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Beached Wails

August 26, 2008
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I got this little tidbit from Becky, the bird collections manager at the NC Museum, just before my trip to Wyoming. I’ve written a fair bit this summer on the heated battle on North Carolina’s Outer Banks between business interests and conservationists with regard to the mandated beach closures during the nesting season of several shorebirds, most famously the Piping Plover. The argument against the closures with the most traction was that closing the beaches during the height of the summer tourist season would have a detrimental effect on the economy of Dare County and the Outer Banks. Circumstantial evidence, admittedly biased in favor of the ORV lobby, seemed to favor this argument, though the numbers are beginning to come in. The verdict, as reported by WRAL?

“We were a little bit anxious and little bit nervous about how the tourism industry was going to fare,” said Carolyn McCormick, director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau.

Statistics compiled by the visitors bureau, though, show a 7 percent rise in occupancy in June, when 4.5 million people visited.

Tourism was actually up! And this in the face of rumors intentionally spread by the ORV lobby that the National Park Service was closing all the beaches, when only three were truly inaccessible. In fact, the rumor mill is one of the more amusing side stories in all this. Due to the incorrect information, it’s impossible to tell how many fisherman and ORV drivers stayed away when they didn’t need to, but it appears that some damage was in fact done by the ORV’s false allegations. In the end, they appear to have done more harm to their cause than good.

Things have calmed down now that the birds are finished and the beaches have re-opened. The NPS has opposed returning to the interim ORV policy in place before the federal mandate, so it’s likely we’ll see thing flare up again in April when the shorebirds and turtles begin nesting again. But this time, conservationists have some ammo in their pocket, a response to the slow-business argument that exposes it for the shell-game that it is.

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