Energy & Environment

Summertime Blues


Planning a vacation this summer to Miami’s Biscayne Bay for a little fishing?

Think again, because the National Park Service wants to set aside a large swath of the pristine area as a marine reserve zone, so you might have to leave the fishing poles at home. And the boat.

Perhaps horseback riding is more your speed and the family plans to ride through California’s Sequoia or Kings Canyon National Parks? Sorry, but all of the permits were pulled for those activities this summer.

Or maybe you just want to lounge on the soft sands of North Carolina’s Outer Banks and read a novel, fly a kite with the kids, toss a Frisbee to the dog, and watch dad catch some fish?

No, no, no and no.

Beachcombers along specific stretches of those legendary shores are seeing signs telling them to leave their kites and pets at home, and to watch where they step.

“Leave no footprints behind. Walk in water where footprints wash away,” read the signs posted in February by federal officials.

Beaches that once welcomed fisherman to drive up to the water’s edge are also off-limits to the vehicles, and so is fishing.

These vacation destinations are all national parks that once encouraged such recreational uses and enjoyment but their new “no trespassing” attitudes have angered the local communities, and some in Congress as well.

In March, Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) challenged the restrictions imposed by the beach signs, which were the result of battles with environmentalists to protect certain species.

The park service that operates the Cape Hatteras National Seashore pledged to replace them, and the new signs will read: “Walk near water’s edge. Stay below high tide line.”

Still not allowed: kites, pets, vehicles, or fishing. Sunbathing is permissible if you don’t mind getting hit by the waves every few minutes.

Beach access

“The federal government needs to remember that Cape Hatteras was established to be a recreational area for the American people,” Jones said. “But taxpayers can’t recreate without access to the beach. The goal of management ought to be a balanced approach between visitor access and species protection.”

Roping off national parks to the public and limiting opportunities for recreation, which in some cases were at the request of environmental groups, is a growing trend that lawmakers say they will examine during an oversight hearing of a House Resources subcommittee on April 27.

Florida’s Biscayne National Park is one of the largest urban recreational fishing and boating parks in the United States, but federal park employees say the coral reef is declining; so, boating and fishing must be restricted in certain areas.

Florida Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and David Rivera are challenging the proposed rule, which would close off 20 percent of the park to boating and fishing.

“The park service appears to have decided that it knows best, and that allows it to ignore the public in the pursuit of its own notions of sound conservation,” a group of Florida marine and fishing organizations said earlier this month in a letter to the editor of Soundings Trade Only Today.

Companies fold and jobs lost

In California, Republican Rep. Devin Nunes says that by eliminating horseback rides to the backcountry, the National Park Service has essentially blocked the only access that many Americans, including those with disabilities and the elderly, have to wilderness areas. The new restrictions are the result of a lawsuit brought by environmentalists who say the activity may be a threat to nature.

Losing the permits means that at least 15 companies that provided horseback rides are out of work this summer, along with an estimated 500 employees.

“This is just another example of the Obama administration actively killing jobs,” Nunes said. “They have the authority to seek permission from the courts to put these folks back to work, yet they have so far refused to entertain the option.”

“Ironically, the Obama administration is pushing backcountry horsemen out of business at the same time it is urging Americans to ‘get outdoors.’ The White House could demonstrate an interest in protecting these outdoor jobs with a simple act,” Nunes said.

Nunes wrote to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar April 17 asking that the administration intervene to reissue the permits.

“The national parks are funded by these taxpayers who have the right to access these parks,” Nunes said.

A spokeswoman for the National Park Service said they have received Nunes’ letter but have not issued a response. They are also aware of the congressional hearing, but no testimony has been drafted.

A statement from the park service office in North Carolina said the new rules there “will protect and preserve the unique natural and cultural resources of this dynamic barrier ecosystem while permitting the use of vehicles on seashore beaches and provide a variety of safe visitor experiences while minimizing conflicts among various users.”

Additionally, the park superintendent of Biscayne National Park says that restricting fishing to 7 percent of that park will increase opportunities for snorkeling and promote a healthy coral reef.

“Biscayne’s coral reef is its Old Faithful, the signature feature that draws visitors time and again,” Mark Lewis said in an April 9 letter to Soundings Trade Only Today. “Let’s showcase the reef and make this the wonderful tourism destination it should be,” Lewis said.

Jones has authored legislation specifically to address the situation in North Carolina, which he says would preserve access to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Jones’ bill tells Salazar that pedestrian and vehicle access for recreation should be restricted on small portions of the beach and for a shorter period of time.

Park service ‘heavy-handed’

John Couch, who owns the Red Drum Tackle Shop in Buxton, N.C. and is president of the Outer Banks Preservation Association, said the community supports protections for the birds and turtles, but that the park service is being unreasonable and “heavy-handed” by cutting off miles and miles of access to the beaches and the recreation it provides.

“Experiences that visitors expect are now closed off because of hugely excessive and unprecedented buffer zones that just closes off the beach,” Couch said. “These are immense obstacles.”

Couch says the restrictions have already proven to be bad for the tourism industry.

“These overzealous restrictions have taken a heavy toll on the tackle shop; business is off by 30 and 50 percent. It’s bad,” Couch said.

“On the other side, the environmentalists have good intentions, but this plan is not working. I’m suffering as a member of the business community. I have no expectation of what to expect,” Couch said.

“It’s fine and dandy to protect the environment, but at the same time we have a mandate to provide protection of resources, as well as enhance the future and present recreational opportunities. But that’s not what’s going on. Now it’s a single mandate which is to protect the environment,” Couch said.

Couch said humans are not the threat to the birds and turtles, but severe storms and predators such as foxes, possums, raccoons, otter, mink and nutria are its natural enemies.

“Man doesn’t have a hand in this,” Couch said.

During one outing with the Park Service to the beach to discuss the new human restrictions, Couch said he and others watched as a ranger pulled out a rifle and killed a nearby fox

“They shot the thing right there in front of us,” Couch said.

“We’re all for the birds and the turtles, but when government and pressure from environmentalists close down the beach access in an inequitable favor to these birds at the expense of the economy and the visitors, that’s wrong,” Couch said. “We can protect the birds and provide for the sustainability of the island community.”

“We’re trying to sell the beach, we’re trying to sell family fun, and all our visitors want to do is fish, sun, and pick up some seashells.”

Photo of sign at Cape Hatteras beach courtesy of the Congressional office of Rep. Walter Jones.  

Photo of Rep. Walter Jones courtesy of Patrick Frank.

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