NPS Announces Public Scoping Meetings to Consider Changes to ORV Rule
Section 3057, Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreation Area was passed in December, 2014 as part of The 2015 National Defense Authorization Act. On July 20, NPS announced the scheduling of public scoping meetings between August 6 and August 12 to consider changes to the 2012 Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area ORV Rule as required by the new law. Specifically, NPS will consider changes to three specific areas of the Rule.
- Morning Opening of ORV access routes during summer months
The rule currently designates ORV routes to be closed from 9:00 pm until 7:00 am. The new law requires that the utilization of a rolling schedule be considered to allow access earlier than 7:00 am. The expectation is that NPS would schedule turtle patrols to be completed prior to 7:00 am on selected beaches to facililtate this change.
CHAPA believes greater early morning access will significantly improve the visitor experience at a time of year when sunrise occurs well before 6:00 am. A rolling schedule, or changing the opening time for all ORV access, will facilitate important visitor activities currently not available.
- Dates for Seasonal Closures
The rule currently designates that many ORV routes will be closed to ORV access from April 1 until October 31. These are called seasonal routes. The new law requires that consideration be given to opening the routes to ORV access earlier in the fall and closing the routes later in the spring in order to lengthen the time ORV access is available each year.
CHAPA believes that the shoulder seasons, (early/mid fall and early/mid spring) offer visitor activities that are highly dependent on ORV access and that earlier opening in the fall and later closing in the spring will provide significant benefits.
- Vehicle Free Areas
The rule currently designates approximately 26 miles of seashore as Vehicle Free Areas. The law requires that consideration be given to changes in the designation of Vehicle Free Areas.
CHAPA believes a number of Vehicle Free Areas result in lost access to activities valued by visitors, significantly and negatively affecting the visitor experience. We believe these areas are candidates to be reclassified as either seasonal routes or year round ORV routes.
CHAPA urges you to attend one of the public scoping meetings and to be prepared to voice you opinion on these important topics.
We expect, although we are not certain, that NPS will announce a public comment period for written comments. We will keep you informed as we learn more about the process NPS will follow to complete their assessment of changes to the ORV rule. We also urge you to participate in all phases of the process as they occur. This is your opportunity to make a difference in what happens at Cape Hatteras in the future.
CHAPA will also prepare and present recommendations to the NPS and we will share them with you at a future date.
The NPS press release announcing the dates and locations for the scoping meetings follows.
Save the Dates
Public Scoping Meetings Scheduled to Consider Changes to
Cape Hatteras National Seashore's Off-Road Vehicle Special Regulation
Cape Hatteras National Seashore is holding public scoping meetings to consider 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 the size and location of vehicle free areas. Public scoping will help inform the development of alternatives that will be analyzed in an Environmental Assessment (EA). The EA will be prepared in response to the Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2015 (Public Law 113-291) pertaining to the Seashore's Off-Road Vehicle (ORV) Management Plan.
The five public meetings are scheduled as follows:
- August 5, 2015, 5:30 p.m.- 7:30 p.m. - Ocracoke School, 1 Schoolhouse Road
Ocracoke Island, NC 27960
- August 6, 2015, 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. - McKimmon Conference & Training Center, 1101 Gorman Street, NC State University Campus, Raleigh, NC 27695
- August 10, 2015, 6:00 p.m.- 8:00 p.m. -Cape Hatteras Secondary School, 48576 Hwy 12, Buxton, NC 27920
- August 11, 2015, 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. - Hilton Garden Inn, 5353 Virginia Dare Trail, Kitty Hawk, NC 27949
- August 12, 2015, 5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. - Embassy Suites Hampton Inn, 1700 Coliseum Drive, Hampton, VA 23666
Additional information on the Public Scoping and EA process will be provided in advance of the public meetings. More information can be found on the Seashore's webpage at: http://www.nps.gov/caha/parkmgmt/2015ndaact.htm.
For general information on the Outer Banks Group national parks, visit www.nps.gov/caha, www.nps.gov/wrbr, www.nps.gov/fora; Twitter: @CapeHatterasNPS, @WrightBrosNPS, @FortRaleighNPS; or call 252-473-2111.
Plan Approved to Modify Wildlife Protection Buffers
Cape Hatteras National Seashore
The National Park Service has approved a plan to modify wildlife protection buffers at Cape Hatteras National Seashore (Seashore) as required by Section 3057 of the Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2015, Public Law 113-291. (A law supported by NCBBA, CHAPA, OBPA, CHAC & others.)
