War Rages on Cape Hatteras
The Interior Department has pledged to put wildlife before recreation in our national parks, but on a North Carolina national seashore, it's letting off-road vehicles run amok, imperiling birds and people.
What's wrong with this picture: off-road vehicles (ORVs) monopolizing barrier beaches on North Carolina's Outer Banks, aborting nesting attempts by colonial waterbirds, oystercatchers, threatened piping plovers, and threatened and endangered sea turtles; crushing eggs and young of all these species; and imperiling and/or intimidating the roughly 90 percent of visitors who travel by foot.
Answer: These long, thin islands that help insulate the northern half of the state from storms and provide critical habitat to vanishing wildlife are part of our National Park System. Seventy miles of them were designated as the Cape Hatteras National Seashore in 1953.
Such abuse results largely from ongoing priorities of the Bush administration that give lie to its "new park policy," announced August 31, 2006, of favoring the protection of natural and cultural resources over recreation.
Even if such a policy were genuine, it would hardly be new. Throughout most of its history the National Park Service has been a beacon for the nation and the world, protecting and restoring native ecosystems. Other federal resource agencies have been charged by Congress with managing for "multiple use," but despite the fact that about 274 million people visit national parks each year, this has never been part of the Park Service's mandate. Unlike the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, the Park Service does not auction off timber, minerals, or cattle forage. Unlike the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it does not manipulate habitat for maximum production of favored species.
Other federal resource agencies have struggled to define their missions. But since 1916, when Congress and President Woodrow Wilson created the National Park Service and its organic act (the enabling legislation by which it operates), its legal mandate--to protect flora, fauna, land, water, and the natural processes with which they all interact "unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations"--has never been in question. By law, then, national parks must provide Americans with ecosystem preserves.
Current management of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore is one of the better examples of how the Park Service is flouting federal laws, such as its own organic act, the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the General Authorities Act (which requires that all park units be managed as a single system); executive orders by Presidents Nixon and Carter (which forbid ORV use unless it can be demonstrated that it won't compromise natural values); and the seashore's enabling legislation (which requires that it be "permanently reserved as a primitive wilderness").
"Primitive wilderness" is hardly what Audubon North Carolina's deputy director Walker Golder, Audubon field technician Sidney Maddock, and I have encountered on our outings to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore these past two summers. Instead we've seen: casings of spent fireworks (illegal in the park because they discourage nesting); footprints and tire tracks on the wrong side of symbolic (string) fences erected to protect nesting birds; bumper stickers that featured circled and slashed renderings of piping plovers or proclaimed, "I love piping plover, tastes like chicken"; a passenger on a speeding ORV heckling us because Maddock was toting a spotting scope. In 2005 what I would have called traffic jams were defined by both my companions as "relatively light summer use." Said Maddock, "Look, there are parking spaces left."
Most of these ORVs carry fishermen. I spend a lot of time with anglers because I am one, but none I've seen are quite like these. Typical behavior is their treatment of Steve Kayota, a doctor who owns a house on Hatteras Island. In 2004 a speeding ORV nearly killed his five-year-old son as he played on the beach. "The guy was driving at least 50 miles per hour," Kayota told me. "The tire missed Andrew's head by about a foot. The ORV was between us, so I thought he'd been run over." The experience motivated Kayota to start the Hatteras Island Homeowners Coalition in an effort to get ORVs regulated. After he testified at a hearing at Kitty Hawk, the attacks started on ORV chatrooms Fish Mojo and RedDrumTackle.com. Links were posted providing his home and office phone numbers, his address, even a photo of his house. Vandals broke his pool fence, emptied his propane tanks, smashed his chairs. He started getting harassing calls at home and work.
ORV-chatroom participants have posted links to photos of Maddock's house and provided his e-mail address and phone number, and they've accused him of all manner of fictional offenses, from tax evasion to reckless driving. Herewith, typical posts: "Sid [Maddock] is an econazi, beach speeding, tag expiring, bird loving, trying to close the beach down, exlawyer, self centered, left wing idiot." And: "Syd [sic] Maddock def: an insult to every piece of excrement out there. The kind of person you would invite to a nuke test. . . . Once we retake Congress, public enemies such as himself and the idiots we elected who have supported him will only have survival to fear." And: "Seriously, folks, I hope that the raccoons and ghost crabs survive the storm, and prosper; as for the birds, to hell with 'em."
We've seen bumper stickers that featured circled and slashed renderings of piping plovers or proclaimed, "I love piping plover, tastes like chicken."