A federal judge has approved a settlement agreement between the Department of Interior and environmental groups to regulate the use of off-road vehicles (ORV) in Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area. This settlement took place despite the efforts of the Negotiated Rulemaking Committee, of which the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) is a member, to develop a long-term ORV management plan acceptable to all the stakeholders. The terms of the settlement are extensive and they put in place protections for shorebirds that far exceed protections used at other national seashores and outlined in species recovery plans. The settlement terms will have a negative impact on the local businesses whose livelihoods depend on beach access.
Last October, a lawsuit was filed by the Defenders of Wildlife and the National Audubon Society which contended that an Interim Protected Species Management Plan, developed to protect a variety of shorebirds until the long-term ORV management plan is finalized, was not protective enough. The Defenders of Wildlife and the National Audubon Society are members of the committee seeking to develop the management plan.
"ASA is deeply disappointed that the Department of Interior failed to defend the species management plan that underwent significant public comment and was finalized just last year. The local economy, which depends on access to prime fishing spots for surf fishing, will suffer unreasonable losses as a result of this settlement," said ASA Vice President Gordon Robertson.
A 1972 Executive Order called on all federal land management agencies to develop ORV plans wherever ORVs are permitted. While draft plans for Cape Hatteras were developed, a plan was never finalized. In an attempt to avoid litigation, the Department of Interior proposed the use of a Negotiated Rulemaking Committee to develop the plan. Secretary of Interior Dirk Kempthorne formally approved the Committee in December 2007. Stakeholders were told that the negotiated rulemaking process would avoid litigation.
"We are very disappointed that members of the Negotiated Rulemaking Committee abandoned the guiding principles of the Committee to negotiate in good faith and embarked on this lawsuit," Robertson further said, "Instead of trying to come to an agreement through the Committee, they instead used the court system to establish management protocols for federal lands."
Under the settlement, the Department of Interior's National Park Service must complete the long-term plan by December 31, 2010 and publish the final rule by April 1, 2011.