Motorized users go to court to block new regulations
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — The battle over motorized use of public lands extends far beyond the mountains and forests of Colorado and the deserts of the Southwest.
On the East Coast, motorized users last week went to court to try and overturn a new set of rules governing motorized use at Cape Hatteras National Seashore — despite the fact that the Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance’s lawsuit doesn’t honor a consent decree the group had previously signed.
The lawsuit challenges the Park Service’s planning and environmental review process, claiming the agency failed to give “meaningful consideration to views, data, or information that were contrary to NPS’s desire to impose more severe restrictions on ORV access and use; a failure to look at reasonable alternatives, including smaller and more flexible buffer and closure areas; and a failure to properly assess impacts on the local economy.”
The new rules, announced in January, help protect nesting and baby sea turtles and birds, as well as pedestrians, at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, where motorized use spiraled out of control in recent years.
In 2007, Audubon North Carolina, Defenders of Wildlife and Southern Environmental Law Center turned to the courts for help in getting the park service to implement long overdue safeguards on park beaches overrun by off-road vehicles.
“The park service’s rules are a compromise that provides protections for both pedestrians and wildlife while still allowing responsible beach driving,” said Julie Youngman, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said after the rules were adopted.
Despite the argument by motorized advocates that restrictions stifle recreation and the economy, monitoring during an interim management period showed that rare bird and sea turtle populations showed signs of recovery, and park visitation held steady or increased annually. Overall, tourism remained strong in Dare County, NC, where much of the seashore is located, despite a recession.
But advocates of motorized use say it’s not quite that simple.
“The northern half of Dare County suffered little from the consent decree but the southern half, the islands have been devastated by the closures associated with the consent decree,” said Jim Keene, director of the North Carolina Beach Buggy Association.
“The Park Service’s new ORV management plan and rules, if implemented, will have a devastating effect on our unique, local shore-oriented culture and economy,” said John Couch, president of the Outer Banks Preservation Association. “Unfortunately, the Park Service overlooked reasonable recommendations and information that OBPA, CHAPA and many other likeminded participants put forth during the planning process that would have resulted in an ORV management plan and rules that both protect wildlife resources and ensure reasonable ORV access to and over the area’s beaches.”
Conservation groups expressed disappointment at the lawsuit.
“We’re disappointed that some beach driving enthusiasts quickly filed suit against beach driving rules that would protect pedestrians and nesting and young sea turtles and birds within Cape Hatteras National Seashore,” the coalition said in a statement.
“By suing to prevent the National Park Service from implementing the rule, CHAPA is not honoring the Consent Decree it previously agreed to before the court. In addition, the timing of this lawsuit does not give adequate time to assess the effectiveness of the recently released National Park Service rules, which allow ORV use on the majority of the seashore and increase access for all users.
“We’re confident that the court will uphold the final rule. We’re committed to defending these protections for both pedestrians and wildlife that allow responsible beach driving and correlate with growing tourism for Dare County and Cape Hatteras.”
As a unit of the National Park System, Cape Hatteras National Seashore has been required under federal law since 1972 to establish guidelines that minimize harm from the use of off-road vehicles to the natural resources of the seashore in accordance with the best available science for present and future generations. After decades of non-compliance, the new rules bring the NPS into compliance with that requirement.
• Charts showing data for wildlife numbers at Cape Hatteras National Seashore as reported by NPS
• Dare County Gross Occupancy graphs as reported by the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau
• A chart of Cape Hatteras National Seashore Visitation as reported by NPS
Filed under: Environment, national parks, public lands, Summit County news | Tagged: Cape Hatteras beach driving rules, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Dare County North Carolina, National Park Service, Off-road vehicle | 4 Comments »