The selected plan includes modified protection buffers and provides corridors around buffers for many species, including American oystercatchers, Wilson's plovers, piping plovers, colonial nesting waterbirds, and sea turtles. The plan maintains protections for wildlife along the seashore by augmenting the seashore's monitoring and on-the-ground management program. Additionally, the Seashore will be hosting workshops in the future to refine scientific monitoring and research towards improving adaptive management.
While it is expected that these changes will provide additional public access during wildlife nesting seasons, access to all areas of the Seashore at all times may not be possible, even with the decision to modify wildlife buffers; multiple species may nest in close proximity to each other and there are times where ORV corridors cannot be provided due to local geography. Parts of the selected alternative may be implemented during the summer of 2015, while the entire plan will be implemented in 2016, once additional staff are available to help intensively monitor and manage wildlife protection buffers and corridors.
The plan was approved by Stan Austin, the Director of the Southeast Region of the National Park Service, completing the National Environmental Policy Act and Environmental Assessment (EA) process which began earlier this year. The EA and FONSI were prepared in close coordination and consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and in consideration of public input that was received during the public review period.
Superintendent David Hallac stated, “Wildlife protection buffers described under the plan's selected action will continue to protect wildlife species while providing additional flexibility to allow access to pedestrians and off road vehicles.”
A brief summary of the selected plan is as follows:
• For American oystercatcher: There will be an ORV corridor at the waterline during nesting, but only when (a) no alternate route is available, and (b) the nest is preferably at least 50 meters, but no less than 25 meters from the vehicle corridor. Buffer reductions and corridors will only be implemented with at least twice daily monitoring to ensure that the area can be managed appropriately when chicks hatch. Buffers for nests and unfledged chicks will stay the same as they are now.
• For piping plover and Wilson’s plover: The buffer during nesting will be reduced from 75 meters to 50 meters for both pedestrians and ORVs. For unfledged chicks, the buffer will be reduced from 300 meters to 100 meters (pedestrians) and from 1,000 meters to500 meters (ORVs). Where the standard 500 meter buffer blocks ORV access, the buffer may be reduced to no less than 200 meters to allow an access corridor along the shoreline. Buffer reductions when chicks are present will only be implemented with intensive monitoring by qualified staff.
• For least tern: The buffer for unfledged chicks will be reduced from 200 meters to 100 meters for both pedestrians and ORVs. The buffer during nesting would stay the same. Buffer reductions and corridors will only be implemented with at least twice daily monitoring to ensure that the area can be managed appropriately when chicks become mobile.
• For common tern, gull-billed tern, and black skimmer: The buffer for these species during nesting and when unfledged chicks are present will be reduced from 200 meters to180 meters for both pedestrians and ORVs.
• For sea turtles: The expansion buffer will be reduced to 30 meters (15 meters on either side), and, when light filtering fencing is installed, 5 meters minimum behind the nest. In the absence of an existing corridor, the shorter buffer behind the nest may allow ORVs to travel behind a nest where sufficient beach width exists. Where a turtle nest blocks access during the hatch window from one ORV area to another and no way around the nest exists, ORVs may drive in front of the nest only when qualified staff are regularly monitoring the nest for signs of hatching and available to remove ruts in front of nests on a daily basis.
For nests laid prior to June 1, the Seashore will retain the option of not expanding the buffer until day 60, unless signs of hatching prior to day 60 were detected. For nests laid after August 20, the Seashore will retain the option of not expanding the buffer for nests that block access to ORV passage.
On the rare occasion that a sea turtle nest is laid in such a location as to completely block ORV ramp access to and from an open section of beach where there is no ability to provide a corridor or other route around the nest, that nest may be relocated to an area that does not block access.
The buffers and corridors proposed in alternative B are contingent on NPS having the resources (funding and staff) to perform intensive or increased monitoring to protect species. In cases where resource management personnel document adverse impacts to resources greater than those described in this EA, the Seashore would retain the discretion to revert to the resource protection measures in the ORV FEIS.
Alternative B only makes changes related to the review and modification, as appropriate, of wildlife protection buffers and the designation of pedestrian and vehicle corridors around buffers. All other aspects of the ORV FEIS remain unchanged.
Later this summer, the Seashore will commence a public process to consider modifications to the final rule on off road vehicle management (2012). Specifically, the Seashore will consider changes to the final rule related to: morning openings of beaches, the time periods open for use of seasonal off road vehicle routes, and the size and location of vehicle free areas.
Additional information and a copy of the FONSI and related comments can be found here: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?parkID=358&projectID=56762&documentID=66763
Neither NCBBA nor OBPA or CHAPA fully support the published plan and will comment at a later time. We suggest that you read and familiarize your selves with the rules that will be implemented.
