Proposed sea turtle habitat rule denounced at public hearing

By on November 24, 2013


Perry Wood Beasley. (Douglas Kenyon)

Passions were high as Dare County residents gathered for a hearing on a proposed Critical Habitat Designation for loggerhead sea turtles.

Speakers at the Dare County Administrative Building Thursday asserted that the federal proposal could significantly expand the reach of the federal government in managing the species, affecting the use of beaches, offshore fishing and shoreline management.

The proposed designation identifies geographic areas of concern that include offshore waters where loggerheads breed, migrate and feed.

It could also affect inshore activities, including near-shore jetties and breakwaters, as well as sand replacement, beach use in nesting areas and even coastal construction and lighting.

The proposal appears to allow regulatory enforcement on private property bordering designated habitat areas and municipal- and county-operated beaches.

In the past, the majority of the federal government’s regulatory actions have applied to federal and state-owned beaches only, such as the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

The habitats focus heavily on Florida’s Atlantic and Gulf shore beaches. But several areas offshore of North Carolina, including Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head, are designated as migration areas from the shoreline to a 200-meter depth.

Susan Pulz of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration opened Thursday’s hearing by outlining the history of the loggerhead’s endangered species designation and how that fits into critical habitat protection, especially as it relates to a draft economic analysis released by the federal government.

Video by Douglas Kenyon

She briefly summarized the proposed rule and emphasized that the majority of the estimated economic costs would be government administration, while downplaying potential costs to the private sector and resort areas.

Pulz’s comments indicated NOAA had no plans to interfere with local use of these areas.

But the speakers during public comment were not in a mood to accept those assurances.

In addition to the NOAA portion of the habitat designation, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service released a separate ‘Terrestrial Critical Habitat” study in September for public comment.

The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) has requested the designation for waters off Cape Hatteras and Cape Lookout, which were excluded in past habitat rules.

SELC’s entry into the process drew attention along the coast, given the organization’s role in shuttering local beaches to protect shorebirds and delaying the replacement of the Bonner Bridge over Oregon Inlet.

Dare County Board of Commissioners Chairman Warren Judge, asked: “If critical habitat designation means nothing to the users, if they’ll be no restrictions, if we will always be able to use the area as we have always been able to before, then why would you designate the area as critical habitat?.”

“We know what will happen. As you promised, NOAA will do do nothing. Then Derb Carter and his gang will recruit clients such as the Defenders of Wildlife and Audubon and sue NOAA, sue U.S. Fish and Wildlife, sue the Department of Interior.

“In turn, your agency will then capitulate to a settlement, not wanting to fight it in court, resulting in a rule which states we must stay out of the critical habitat area.”

Speakers following Judge sounded the same theme, noting it was non-government groups such as Defenders of Wildlife and Audubon that sued to get the loggerhead turtles listed as endangered species in the first place, which in turn triggered the proposed rules.

Many speakers pointed to the economic analysis as flawed and based on “bad science.”

Among those questioning the data was Rep. Paul Tine, who represents Dare County in the state House.

Commercial fisherman and distributor Mike Daniels stated, “We’re done. We’ve had enough, it’s time to change.”

Local charter and recreational fisherman Britt Shackleford directly questioned a NOAA representative on his knowledge of the status of the loggerhead population.

When the representative was unable to answer, Shackleford scolded the official and summed up his view of the proposed ruling saying, “It’s a joke.”

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