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Plover Lover

May 16, 2008
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New I and the Bird, all the way from Sri Lanka, at Gallicissa.

Big haps on the Outer Banks of North Carolina this past week, and right before I plan to get out there. I’ve written about the controversy before, but the National Park Service has finally come to a compromise with regard to beach driving on Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Three sections of the beach have been closed to driving and, unfortunately for me, pedestrians to protect breeding Oystercatchers, Least Terns, and Piping Plovers. Beach driving at night has been completely banned for nesting sea turtles.

One of those spots, Cape Point, I visited in February and had hoped to get to again next week. But under the circumstances, I can gracefully allow the birds the run of the place. I may be banned, but so are the trucks that line up along the beach, and that’s good enough for me. It still remains to be seen how close I can get, however. I need both Piping Plover and Least Tern for for the year.

Predictably, the ORV lobby has been up in arms about this, saying that Cape Hatteras is a recreational area and, therefore, is out of line in preventing people from recreating. And by “recreating” they mean driving trucks over birds and leaving trash on the beach. Their arguments have been futile, though, and recent vandalism has only encouraged the Park Service to increase the restricted areas. It seems as though the most vocal opponents of the new plan are those who are, at best, infrequent visitors to the Outer Banks, and are crying foul that the closed areas just happen to be the best fishing spots on the Banks. It’s not so odd for birdwatchers though, it only makes sense that the best places for fish are going to be the best places for birds and turtles too.

They miss the point though. The National Park Service has an obligation to keep the beach as natural as they can, it’s part of their mission statement. It’s nice to finally see them fulfill that obligation with this compromise. I would have no problem closing the entire beach front to driving, but they didn’t do that. They only closed the places where the birds congregate. Other spots along the beachfront are still open and fishermen are encouraged to go there. It’s a fair agreement that allows the fishermen to do their thing without disturbing endangered birds and turtles.

It’s sad that it took legal action by the Southern Environmental Law Center to push the NPS towards moving on the issue. But that’s in the past, it’s done now. The NPS should be applauded for finally doing the right thing.

photo by Jeff Pippen

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4 Comments
  1. Jochen permalink
    May 16, 2008 8:31 am

    I always get upset when I hear of a controvery between nature conservation and recreation.
    Hey, 21 Million Americans are (more or less) interested in watching birds, and that is a RECREATIONAL activity as well.
    When those fricking SUV drivers are driving over plovers during their recreational activity, they are lowering the recreational quality of the beach for 21 Million others who have the same right to enjoy the beach in their way which is to go there and look at plovers!!
    They are putting their hobby above ours and that’s just plain selfish and wrong!

  2. Patrick Belardo permalink
    May 16, 2008 9:21 am

    This reminds me of the “Champagne Island” controversy here in NJ. It’s a nesting spot for Plovers, Terns, and Skimmers. They finally closed it this year to recreation. I am STILL getting nasty comments on my blog about it from naive people. One guy said, “Their nests just get washed away in the winter anyway.” Duh… Good work down there in NC though.

  3. John permalink
    May 16, 2008 11:15 am

    I don’t have much sympathy with people whose idea of recreation involves making the beach less enjoyable for everyone else. As for the big year, maybe you’ll have a better shot at finding least terns and piping plovers once the breeding season winds down.

  4. May 16, 2008 11:21 am

    It was the hard work of the Southern Environmental Law Center and a sympathetic federal judge that forced the move. Good for them.

    Not just birders, but shell-hunters, surfers, and general nature lovers will benefit. And in many places it’s just the driving that is banned. In many places fishermen are able to park in lots and haul their stuff to the shore if they like, many are just too lazy however, and complain about that too.

    John – You’re probably right about PIPLs but I bet I’ll find the terns pretty easily up and down the shore. They do pretty well on the Outer Banks. I’d love to find Gull-billed and Common Terns too, but their populations are doing worse then the Leasts.

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