The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service faced local opposition at last night’s public hearing on its proposed rule that would designate hundreds of miles of beaches along the North Carolina coast as critical habitat for endangered loggerhead turtles. Much of the same land doubles as a critical habitat for the wintering piping plover, a threatened shorebird. Fish and Wildlife faced similar contention in 2001 when this rule went into effect. But since then, they’ve seen a gradual recovery in the piping plover population.
Cape Fear-area elected officials and residents say complying with critical habitat management considerations, such as dredging and other forms of beach nourishment, could hurt tourism and existing turtle protection programs. But Pete Benjamin, a field supervisor from Fish and Wildlife who sat on the hearing panel, says similar fears concerning the piping plover habitat did not actualize.
" It’s had a very minor, if any economic impact. I think it has in part achieved some of the benefits that we anticipated, which are largely educational, to highlight the importance of these areas for these species. It helps highlight those specific spots that are critically important we anticipate from the loggerhead sea turtle critical habitat rule that we’re dealing with right now. "
The public comment period for this rule runs until September 16, and Fish and Wildlife hopes to publish its final rule next summer.