On Dec. 27, the News & Observer in Raleigh ? now apparently the mouthpiece for environmental groups in the state — published an ?other views? commentary by David Yarnold, President and CEO of the National Audubon Society.
In case you don?t remember, the National Audubon Society joined the Defenders of Wildlife in 2007 to sue the National Park Service over its lack of an off-road vehicle plan at the Cape Hatteras National. The groups were represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center in Chapel Hill.
That lawsuit was settled in 2008 under a consent decree that may or may not have ended when the seashore did implement an ORV plan and final rule in February 2012.
National Audubon is not a party to two other lawsuits that affect the area.
The Cape Hatteras Preservation Alliance has sued the Park Service to overturn the ORV plan. Defenders of Wildlife is joined by the National Parks Conservation Association in successfully being allowed as defendant-intervenors on the side of the NPS in this action ? in which they are also represented by the SELC.
And Defenders and the National Wildlife Refuge Association ? also represented by SELC ? have sued the North Carolina Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration to stop the replacement plan for the aging Bonner Bridge.
The very wealthy National Audubon Society hasn?t figured very much into the idealistic and political fray on the Outer Banks or seashore since they prevailed in the 2007 lawsuit.
So when David Yarnold?s commentary showed up in the News & Observer ? right on the heels of a commentary by Derb Carter, an attorney with SELC ? folks took notice
And when they read the commentary, they were really baffled.
The headline is ?Bird-friendly laws a win-win along NC?s shores.?
Okay, so far. The outside environmental groups are and have been claiming outlandish successes in bird and turtle nesting on the seashore since the 2008 consent decree.
Here is how Yarnold?s commentary begins:
?North Carolina?s Outer Banks broke big records this year. Tourists spent more money on food and lodging than ever before. At the same time, sea turtles nested in unprecedented numbers, and America?s cutest birds, piping plovers, saw big population increases.
Tourism, birds and turtles all breaking records. Just a coincidence? Not at all.
North Carolina?s decision to uphold its forward-looking, bird-friendly, family-friendly laws for sharing the beaches in Cape Hatteras National Seashore is having a dramatic impact on birds and wildlife, as well as local pocketbooks.?
And it goes on to say this:
?By every economic, conservation and family fun measure, North Carolina?s beach-sharing formula has been a resounding success and is a model for coastal states throughout America.?
?For vulnerable shore-nesting birds, the comeback has been extraordinary in the five years since North Carolina implemented beach-management laws.?
And, finally, this:
?So, thanks, North Carolina, for caring so much. Thanks for refusing to dilute our beach-management law and for continuing to support a law that balances the use of this globally known seashore ? one of the state?s greatest natural treasures and its largest tourist draw.?
The commentary is even looser and less transparent about facts to support the claims than is the misleading information put out by SELC.
- It makes the overused and misleading fact that revenue for meals and lodging in Dare County is breaking records. Dare County, Yarnold says, ?includes most of the Outer Banks.? Well, that an understatement. However, the fact that the seashore?s share of the Outer Banks is miniscule compared to the northern beaches.
- The first sentence about big population increases this year for America?s cutest bird, the piping plover, is just wrong. The number of fledged piping plover chicks is lower this year than it has been since the consent decree.
- There have been record numbers of sea turtles nests. However, the past few years have seen record numbers on just about all southeast coast beaches.
- Yarnold even brings the rare sighting of a snowy owl on the seashore, which has nothing to do with ?North Carolina?s? new law. You can read about why the snowy owls are here on this U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service blog.
?Bottom line,? Yarnold writes, ?What?s good for birds is good for the economy.?
Maybe so, but not necessarily on Hatteras Island with its much-too-restrictive ORV rule.
In fact, more people might have come to see the owl if not for the fact that the Bonner Bridge was closed for safety reasons just a few days after word of its presence here got out to birdwatchers. Access to the island was by a very long ferry ride from the mainland because of the environmental groups and their continuing legal roadblocks that keep the replacement project from beginning.
So, when folks started sharing the link to Yarnold?s great praise of North Carolina beach-sharing laws ? in which he never even mentioned the federal government or the National Park Service whose law it is ? there was some serious head-scratching going on ? and many different theories about what this commentary means.
- Some folks think that the environmental advocacy groups are taking some heat over their very public refusal to give up their legal fight to block the bridge replacement even after a federal judge ruled against them. This is now a public safety issue, and the perception of their continuing the legal fight ?just because they can? isn?t playing so well in many places. So this theory has it that David Yarnold was needed to come to the rescue and help prop up the image of his cohorts.
- Some folks think Yarnold is just trying to further confuse the issues.
- Some folks think he is sucking up to North Carolina?s elected and appointed officials ? even though most of the state?s federal, state, and locally elected officials oppose the new ?beach-sharing? rules and many are actively working to get the Park Service?s ORV plan overturned.
- Some folks think that Yarnold is stupid if he thinks the ORV plan is a state law. This seems unlikely for a man who made more than a half million dollars last year.
- And, some folks think that his commentary is a satire or was written ?tongue in cheek.? If so, it misses the mark.
So what do you readers think?
Let us know in your comments.
Click here to read a guest column by John E. Skvarla III, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources. It?s one of the best I?ve read on why SELC and their clients should throw in the towel on the bridge issue.
For a while, David Yarnold and I shared a profession ? journalism ? and we were even colleagues at The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky., for six months or so in the mid-1980s. He went on to become editor of the San Jose Mercury News in California.
He became Audubon?s 10th president in 2010. Before that, he worked for the Environmental Defense Fund.
?This is not your grandmother’s Audubon anymore? he has said.
That?s for sure.
I don?t remember much about Yarnold from those Courier-Journal days, but I know one thing for sure ? his retirement package is going to be a lot better than mine is!
You can read more about David Yarnold and his goals for Audubon at http://www.audubon.org/david-yarnold-president-ceo-audubon.