SELC to testify before Congress on bill that would reverse progress on protecting wildlife at Cape Hatteras National Seashore
After just one season of limits on beach driving at Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina, several protected bird and turtle species whose numbers were dwindling are making a comeback, according to Derb Carter, Director of the SELC’s Carolinas Office. Although it’s too soon to know for sure, that success is likely due to a carefully crafted agreement among beach drivers, local governments, the National Park Service and environmental groups earlier this year. Yet legislation introduced by Rep. Walter Jones threatens to undermine the scientifically based, legally binding agreement and the resulting recovery efforts for these wildlife populations, Carter says.
Carter will urge members of Congress to oppose the legislation when he testifies tomorrow before the Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands (10 a.m., Room 1334, Longworth Building). He will be speaking on behalf of Defenders of Wildlife, the National Audubon Society and The Wilderness Society, whom he represented before a Senate panel on the issue in July.
SELC sued the National Park Service last year on behalf of Defenders and Audubon for failing to implement an adequate plan to protect wildlife from the impacts of beach driving at Cape Hatteras, as required by an executive order over 35 years ago. The seashore is home to numerous protected species of nesting shorebirds, including the threatened piping plover. Declines in those species had been attributed, at least in part, to the impacts of beach driving, which is allowed at Cape Hatteras. For instance, since 1999, common terns, gull-billed terns, and black skimmers have been all but eliminated at the seashore, while American oystercatchers have declined by almost one half in the same period.
In April, a federal judge approved a consent decree agreed to by all the parties to the lawsuit: the conservation groups, the agency, a coalition of beach drivers, and local governments. Under the decree, carefully selected areas of the seashore are temporarily closed to beach driving to accommodate breeding, nesting, and newly hatched birds and turtles. During the peak of this breeding season, 12.8 miles of the 67-mile seashore were closed to beach driving for wildlife protection; only one mile remains closed now.
Since the consent decree went into effect, surveys show the number of piping plover pairs increased from six in 2007 to 11 this year, the highest number on the seashore since 1998. Black skimmers are nesting again, after failing to nest at all last year, and a record-setting 113 sea turtle nests have been identified, up from 82 last season. By the same token, the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau reports that tourism revenue in the area remained steady compared to last year.
The consent decree controls the management of beach driving on Cape Hatteras only until a final management plan is in place. In the meantime, management under the consent decree ensures that the wildlife will be adequately protected while allowing continued visitor use of the seashore.