On May 18, 2018 we shared on Facebook information with you that there would be a partial closure of Cape Point to protect strategically built bird nests. The requirements attached to the Defense Authorization act of Fiscal 2015 mandate the NPS "Review and adjust wildlife protection buffers using adaptive management practices to insure buffers are of the shortest duration and cover the smallest area necessary to protect species." Despite changes within the Final Rule governing access to Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area the current nest locations require a wildlife protection buffer that prevents access to approximately 500 meters of the Point area to all ORV and pedestrian traffic. In this case the closure took place on the morning of May 19 and is likely to last until late July.
While there are numerous shorebird nests in the Cape Point area (Piping Plover, American Oystercatchers, and Colonial Water Bird colonies), the species that is currently preventing access to the tip of Cape Point are Least Terns of which there are, as of May 23, twelve nests. The current NPS wildlife protection buffer for Least Terns nests is 100 meters.
When Shelly Island merged with Cape Point it created a considerable amount of additional beach at the Point. While this additional area was thought to be helpful in accommodating more visitors and enabling access corridors, if required, and when possible, it was also obvious that the added stretch of beach would be an invitation for birds that prefer that broad open beach adjacent to the tide line for nesting. The current closure extends from just north of the point to approximately one tenth of a mile south of the bypass road terminus (i.e. you can drive from Ramp 44 south for 7/10 of a mile). The bypass road allows ORV access beyond the dune line in the cases where high tides make the beach impassable however allowing for access to the Point itself. While a small area of the Point remains open and outside of the closure, it is limited to those willing to walk there while remaining with feet in the water. This requires a great deal of caution and awareness of potential wave activity and rip currents often apparent in that area.
Although we are grateful that conditions allowed ORV access to the Point for 660 continuous days, less one for ordnance disposal, prior to this closure the NCBBA Directors and Officers along with other access groups will continue the mission to strive for additional access to more areas for longer durations. While NPS Hatteras, under the leadership of Superintendent David Hallac, has complied with, and in many cases exceeded, the requirements for improved access there is still more work to be done. The "best available" science that dictates the buffer areas and duration of closures is not exact and, in fact, according to many people, dubious and subject to strong challenges.
I suggest that you contact your local, state and federal elected officials as well as NPS Hatteras and the Department of Interior to express your concerns about the current closures and the designation of Vehicle Free Areas. At present we have an access friendly Secretary of the Interior in Ryan Zinke. He has mandated that the public should have access to public lands whenever possible. In addition to his initiatives to improve access the Trump administration is seeking to change the rules under which various species may be deemed in need of special protection that tends to stay in place for inordinate amounts of time after a "recovery" has been accomplished. They are trying to make it more difficult to list and easier to remove what are often considered excessive protections.
Unfortunately, one of the most desirable areas for fishing, shelling and sight-seeing is currently closed to ORV access due to nesting birds in an area where their success rate is historically poor. In the case of our beaches the good news is that there remains approximately 27.5 miles available for ORV access, representing over 90% of summer time ORV routes, and good fishing can be found along much of that area. Please don't allow the closure of .4 miles of beach discourage you from enjoying all of the other opportunities on Hatteras Island and adjacent areas.
Al Adam, Vice President NCBBA