi S of Ramp 4. Staff observed three individuals enter the closure and approach the electric fence. Law enforcement (LE) was contacted.
7/11- Two pedestrians were observed within the closure just S of Ramp 27 and were asked to exit.
7/11- One set of dog tracks entered the closure on Ramp 23, went in ~30 ft., then exited.
7/12- Two sets of bare footprints followed the waterline through the buffer 0.3 mi N of Ramp 23.

Hatteras District:
7/8 – Staff observed a truck inside the Cape Point pedestrian corridor (currently closed to ORVs) traveling north at a high speed from the point toward Ramp 44. LE was contacted. 7/8 – One set of pedestrian tracks and one set of dog tracks were observed in sea turtle nest closure 0.1 mi N of Ramp 38.
7/8 – One set of pedestrian tracks and one set of dog tracks were observed in sea turtle nest closure 1.3 mi S of Ramp 34.
7/11 – One set of pedestrian tracks were observed in sea turtle nest closure 1.6 mi N of Ramp 38.
7/14 – One set of pedestrian tracks were observed in the sea turtle nest closure 0.2 mi N of Ramp 55.
7/14 – One set of pedestrian tracks and broken string were observed in sea turtle nest closure 2.2 mi S of Ramp 49.

Ocracoke District:
7/10 – An individual was observed walking with a cast net along the soundside shoreline of the pre-nesting closure on North Ocracoke. LE was contacted.
7/10 – One set of bare footprints was documented coming over the dune and into an AMOY closure 2.7 mi S of Ramp 59.
7/11 – Two pedestrians were observed running along the ocean shoreline in an AMOY closure 1.7 mi N of Ramp 70. Both were stopped and informed of closure regulations.

The Score Is?

1 Dog

And you are so excited that we are ridding the Seashore of the dread ORV.

The pedestrian violations, of resource closures have increased under the Consent Decree as ORV violations have gone down.

It’s the publics Right to access Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area and this smoke screen of ORV regulation will result in an extension of Pea Island with the only reasonable beach access in front of the villages. Gone will be the days when a family could rent a home well back from the beach and enjoy public access with their family vehicle.

Meanwhile the NPS continues to restrict access without providing any reasonable alternatives. Water taxis to Bodie Island spit? How’s that been working?

John Alley - 17-07-’10 23:06

John Alley,
Look at the annual reports. ( http://www.nps.gov/caha/naturescience/na.. )
And the same day the sea turtle was killed, another ORV ran over a nest and destroyed some of the eggs.
99 percent of pedestrians arrive on the beaches outside of the villages by ORV, and then violate closures. Seen it dozens of times and even stopped many of those people. People will park and then walk through my fishing spot and into the closure. I know, as everyone else here probably does, many others who have also yelled at/stopped these "intrusions".
Not excited.
The seashore isn’t getting rid of ORVs.
And the public’s right to access the beach isn’t in danger.

crotalus (Email ) - 19-07-’10 15:11

You are asuming that it was a different vehicle that ran over the nest the same day. Most assume it was the same vehicle exiting the beach.

Your statement …..

“The seashore isn’t getting rid of ORVs.
And the public’s right to access the beach isn’t in danger.”

is at odds with Audobons stated objectives. They have been successful so far in closing long stretches of beach. Their preferred alternative in the DEIS closes 41 miles of beach year round! It leaves 27 miles of heavily restricted access which can be closed at any time the NPS sees fit.

Take a look at current closures and tell me access is not in danger.

Just a side note, the Park Service is exploring at this moment the feasability of using trams to access beaches.

Mike - 20-07-’10 11:51

The way it was described to me by an NPS tech was that it was a different vehicle with different tires at a vastly different location and that it occurred after 6 a.m. while they were tied up with the dead sea turtle.

Access is not in danger. Even with this year’s closures I had no trouble accessing the beach by ORV or walking anytime I wanted to. The manner by which we access the beach and where we access it – depending on the time of year, is evolving. Adapt.
And there already areas closed year-round at the points and spits and I don’t see where that will change. All of it is sound-side and back-shore. I haven’t found any year-round closures as you described in Alt F, the preferred alt, that effects the popular fishing sites (non-village).

crotalus (Email ) - 20-07-’10 14:57

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