The American Sportfishing Association applauds the introduction of legislation (S. 3113 and H.R. 6233) that would restore reasonable off-road vehicle (ORV) access to Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area (CHNS). The legislation, introduced on June 11, by Senators Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) and Richard Burr (R-NC) and Representative Walter B. Jones, Jr. (R-NC), would reinstate the Interim Management Strategy governing off-road vehicle use on CHNS. The reinstatement of the original Interim Management Strategy (IMS), issued by the National Park Service (NPS) on June 13, 2007, would set aside the mandates and requirements established by a consent decree filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina that prevents off-road vehicle and citizen access to a significant portion of the seashore.
The consent decree, which went into effect on May 1, 2008, was the result of a lawsuit filed by Defenders of Wildlife and the National Audubon Society. The lawsuit contended that the IMS did not provide adequate protection for area shorebirds. The provisions of the consent decree outline a series of management measures that are much more restrictive than the IMS and put in place protections for shorebirds that far exceed protections used at other national seashores and outlined in species recovery plans. As a result, access to a vast majority of the CHNS was closed.
"Unfortunately, the provisions of the consent decree are placing an undue and possibly disastrous economic burden on the local community," said ASA Vice President Gordon Robertson. "ASA strongly supports statements made by Rep. Burr," continued Robertson. "The consent decree has shown that managing the Seashore through the courts - without public input - will have unintended consequences. The bill would restore much needed reasonable public access while still providing necessary and adequate protections for the shorebirds."
"The shorebirds thrived last year under the Interim Management Strategy," added Patty Doerr, ASA Ocean Resource Policy director. "The unnecessary protections added by the consent decree only resulted in severely impacting the local economy, which is heavily dependent on beach tourism and ORV access. This bill will go a long way towards a more common-sense approach to ORV management in the seashore."
If enacted, the National Park Service's Interim Management Strategy will go into effect immediately and end upon the National Park Service establishing a long-term off-road vehicle management plan for the use of CHNS by the public.
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 the Interior proposed the use of a Negotiated Rulemaking Committee to develop the plan. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne formally approved the committee in December 2007. Stakeholders were told that the negotiated rulemaking process would avoid litigation.