CHAPA submitted comments for the "Review and Adjustment of Wildlife Protection Buffers" Environmental Assessment (EA) to the National Park Service (NPS) today. The NPS published the assessment on April 29, 2015 as we previously communicated. As part of the EA, NPS also opened a public comment period which expires at midnight, May 14, 2015.
CHAPA's comments acknowledge several changes in the NPS proposal which will have a positive impact on visitor access, both pedestrian and ORV, if implemented. CHAPA also described a number of additional changes which must be implemented to ensure NPS compliance with the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015 section 3057. That law requires NPS "to insure that the buffers are of the shortest duration and cover the smallest area necessary to protect a species....."
CHAPA's recommendations were originally sent to the Superintendent for his consideration on April 10, 2015, prior to the publication of the EA. We continue to believe the recommendations offered at that time can be implemented with minimal disruption to the NPS resource management processes already in place at the Seashore. We also believe our recommendations will balance resource protection and pedestrian / ORV access at the Seashore in a way that is consistent with the intent of the law.
The official CHAPA comments can be viewed at this link. This letter and other communications which have occurred on this subject in the past cand be viewed at www.obpa,org , www.ncbba.org , or www.IslandFreePress.org . In addition to following our communications, we urge you to visit the NPS webpage titled "2015 National Defense Authorization Act Actions Update" to stay current with the latest information.John Couch
NPS EA – Review & Adjustment of Wildlife Protection Buffers
The National Park Service has requested public input on the proposed action to modify wildlife buffers and establish corridors. We are requesting your participation either in person, via letter or both. Written comments must be delivered or postmarked no later than May 14, 2015. Email comments can be entered @ https://parkplanning.nps.gov/commentForm.cfm?documentID=65752. This is your opportunity to make a statement regarding changes to the ORV Management Plan as currently administered at Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area. A great deal of time & effort has gone into bringing about this opportunity required by the passage of Section 3057 of the Defense Authorization Act – 2015. This act requires NPS “to insure that the buffers are of the shortest duration and cover the smallest area necessary to protect a species…..” and your comments, to be considered, need to be directed to this end.
You can view the the NPS Environmental Assessment, CHAPA’s proposed changes and The NC Wildlife Resources Commission recommendations plus the dates, times & locations of public meetings @ www.OBPA-nc.org, or www.ncbbaonline.com or www.islandfreepress.org.
Following are some primary points of interest for you to consider as you prepare your comments:
General Statements – Overall Assessment
- Buffers and Corridors proposed shall not be contingent upon NPS having the resources (funding and staff) to do the monitoring required. Fiscal budgeting must insure the availability of these resources.
- If chick movements (regardless of species) requires changes in buffer location, the buffer perimeter should move accordingly and not be merely enlarged. Natural barriers, (ie. dunes & ponds) should be a limiting factor in buffer delineations.
- Access closures at the spits & points determined by the collective impact of PIPL, AMOY, and CWB. Actual changes to pedestrian or ORV access if the resource management procedures followed for AMOY and CWB imposes restrictions override the positive changes proposed to PIPL buffers.
American Oyster Catchers/AMOY
- Pre-nesting closures - should not be required with robust monitoring efforts that detect nests soon after eggs are laid. Visitors should expect restrictions the same as over the past 6 years.
- Nesting buffers – Buffers to remain unchanged at 150m. An ORV corridor at a minimum of 25m from a nest is proposed by NPS. Overall – POSITIVE.
- Unfledged chicks’ buffers – NPS proposes no change (200m) & no ORV corridors, unchanged compared to last 6 years. UNCHANGED. NPS chose to ignore NCWRC recommendations which could have resulted in a positive impact.
- Removal of closures – NPS proposes no changes (the later of Jul 31or 2 weeks after chicks have fledged) the definition of fledged is 45 days after hatched. – UNCHANGED. NPS chose to ignore NCWRC recommendations which could have resulted in a positive impact.
- Overall – the positive effect of providing a corridor during nesting is welcomed but changes to size & duration with regard to fulfilling the requirements of the new law are basically – NEGATIVE TO MINOR POSITIVE.
Colonial Water Birds
- Pre-Nesting Closures – No changes are proposed to current procedures. The likelihood that pre-nesting closures will impact visitors will be entirely dependent on where the closures are established in March of each year; visitors should expect their experience to be affected by pre-nesting closures in the same way they have experienced over the past six years-UNCHANGED.
