The environmental caucus has submitted its response to the process of negotiated rulemaking and suggestions to Cape Hatteras National Seashore officials on off-road vehicle rulemaking.
It was prepared and submitted by Walker Golder, Audubon North Carolina; Sidney Maddock, National Audubon Society and Golder’s alternate on the committee; Jason Rylander, Defenders of Wildlife; Derb Carter, Southern Environmental Law Center, and Destry Jarvis, Natural Resources Defense Council and The Wilderness Society.
It is intended to be included in a final report on the process that will eventually be issued by the National Park Service and the facilitators for the negotiation process.
However, this document is all about protecting birds and turtles – all 77 pages of it. (Same number of pages as the beach access addendum document, which is an interesting coincidence.)
I think we all agree that protecting birds and turtles is a good thing to do. It has been the practice here on the seashore for decades – though apparently not to the degree that the environmentalists would like.
However, the environmentalists’ addendum, seldom, if ever, mentions people.
There is not even a passing reference to the traditional and cultural importance of off-road vehicles to the lives and livelihoods of islanders.
Nor is there even a passing reference to the importance of recreational uses of the seashore, which is also a part of the National Park Service’s stewardship and mission here.
There is no reference to the many visitors whose family journeys to the seashore are all about fishing and shelling and swimming and cookouts with the camaraderie of other folks like themselves. No mention of late-night bonfires. No mention of the wonder of glowing, bioluminescent microorganisms in the surf that delight children. No mention of late nights on the beach looking at the wonderful Milky Way or lying on the sand and watching for shooting stars.
It’s as if these activist organizations see no good reason for any of these time-honored activities on the seashore. And that they see no good reason for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore to exist other than to provide a nesting area for shorebirds and turtles. And, oh yes, added to their demands late in the negotiating process, was the need for migrating and wintering birds to be undisturbed on the beach. All taken together, it looks to me as if there might be one or two months of the year – January and February – that we the people can access the beach in the manner we have for so many years.
We have a national wildlife refuge in the seashore – Pea Island on the northern end of Hatteras. Now it seems as if these activist organizations want to extend it from Oregon Inlet to Ocracoke Inlet.
In fairness, the environmentalists have said in Reg-Neg meetings and in interviews with the media that they do not oppose ORV use on the seashore. They want only more protection for the resources.
But you really wouldn’t know that they don’t oppose ORV use by reading their addendum, which pins just about everything that is harming resources on ORVs.
In justifying their goals, they invoke the dwindling populations of shorebirds and colonial waterbirds nesting on the islands. Their addendum includes several charts and graphs to prove their point, but there is no mention of where the data for the graphics comes from.
They continue to chart only birds nesting on the seashore, ignoring large populations of skimmers and other colonial waterbirds nesting on dredge spoil islands in the Pamlico Sound – many of them within sight of the seashore.
They continue to inundate us with citations of literature supporting their claims. Literature they say is peer-reviewed, but is it independently peer-reviewed? That is debatable. The document cites the “Vogelsong” study, which was discredited last year in an independent peer review. There are number citations of “personal observations” by Walker Golder and /or Sidney Maddock – no exactly science. The addendum notes that “there is a wealth of knowledge about waterbirds and shorebirds and their responses to human disturbance.” Some of this “wealth of knowledge” actually notes that pedestrians are more disturbing to nesting shorebirds than ORVs. And my personal favorite is a citation of a study from 1919 on the nesting of Wilson’s plovers in North Carolina. That’s current science?
The addendum notes that piping plovers have “recently rebounded” on the seashore, but are we to believe that is the result of less than an entire breeding season under the consent decree? Or perhaps other measures, such as the Interim Protected Species Management plan that the Park Service began implementing in 2006 and the environmental groups sued over, also contributed?
The addendum says there are three primary causes for the declines in nesting waterbirds and shorebirds – human disturbance, predation, and habitat loss resulting from lack of adequate protection from vehicles and the associated anthropogenic disturbances.”
Now, who among us would dispute that there has been an incredible loss of habitat on the entire East Coast – much of it from development in coastal communities? There are for sure more people – many of them on foot. The addendum does not make a case that ORVs are the main culprits in this loss of habitat.
Finally, there are the legal arguments. And that depends on how one interprets the law. The lawyers for the access groups and the lawyers for environmental groups have put forward different interpretations of various laws, regulations, and NPS management policies in their respective documents. You can compare them.
I’m not a lawyer. And, in the end, it will probably take a whole bunch of lawyers and judges in courtrooms to sort out what exactly is required under all of these laws and rules. However, it seems clear that there are various “spins” that can be put on the laws and regulations that the Park Service must adhere to in its quest to balance resources and recreation.
There is no doubt that the National Park Service – and we as a people—have an obligation to protect our natural resources on the seashore. However, it is also clear that the Park Service has a responsibility to consider the traditional and historical uses of the seashore and the economic impact of resource protection measures on the people who live and work on the islands. It also needs to prevent the impairment of park “values” to the thousands who come here each year for fishing, relaxation, surfing, windsurfing, kiteboarding, shelling, birdwatching, horseback riding – or just enjoying a day at the seashore with friends and family, a big cookout, and an evening of watching kids kick up the ocean to see the glowing microorganisms.
Again, I ask, “Who represents the people?”
Certainly not Defenders of Wildlife or the National Audubon Society or the Southern Environmental Law Center or the Natural Resources Defense Council.
They are the advocates for the birds and turtles.
And perhaps that is as it should be.
But someone in this process must be an advocate for the people.