In response to an increasing trend within the National Park Service to disregard its mission of providing access to sportsmenin our nation’s national parks, the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands held an oversight hearing titled “Access Denied: Turning Away Visitors to National Parks.”
Access issues at two popular national parks, Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area, N.C. and Biscayne National Park, Fla., were discussed in detail by the subcommittee. The American Sportfishing Association (ASA) has been actively engaged with the Park Service over access issues to these and other national parks for many years.
“Anglers are conservationists first and foremost and depend on healthy and abundant fisheries to pursue the sport they love, but, in recent years, the National Park Service has proposed closing, and in the case of Cape Hatteras has closed, wide swaths of public lands and waters to the American people, far beyond what is needed to address resource challenges,” said Mike Leonard, ASA’s Ocean Resource Policy Director. “ASA and the entire sportfishing community are deeply appreciative of subcommittee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and members of the subcommittee for bringing to light these important issues affecting sportfishing access in our national parks.”
Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area is one of the East Coast’s premier surf fishing destinations. Off-road vehicle (ORV) access to the park is essential for surf fishing from the beaches, as well as many other recreational activities. Since 2008, the park has been managed under a court-ordered consent decree that severely limits ORV and pedestrian access to the seashore which has caused documented financial harm to the local economy, which is largely based on tourism and recreation. The consent decree remained in effect until early 2012, when a final ORV plan went into place that has further limited access.
“ASA thanks Representative Walter Jones (R-N.C.) and Senators Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) for introducing sensible legislation, H.R. 4094 and S. 2372, which will allow reasonable ORV and pedestrian access to Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area while also providing shorebird and resource protection,” said Leonard. “The enactment of H.R. 4094 and S. 2372 will also provide relief for a community suffering severe economic consequences due to the final ORV plan.”
The recreational fishing and boating community in Miami, Fla., is also facing severe restrictions. The Park Service’s draft General Management Plan for Biscayne National Park proposes to close over 10,500 acres of the park’s most popular and productive fishing areas. In his testimony before the subcommittee, Karl Crook, president and CEO of Crook & Crook Fishing and Marine Supplies in Coconut Grove, Fla., noted that the National Park Service has not adequately considered the impacts the proposed closure would have on anglers and recreational fishing-dependent businesses.
“Anglers are willing to make sacrifices for the betterment of the resource, as long as they are confident that these sacrifices are based on strong science and a true desire to improve the health of the fisheries we enjoy,” said Crook in his testimony before the subcommittee. “However, the closures being proposed in Biscayne National Park – specifically the 10,522 acre marine reserve in the draft General Management Plan preferred alternative – are not based on solid fisheries management and will cause major economic impacts by unnecessarily closing a massive area of the park’s waters.”
Crook noted that while there are resource challenges in the park, the park’s Fishery Management Plan Stakeholder Working Group and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have provided detailed recommendations to the National Park Service on Biscayne’s Fishery Management Plan and General Management Plan. Both the Working Group and the Commission expressed their belief that marine reserves are overly restrictive, and that less restrictive management tools can rebuild the park’s fisheries resources and protect habitat.
“At a time when the Department of Interior is promoting its America’s Great Outdoors initiative and its goals of increasing public access to outdoor opportunities and reconnecting Americans with our nation’s public lands, it’s hard to see how these closures are at all compatible with that mission,” said Leonard. “Today’s hearing highlighted the frustrations felt by communities who are seeing access to public resources unfairly taken away from them. The sportfishing industry particularly wants to thank Reps. Walter Jones, David Rivera (R-Fla.), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) for helping to bring these important issues to light. We expect the National Park Service to work with the sportfishing community and other stakeholders in Biscayne National Park and elsewhere to truly address both the conservation and public access needs of these important public spaces.