Two counties in the Outer Banks area, Dare and Hyde counties, have joined with the Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance (CHAPA) in a suit to challenge a critical habitat designation by the federal government. The suit was filed in federal court in Washington, D.C. on February 10, 2003 (Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance, et al., v. Department of Interior, C.A. No. 03-0217 -- RCL). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has designated over 3600 acres of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore (CHNS) as a critical habitat for a small shorebird listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act called the Piping Plover, although the latest data shows only very few of the birds have been spotted over-wintering in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.



The critical habitat designation directly impacts several popular recreational areas of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore including both sides of Oregon and Hatteras Inlets, Cape Point, and the South end of Ocracoke Island. Community leaders say this decision by the Fish and Wildlife Service could have serious implications for the region and its primary business interests - tourism.


If the designation remains unchanged, it could severely restrict and possibly close areas of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore to vehicle and other access by fisherman and other human activity. Environmental activists may even use the designation to further their agenda of stopping all vehicle access to, and other issues of national seashores.


The impact of such restrictions on the most popular areas of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore would be devastating. The loss of tourist revenue would affect many businesses and cripple the local economy. Indeed, this designation adds no additional benefit for the Piping Plover. The NPS already has in place effective management practices for preserving the habitat of the small bird, and residents and visitors work with the NPS to ensure that vehicle use does not impact the Plovers habitat area. The USFWS designation simply adds another layer of unnecessary federal control.


Officials with the Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance (CHAPA) have tried to get USFWS to reconsider the decision because of the potentially serious economic impact it could have on one of the nation's most popular tourist destinations. Those efforts failed and the commissioners for Dare and Hyde Counties made the unanimous decision to join CHAPA's legal challenge to the designation.


CHAPA is a project of the Outer Banks Preservation Association (OBPA), in concert with the North Carolina Beach Buggy Association, Cape Lookout Mobile Sportfishermen, Cape Hatteras Anglers Club, United Mobile Sportfishermen, the Ocracoke Civic Association, the Hatteras Village Civic Association, the North Carolina Shore and Beach Preservation Association, and other user groups.


Contributions to CHAPA, a 501(c) (3) organization, are fully tax deductible under IRS regulations. The OBPA, with a membership of over 2300 citizens from twenty-eight states, was founded in 1977 in response to proposals to reduce access to the beaches of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and continues to be a stalwart guardian of the public right to free and open access to, and responsible use and enjoyment of, the public lands.