State and federal news of interest to Ocracoke

NPS to review recent legislation related to Cape Hatteras National Seashore

OIST 2014 anglers

Recreational use of the Ocracoke beach by anglers in the 2014 Ocracoke Invitational Surf Fishing Tournament . Photo by C. Leinbach

NPS Press Release

2015 National Defense Authorization Act Actions Update

In early January 2015, the National Park Service began the process of reviewing and complying with recently passed legislation in the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, related to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

The legislation provides 180 days for the Secretary of the Interior, in coordination with the State of North Carolina and accordance with applicable laws, to review and modify wildlife buffers and designate pedestrian and vehicle corridors around buffers to allow access to areas that are open in the Seashore.

It also requires a public process to consider, consistent with management requirements at the Seashore, changes to the Seashore’s Off-Road Vehicle (ORV) special regulation as it relates to morning opening of beaches, extending the length of fall and spring seasonal ORV routes, and modifying vehicle free areas.

The Secretary of the Interior must report back to Congress within one year after the date of the enactment of the Act.

The National Park Service plans to use a four-step approach:

  1. Review the best available science on wildlife buffers, in coordination and consultation with State and Federal agencies, to consider modifications to buffers currently used by the Seashore and possible new ORV corridors. We anticipate making any proposed modifications available for public input and review later this spring.
  2. Launch a series of public discussion meetings in late May/early June to gather and consider public input on morning openings, extending seasonal ORV routes, and modifying vehicle free areas and to develop an appropriate plan to implement appropriate changes.
  3. Review the current beach access construction projects schedule for possible reprioritization towards those projects that provide vehicle access points in critical areas.
  4. Report back to Congress by December 19, 2015.
Updates

Updates will be posted on this web page as significant progress is made.
Frequently Asked Questions

1. What does the legislation say?
In summary, Congress passed legislation that requires the Secretary of the Interior to:
  • Review and modify wildlife protection buffers in Cape Hatteras National Seashore (Seashore) in accordance with applicable laws,
  • Using adaptive management practices, modify wildlife buffers to ensure that the protection buffers are of the shortest duration and cover the smallest area necessary, as determined in accordance with peer-reviewed scientific data,
  • Where possible, designate pedestrian and vehicle corridors around protection areas of the National Seashore closed for breeding wildlife, to allow access to areas that are open,
  • Coordinate and consult with State of North Carolina wildlife officials to determine appropriate buffer protections for species that are not listed under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 but that are identified for protection under State law,
  • Construct new vehicle access points as expeditiously as practical and in accordance with management plans, and
  • Undertake a process to consider, consistent with management requirements at the Seashore, the following changes to the Final Rule:
    • Opening beaches closed to night driving on a rolling basis every morning,
    • Extending seasonal off-road vehicle routes in the fall and spring if the use would not create resource management problems, and
    • Modifying the size and location of vehicle free areas.

2. What are some examples of “applicable laws”?

Many laws will apply. Here are a few examples:

  • The Endangered Species Act,
  • The Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and
  • The National Environmental Policy Act.

3. What is the name of the actual legislation?

Sec. 3057. Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreation Area is part of the larger, comprehensive 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, enacted on December 19, 2014. (A link to the legislation is provided below)

4. What plan does the Seashore have to implement this legislation?

The National Park Service will utilize the following steps to implement the legislation:

  • Prepare a review of the best available science for wildlife buffers, in coordination and consultation with State and Federal agencies, to consider modifications to those buffers and possible new ORV corridors.
  • Launch a series of public discussion meetings during the spring to gather and consider public input on morning openings, extending seasonal ORV routes, and modifying vehicle free areas and develop an appropriate plan to modify the Final Rule and implement potential changes.
  • Review the current beach access construction projects schedule for possible reprioritization towards those projects that provide vehicle access points.
  • Report back to Congress by December 19, 2015.

5. Why does the Seashore refer to the use of “best available science” if the legislation states “peer-reviewed scientific data”?

The Seashore will, as the Act described, use peer-reviewed scientific data as we move forward whenever possible. However, there are likely to be cases where peer-reviewed data are not available to guide our efforts. In those cases, we intend to review all of the scientific data available (best available) to help evaluate management options, consistent with the legislative direction.

 6. Will the public, including local residents and interested stakeholders, be involved?

Yes. After reviewing the science and developing potential buffer modifications and corridors, the Seashore will hold public meetings and provide a public review period to solicit comments and ideas. Once the wildlife buffer review and corridor development process has been completed, the Seashore will have additional discussions with the public to consider whether or not to make changes to the Final Rule regarding beach openings, seasonal off road routes, and vehicle free areas.

7. When will this work be completed?

The legislation directs the Secretary of the Interior to complete the wildlife buffer review and modification and corridor designation within 180 days (by June 16, 2015). The Seashore staff will be working hard and in coordination with the State of North Carolina and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to complete this task first.

Regarding the public process to consider changes to the Final Rule, the Seashore plans to begin that process second. The length of time required to complete the work will be based on the ideas and input received from the public and the types of changes to the Final Rule that are under consideration by the Seashore.

Construction of new vehicle access points is underway. The Seashore completed Ramp 25 in 2014 and additional projects are expected to be underway in the next few months. An expedited schedule for constructing access points will be developed and shared with the public during the spring of 2015.

8. Will this work result in changes to the way ORVs are managed during the summer of 2015?

It is possible that proposed changes to wildlife buffers or the proposed establishment of corridors around closed areas may be put into place during the summer of 2015. The efforts to consider modifying the Final Rule will take more time and potential changes are not expected to be implemented during the summer of 2015. In this interim period, ORV use will continue to be managed under the current Seashore ORV Management Plan and special regulation.

9. How do we currently manage off-road vehicles in the Seashore?

The mission of the National Park Service (NPS Organic Act, 16 USC 1) and the enabling legislation for the Seashore require that the Service to balance recreational use with the protection of natural and cultural resources. This requirement includes conservation and protection of plants and wildlife, several of which are federally-listed threatened species including the piping plover, three species of sea turtles, and seabeach amaranth. In addition, the Seashore provides a variety of visitor recreational experiences such as fishing, ORV use, and the enjoyment of undeveloped beaches. On February 15, 2012, the National Park Service implemented an ORV Management Plan and special regulation designed to balance ORV use and access in the Seashore and protect and preserve the natural and cultural resources, while minimizing conflicts among various users, and promoting the safety of all visitors. (A link to the plan and and Final Rule below)

10. Where do I find current information on beach driving in Cape Hatteras National Seashore?

The park currently has a special off-road vehicle webpage with information needed for off-road travel in the Seashore: http://www.nps.gov/caha/planyourvisit/beachactivities.htm

The Google Earth map, updated frequently during the busy summer months, is available at:http://www.nps.gov/maps/full.html?mapId=0c53eca8-fd01-40ef-b809-41f814fe5efc

2010 ORV Final EIS: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?parkID=358&projectID=10641&documentID=37448

 Links