- Nesting Buffers / Un-Fledged Chicks’ Buffers –Nesting buffers for least terns are proposed to be reduced from 200m to 100m; buffers for other CWB are proposed to be reduced from 200m to 180m. These changes are viewed as inconsequential; the impact to access compared to the past six years is UNCHANGED. NPS chose not to use NCWRC proposals which are less restrictive and which would likely result in a positive impact to access.
- Isolated nests- Nest/s not located near or within a colony receive the same level of protection as does a colony increasing the risk of significant & unwarranted closures – UNCHANGED.
- Removal of closures – NPS proposes no changes (the later of Jul 31, Aug 15 for black skimmers or 2 weeks after chicks fledge) – UNCHANGED.
- Overall – NPS proposed changes to the size of closures and duration of closures are inconsequential and therefore do not fulfill the requirements of the new law – NEGATIVE.
Piping Plover(PPL)/Wilson’s Plover(WIPL)
- Location -Resource management procedures apply wherever PIPL nesting activity occurs. PIPL activity has occurred at Cape Point, South Point, and on the Ocracoke side of Hatteras Inlet. Any changes where PIPL closures occur will be determined by where PIPL decide to nest. Impact of proposed changes on the location of PIPL closures - UNCHANGED.
- Pre-Nesting Closures – No changes are proposed to current procedures. The likelihood that pre-nesting closures will impact visitors will be entirely dependent on where the closures are established in March of each year; the visitor experience is likely to be the same they have experienced over the past six years - UNCHANGED.
- Nesting Buffers – Nesting buffers are proposed to be reduced from 75m to 50m. Risk that pedestrian and ORV restrictions will affect the visitor experience - IMPROVED.
- Removals of Closures– No changes are proposed to the procedures currently in place. Closures will be removed the later of July 31 or two weeks after the chicks have fledged. Impact on access of removal of closures -UNCHANGED & unacceptable.
- Unfledged chicks’- ORV buffers are proposed to be reduced from 1000m to 500m. Pedestrian buffers are proposed to be reduced from 300m to 100m. An ORV only corridor located 200m from the unfledged chicks in situations where the 500m buffer is not available is proposed. Reduction in buffer sizes and the provision of an ORV corridor will potentially increase access from levels experienced over the last six years - IMPROVED.
- Size of closures – NPS proposal will likely reduce the size of closures (dependent upon AMOY and CWB activity) - IMPROVED.
- Duration of closures – NPS proposal will not reduce the duration of access closures with regard to fulfilling the requirements of the new law – NEGATIVE.
- Incubation closures – 10m X 10m symbolic fencing is UNCHANGED.
- Nest relocations – NPS proposal does not provide for nest relocations. When a sea turtle nest blocks access to an ORV area and no other way around the nest exists, the nest should be relocated to a vehicle free area.
- Hatch Window Closures – Closures are expanded when activity is detected in the nest or when the age of the nest approaches the expected hatch date. NPS recommends five changes, all of which will reduce the size and duration of closures which have been experienced over the past six years. All are viewed as VERY POSITIVE.
- Hatch window buffer expansion will be installed on Day 60 instead of Day 55.
- Buffers on either side of the nest will be reduced from 52.5m to 15m consistent with NCWRC guidelines and CHAPA proposals.
- Buffer behind the nest will be reduced from 15m to 5m minimum consistent with NCWRC guidelines and CHAPA proposals. Change will in many cases allow an ORV bypass behind the nest to continue to exist during the hatch window.
- NCWRC procedure to allow daytime driving in front of nests which are within the hatch window if resources exist to monitor the nest and remove ruts before the end of the day when other access options are not available will be adopted.
- Special Consideration for Nests Laid after August 19 – NPS has determined that sea turtle nests laid after August 19 are typically unsuccessful at the seashore due to the colder fall weather conditions. Accordingly, NPS proposes that the 10m x 10m nest incubation closures for nest laid after August 19 should not be expanded unless activity is detected in the nest. This change will significantly reduce the size and duration of closures experienced after October 19 of each year.
- POST September 15 Night Driving Buffer – No changes are proposed to the ORV night time buffer of one half mile which is currently instituted beginning September 15 when night driving restrictions are listed. This distance is prescribed in order to avoid the risk of lights distracting the hatchlings as they leave the nest and move to the water. This procedure will continue to restrict nighttime access between September 15 and October 19 after other proposals describe above are implemented. NPS should adopt the use of light penetration barriers sufficient to mitigate this risk and which would therefore allow driving to within 15 meters on each side of the nest.
This document presents the changes to wildlife buffers and corridors proposed by NPS for implementation after June 19th.
As previously announced, NPS is holding public meetings between May 4 and 8 to explain the proposals and to receive public input. OBPA will provide additional information to assist you in understanding the potential impact of these important changes.