It’s fair to say that the consent decree is despised by almost everyone on Hatteras and Ocracoke, almost everyone on the Outer Banks, and most of the park’s regular visitors.
And nothing in the consent decree is more despised than the part that requires punitive action when resource closure areas are intentionally vandalized.
For anyone who has been under a rock for the past year, the consent decree was approved by a U.S. District Court Judge last April and was agreed to by parties to a lawsuit over ORV access to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. It requires buffers around shorebird nests that exceed anything that had been seen on the seashore before and resulted in unprecedented closures of seashore beaches last summer.
The consent decree also mandates that if a confirmed deliberate act that disturbs or harasses wildlife or vandalizes fencing, nests, or plants occurs, the National Park Service must automatically expand the buffer by 50 meters on the first offense, 100 meters on the second, and 500 meters on the third.
Last summer, there were about six violations that resulted in expanded buffers – from May until the end of the summer nesting season.
This year by April 1, there had already been three violations that have expanded buffers and closed additional areas of the beach at South Point on Ocracoke, Hatteras Inlet spit, and South Beach in Frisco.
No one who violated the closures last summer was apprehended, and apparently the Park Service has no way to track down the perpetrators of this year’s violations.
At the rate we are going, most of the beach may be shut down by mid-summer – not by nesting birds but by moronic vandals who are hurting islanders, business people, and visitors.
This punitive aspect of the consent decree is unnecessary and unfair. It punishes all for the sins of a few uneducated, uninformed, selfish individuals.
When I was a kid, my father used to summon me and my brother or sister when a rule was broken. Say, someone had swiped the last brownie on the plate without asking. If none of us would own up to the offense, we would all be sent to our rooms until someone confessed.
And that is just what this reminds me of. I didn’t like it then, and I don’t like it now.
We will live with expanded buffers and closures of popular beaches because we have to.
But this crime and punishment stuff is just going too far.
The Island Free Press gets more letters and comments from readers about these vandalism incidents than about any other topic we write about.
And, it has been curious to me that most of the writers think that it is possible that the environmental activists are sneaking out to the beach under the cover of darkness and intentionally vandalizing the resource areas to get more of the beach closed for birds and turtles.
Here is a comment we received yesterday from Bill Stavenger of Chesapeake:
“Did anybody ever consider that the individuals responsible for the violations may be from the environmental and wildlife groups that want to limit beach access? What’s a better way to close the beach and indirectly support the cause than creating a violation so that the court-ordered, “kindergarten discipline” consent decree comes into play? What a great way to limit access. How about it NPS? Put a second and third shift on the job, get night vision goggles, and catch these bums! Locals don’t have anything to gain from more closures. The economy is already bad enough.”
Bill Stavenger is not alone. Check out the Letters to the Editor on this site.
I don’t really believe there is any conspiracy among the environmental activists to intentionally sabotage closures to get them enlarged. I don’t think most others, including Mr. Stavenger, really believe that either. But isn’t it interesting that so many mention it?
Reasonable islanders want this vandalism by a few jerks – who are probably young people with nothing better to do on a weekend night – to stop. I’d like to see the vandals caught and punished. These people are hurting their friends and neighbors and the many visitors who love the islands. And they are hurting the island’s economy. We have enough problems and bad publicity about beach access without constant news of more closures being expanded because of vandalism.
If any islander or visitor knows anything about who the “perps” are, he or she owes it to us all to give up some names to the National Park Service.
Furthermore, National Park Service officials and the U.S. Attorney should gather the parties in the lawsuit – the environmental groups, Dare and Hyde counties, and the Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance – to see if this punitive mandate in the consent decree can be eliminated.
If park officials can’t manage to get all to agree and the federal judge to go along, they ought to use some of their stimulus money to post rangers at every beach closure on the seashore.
This punitive expansion of closures is helping no one – not even the birds.