The Southern Environmental Law Center, Audubon North Carolina, and Defenders of Wildlife need some new writers – or at least some new ideas -- for their press releases.
They have been issuing the same release for at least five years now, even though it has been noted here and in other publications that their storyline is not exactly truthful. That’s about the most polite way I can say that they are stretching and exaggerating the facts to suit their view of off-road vehicle policy on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
When the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources approved an amended bill that would overturn the Park Service’s ORV plan and final rule at the seashore, they dusted off the same press release, put a new paragraph at the top, and sent it out – apparently to selected media outlets. Island Free Press has asked to be added to that list, but we still do not get the releases.
Sorry to have to bore you again with the comments of Julie Youngman, Jason Rylander, and Walker Golder, but here is what the three had to say about the Senate committee’s action.
“The existing wildlife protection measures are already based on the best available scientific information," said Julie Youngman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “We will work to make sure the plan remains scientifically sound. By requiring the National Park Service to redo what it’s already done, the bill wastes taxpayer time and resources.”
“The existing National Park Service plan is a win-win for the seashore,” said Jason Rylander, senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “The plan restored wildlife to the seashore while increasing visitation and tourism. The vast majority of seashore visitors do not come to drive on the beaches. This bill seeks to fix something that isn’t broken.”
“The National Park Service’s current regulation offers a balanced use of the seashore,” said Walker Golder of Audubon North Carolina. “The current safeguards--put in place after much stakeholder input, public discussion, and more than 21,000 public comments—allow for responsible off-road vehicle use, provide areas for people who want to safely enjoy the beach without the danger of trucks, and provide basic protection for birds, sea turtles and other wildlife. The bill sets a horrible precedent for the National Park Service.”
Then the release goes on to talk about the great nesting success of shorebirds and sea turtles under the consent decree that settled the environmental groups’ lawsuit against the Park Service and then the 2012 ORV plan and final rule.
The groups continue to harp on this same theme, even though others continue to point out some inconvenient truths.
Sea turtle nesting has been up the past several years all along the southeast coast from Florida to North Carolina – not just in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore because of the effort of these outside, special-interest groups.
Former seashore superintendent, Mike Murray, who oversaw the consent decree and the implementation of the ORV plan and final rule said in every appearance before federal District Court Judge Terrence Boyle that the year-to-year increases in nesting could not be attributed to any one factor, but instead must be viewed over time.
This is from an IFP report on an April 2011 status conference on the consent decree in Boyle’s courtroom:
“The three years of the consent decree, Murray stated, were the best for turtle breeding success in many years. But, he added quickly, all those successes resulted from a combination of factors, and no single factor can be pinpointed as the linchpin. Weather, for example, was favorable in 2010, with no head-on hits from hurricanes and little damage to breeding sites from northeasters.”
And this is from a March 2010 status conference:
“Boyle asked Murray if the 2009 improvement wasn’t a good demonstration of the earlier degradation of habitat from beach driving. Murray replied that in earlier years there had been a statewide decline in nesting shorebirds and waterbirds, that weather is always a factor, and that there is natural cycle in nesting behavior.”
Piping plover nesting success has been cyclical on the seashore, as it has been on Cape Lookout National Seashore to our south. Cape Lookout is in the process of developing an ORV plan, but does not now have one. It has greater piping plover nesting success than Cape Hatteras.
Furthermore, it will be interesting to see how Carter, Rylander, and Golder explain what looks to be – at this point at least – less successful nesting numbers than last year.
As of this week’s Park Service resource management summary, there have been 43 total sea turtle nests on the seashore. At this time last year, there were 74 nests. That is about a 58 percent decrease.
As of this week’s resource management summary, there have been nine piping plover nests to date. At this time last year, there had been 21.
There are no active nests right now and three active broods of piping plovers on the seashore. Last year this time, there were still five active nests and the same three active broods.
This time last year, two piping plover chicks had fledged. This year none have fledged yet.
The legislation approved by the Senate committee this week is a victory of sorts for those who advocate for more reasonable ORV access than the plan allows. It’s not as good as overturning the plan, but it is recognition by lawmakers – both Republicans and Democrats -- that there are some aspects of the plan that need another look.
S 486, as amended, would force the Secretary of Interior “to review and modify” buffers within 180 days. In addition, the Secretary would have to confer with the state of North Carolina on protections for shorebirds that are not federally listed as endangered or threatened.
The Secretary would also have to start a public process to consider changes to the plan, such as the time beaches open to ORVs in the morning, fewer seasonal closures to ORVs, and the size and location of vehicle-free areas.
And the Secretary would have to report to Congress within one year on the measures taken to implement the bill.
Changes to the ORV plan and final rule were to be considered in five years from the 2012 implementation, and what this bill does is speed up that process.
The legislation was approved by the entire committee of 12 Democrats and 10 Republicans. It will be an uphill battle to get it to the Senate floor for a vote, but at least now it’s possible.
The biggest problem I can see with the amended legislation is that it opens the door for the Park Service to once again hide behind the claim that buffers are based on peer-reviewed science.
The legislation reads that the Secretary shall review the buffers “in accordance with peer-reviewed scientific data.”
The Department of Interior and Park Service continue to insist that the plan and final rule are based on “peer-reviewed” science. They clearly are not.
At the end of this blog are several links to blogs that I have written explaining why the science is not “peer-reviewed”
It may be “the best available science,” but the point is that it’s not good enough.
If you support this legislation as amended, you will have to continue to contact your senators to let them know you want to see a floor vote on S 486 – and passage of the legislation.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Click here to read the entire press release by environmental groups.
Some previous blogs on peer review:
Keep asking them to show us the science
They are showing us the science?
They are showing us the science? Part 2