Point of View

Bird-friendly laws a win-win along NC's shores

December 27, 2013 


Piping plovers are making a comeback in N.C.


North Carolina’s Outer Banks broke big records this year. Tourists spent more money on food and lodging than ever before. At the same time, sea turtles nested in unprecedented numbers, and America’s cutest birds, piping plovers, saw big population increases.

Tourism, birds and turtles all breaking records. Just a coincidence? Not at all.

North Carolina’s decision to uphold its forward-looking, bird-friendly, family-friendly laws for sharing the beaches in Cape Hatteras National Seashore is having a dramatic impact on birds and wildlife, as well as local pocketbooks.

Current rules for beach use and creation care protect birds and sea turtles during critical nesting seasons; they open beaches to pedestrians, swimmers, birders and sun-worshippers year-round; and they allow off-road vehicles access to more than 60 percent of the beach.

By every economic, conservation and family fun measure, North Carolina’s beach-sharing formula has been a resounding success and is a model for coastal states throughout America.

Let’s look at the numbers:

Revenues from meals sold in Dare County – which includes most of the Outer Banks – increased 2 percent over last year, bringing in $183.5 million through September, according to the N.C. Department of Commerce. That’s a new record on top of a 10 percent increase last year.

Hotels and other lodging raked in $370.6 million, breaking last year’s record by nearly 3 percent.

To top off that bright economic news, the Outer Banks ranked in the top five places in America to watch sunsets in a recent USA Today readers’ poll.

For vulnerable shore-nesting birds, the comeback has been extraordinary in the five years since North Carolina implemented beach-management laws. The threatened piping plover population is up 160 percent, and the number of fluffy, fledged chicks has increased more than 230 percent. The number of newly hatched American oystercatchers, the elegant shore-waders with the eye-popping orange beaks, is up 55 percent.

This year sea turtles set a new record for the fifth consecutive year with 247 nests in Cape Hatteras National Seashore, three times the number of nests recorded in 2007.

In recent weeks, the rare sighting of a snowy owl at Cape Point has attracted a huge flock of birders and photographers to Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Bottom line: What’s good for birds is good for the economy.

To be sure, birds, tourists and the local economy benefited from a season with no major hurricanes. But Outer Banks tourism and bird and turtle hatches have broken records in recent years under the new beach-sharing law, even when hurricanes did slam ashore.

So, thanks, North Carolina, for caring so much. Thanks for refusing to dilute our beach-management law and for continuing to support a law that balances the use of this globally known seashore – one of the state’s greatest natural treasures and its largest tourist draw.

In the coming years, undoubtedly there will be efforts to invade Cape Hatteras National Seashore in ways that won’t benefit all its beach users. Our holiday wish is for North Carolina to stick by its stewardship and balance the needs of its tourists, its birds and other wildlife, and its off-road drivers on the seashore.

The economic benefits mean millions of dollars to local communities and businesses. The benefits to wildlife and future generations are priceless.

David Yarnold is president and CEO

of National Audubon Society.

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