Off Road Vehicles vs Wildlife: Cape Hatteras Under Threat


Image credit: Audubon NC

I've never really understood the attraction of "off roading" - in fact, until I started brewing biodiesel with some Off Road Vehicle (ORV) enthusiasts, I didn't even really know what it was. I am, for the most part, a believer in personal freedom but, like Lloyd's take on ATV's and the environment, I find it hard to see how off roading can be done without significant ecological damage (I'm sure my biodiesel buddies will disagree!). Whether or not "sustainable off roading" is even possible, it seems obvious that off roading in ecologically sensitive areas should be a no-no. The trouble is, nobody seems to have explained this to North Carolina legislators.
I guess part of the problem is that, as Jeremy Clarkson's trashing of salt pans in Botswana shows, off roaders like prestine wilderness. The whole point is to pit man and machine against rough terrain - and the rougher the terrain, the more likely it is to be untouched. After all, off roading needs to go off road.

The latest battle ground in the debate is opening up in Cape Hatteras National Park in North Carolina, where Senator Hagan (D-NC) joined U.S. Senator Burr (R-NC) in a legislative move to withdraw national park protections for baby birds and sea turtles endangered by off-road vehicles. Apparently pressed by ORV enthusiasts and the tourism lobby, the move is intended to open up more of the Cape Hatteras shoreline to ORV users - despite the fact that current restrictions only limit use in certain parts of the shoreline during bird breeding season.

North Carolina's conservation community is up in arms - as this quote from a Audubon North Carolina press release shows:

"This attack on the laws that safeguard our parks and seashores could set a dangerous precedent," said Jason Rylander, attorney for Defenders of Wildlife. "If management of Cape Hatteras can be based on the desires of motorized users alone, our entire national park system is at risk. The wildlife and natural resources that national parks were created to protect, and the millions of people who visit parks to appreciate their wild nature, should not be subverted to the wishes of ORV users."

Undoubtedly, some will cite the recession as a reason to open up ORV access and encourage tourism but, according to Audubon NC, tourism has remained steady this past year - and visitation levels are up during the months affected by the current protective agreements. I for one am certainly more likely to visit if I know I'm not going to be surrounded by screaming engines and giant gas guzzlers.

I'm sure I'm going to hear about this post next time I brew biodiesel - but I would hope that even the ORV community can see that opening up prime nesting grounds to recreational vehicle use is counter productive. There are plenty of trails out there for those who want to use them - moves like this are only likely to antagonize those of us who don't understand this passtime, and further cement the stereotypes we hold.

Tags: Conservation | North Carolina | Transportation | United States

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