(CNSNews.com) - Environmental groups have filed a preliminary injunction seeking to stop vehicles from driving on the beaches of Cape Hatteras National Shoreline, because they say it has harmed local bird populations. Sport fishers, however, say the measure will hurt their businesses, as well as the overall economy there.
The injunction would cover about 12 percent of the shoreline, an area that environmentalists say is critical for the piping plover.
"At this point, every breeding season is critically important to the shorebirds that nest on Hatteras. Fortunately, by limiting driving on even this small area would help protect them during this season, giving the Park Service time to develop and implement a reasonable long-term plan to manage driving on the beach," said Derb Carter, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which is representing the National Audubon Society and Defenders of Wildlife in this case.
"Each year we see fewer and fewer of these species on Hatteras," Carter said. "Waiting any longer for the [National] Park Service to properly manage beach driving could very well mean we have nothing left to protect."
The National Park Service is required to create a management plan for off-road vehicle (ORV) use. Because no plan was in place, U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle ruled in July that ORV traffic was not permitted on the shoreline.
The park service responded by saying vehicle use will be permitted until a plan is implemented. The group is in the process of creating a management plan but said it may take three years before it will be in operation.
"The lack of an approved plan has led over time to inconsistent management of ORV use, user conflicts, and safety concerns," the park service noted.
"The seashore needs to provide for protected species management in relation to ORV and other uses to replace the Interim Protected Species Management Strategy/EA and associated Biological Opinion," it added.
"The only way to safeguard everyone's access to Cape Hatteras is to put a responsible, science-based vehicle management plan in place now," Chris Canfield, executive director of Audubon North Carolina, said in a statement. "That the Park Service has failed to do so imperils not only the birds and natural areas, but also the safety of all visitors."
The American Sportfishing Association, however, said restricting ORV use could hurt local communities.
"Since ORVs are necessary to access many sportfishing areas of the national seashore, the concern is that the plan may give little consideration to economic impacts to any segment of the sportfishing industry and the communities that depend on sportfishing," the group said in a statement.
"The implementation of the management plan poses serious questions about the future of recreational fishing in Cape Hatteras National Park and presents a serious challenge to sportfishing," they added. "The management plan could ultimately prevent reasonable access to many of Cape Hatteras' best marine sportfishing areas."
The group noted that North Carolina has over 519,000 saltwater anglers, and sportfishing generates $58.5 million in state tax revenue earnings, supports 9,735 North Carolina jobs, and pays $267.2 million in salaries and wages.
The American Sportfishing Association (ASA) also questioned the need for protecting these birds. They noted that the shoreline is "the northernmost point of the wintering range for piping plovers, and ASA believes that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not made its case for why this marginal area is essential to the conservation of the species."
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