The National Park Service today released proposals for how it will comply with changes in wildlife protections on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore that are required by legislation passed last December by the U.S. Congress.
Among other things, the Cape Hatteras National Seashore legislation, passed as part of the National Defense Authorization Bill, instructs the Secretary of the Interior to review and adjust wildlife protection buffers, keep them in place the shortest possible duration, designate vehicle and pedestrian corridors around resource closures, and confer with the state of North Carolina on certain buffers and protections.
The legislation is intended to provide more access to the seashore for pedestrians and ORVs during the nesting season for shorebirds and sea turtles.
The document released is an Environmental Assessment that is titled "Review and Adjustment of Wildlife Protection Buffers." It analyzes the potential impact of two courses of action Alternative A, which is "no action" or continuing with current management and is the environmentally preferred alternative, and Alternative B, which modifies buffers and/or provides additional access corridors and is the park's preferred alternative.
The Park Service is proposing some reduction in buffers or other means of increased access, such as corridors, for all protected species on the seashore at some point in the nesting process.
Here are the highlights of the plan:
For American oystercatchers: There would be an ORV corridor at the waterline during nesting, but only when no alternate route is available, and the nest is at least 25 meters from the vehicle corridor. Buffers for nests and unfledged chicks would stay the same as they are now. The corridor would provide access around some, but not all, oystercatcher nests on the seashore.
For piping plovers: The buffer during nesting would be reduced from 75 meters to 50 meters for both pedestrians and ORVs. For unfledged chicks, the buffer would be reduced from 300 meters to 100 meters for pedestrians and from 1,000 meters to 500 meters for 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. This proposal has the potential to open up more access to areas that piping plovers nest at Cape Point and South Point on Ocracoke.
For Wilson’s plovers: The buffer during nesting would be reduced from 75 meters to 50 meters for pedestrians and ORVs. The pedestrian buffer for unfledged chicks would be reduced from 200 meters to 100 meters, the same as for piping plovers. The ORV buffer for unfledged chicks would increase from 200 meters to a standard 500 meters. However, where an ORV corridor does not exist, the buffer may be reduced to no less than 200 meters to allow an access corridor along the shoreline.
For least terns: The buffer for unfledged chicks would be reduced from 200 meters to 100 meters for both pedestrians and ORVs. The buffer for nests would stay the same.
For common terns, gull-billed terns, and black skimmers: The buffer for these species during nesting would be reduced from 200 meters to 180 meters for both pedestrians and ORVs. For unfledged chicks, the buffer would be reduced from 200 meters to 180 meters for both pedestrians and ORVs.
For sea turtles: The expansion buffer would be reduced to 30 meters (15 meters on either side), and, when light filtering fencing is installed, 5 meters minimum behind the nest. This buffer would be the same for vehicle-free areas, village areas, and ORV routes. Visitors would be able to walk behind the buffer or in front of a nest, walking as close as practicable to the surf line. For ORVs, visitors would use an existing corridor around a nest, if available. In the absence of an existing corridor, the shorter buffer behind the nest would allow ORVs to travel behind a nest where sufficient beach width exists. Where a turtle nest blocks access from one ORV area to another and no way around the nest exists, visitors could drive in front of the nest if NPS resources exist to monitor the nest and remove ruts.
For nests laid prior to June 1, the seashore would retain the option of not expanding the buffer until day 60, unless signs of hatching prior to day 60 were detected. Currently, the nests are expanded at 50 to 55 days. For nests laid after Aug. 20, the seashore would retain the option of not expanding the buffer for nests that block access to ORV passage. Instead, these nests laid after Aug. 20 would be monitored daily for signs of hatching and managed appropriately to avoid impacts if signs of hatching are observed. Where signs of hatching are observed for instance, a depression buffers would be expanded as outlined for nests laid before Aug. 20.
The Park Service says that the proposed buffers and corridors are contingent on having the resources to do intensive or increased monitoring to protect species.