Saturday, February 04, 2012

Protection for Piping Plovers at Cape Hatteras

Piping Plover chick / USFWS Photo
A long and bitter process has resulted in a new regulation governing off-road vehicle (ORV) use at Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina. The purpose of the regulation is to protect the nests and young of Piping Plovers and other beach-nesting birds like terns and shorebirds.
The Park Service’s new rules allow ORV use on the majority of the seashore, with 28 of the seashore’s 67 miles of shoreline set aside as year-round ORV routes, and 13 miles seasonally open to ORVs. Only 26 of shoreline are designated as year-round vehicle-free areas for pedestrians, families, and wildlife. The plan also proposes new parking facilities, ORV ramps, and water shuttles to increase visitor access to beaches....

Beach-nesting birds and sea turtles reached alarming lows within the National Seashore under the old unmanaged beach-driving scenario, but showed signs of recovery after temporary rules were implemented in April 2008. No piping plover chicks survived to fledge (learn to fly) in 2002 and 2004, but 15 chicks fledged in 2010 and ten fledged in 2011. Only 44 sea turtle nests were recorded in 2004, but a record-breaking 153 sea turtle nests were recorded in 2010 and 147 in 2011.

The new rule was published in the Federal Register on January 20 and can be found at It designates ORV routes at the Seashore, establishing requirements to obtain a permit, and imposing date and time and other restrictions related to operation of ORVs, including vehicle and equipment standards.

New rules ordinarily go into effect no less than 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, however, the Park Service has found that good cause exists to truncate this period, and has brought the date forward to February 15. By this date, the public will have had 415 days’ notice of the decision (the Record of Decision was made available on December 28, 2010) that forms the basis of this rule, so further waiting would not appear to be necessary. Further, the shorebird breeding season at the Seashore begins in early March. The Park Service determined that implementation of the rule would be most effective if the designated ORV routes and ORV permit and education requirements were implemented, and signs reflecting the new requirements were installed, prior to the start of this year’s breeding season.

A permit will be required for each vehicle, with permit holders required to watch an instructional video. Permit fees have not been announced, but are expected to be set between $30 and $150 depending on the length of the permit.
It remains to be seen if this was what the plover population needed, but the early results look promising. Hopefully it will at least consolidate the gains made over the past few years while the temporary rules were in place.