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BIO 480 : Spring 2014

Field studies in biology

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Day 03 | Monday, March 3, 2014

Despite the dreary day and turning in a bit early to catch up on work, today was quite an educational and eye opening day. We started the day with a presentation on Managing Conflict at Cape Hatteras National Seashore given by Randy Swilling the Natural Resource Program Manager. He told us that his motivation was not necessarily to make a difference, but to do what was right. We also learned many surprising revelations about the ecology of the Outer Banks, for example the woody vegetation we currently see was not present prior to 1930 because it used to be killed by the over-wash of sea water.  We also found out that many of the dunes that we see from the beaches were manmade back in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corp.  The original island consisted of sweeping fields with little vegetation.
In the United States, 30% of all land is federally owned equating to about 627 million acres. Of that federal land, 38.9% is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, 28.7% by the Forest Service, 11.8% by the National Park Service, 14.2% by Fish and Wildlife, the last 6.5% is managed by other government organizations. The difference in the amount of federal land varies greatly from coast to coast. In North Carolina only 11.5% of land is federal owned while in Nevada it is 92%.

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Cape Hatteras was the first designated seashore in the NPS, authorized in 1937, and established in 1953. The management plan for Cape Hatteras states that conservation is a priority and that no development for the convenience of visitors shall be undertaken. One issue the seashore faces is how to deal with off road vehicles on the beach. On a typical summer weekend Cape Hatteras can have 3,000-4,000 off-road vehicles on its beaches. Unregulated driving can impact nesting shorebirds and sea turtles.  The plan for the use of off-road vehicles allows driving in much of the park and includes permit fees that contribute about $2 million a year to the park. The plan doesn’t please everyone, but attempts to reach an acceptable balance.  Randy says, “If you go home at the end of the day and both sides are pissed off you have done your job.”

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After discussing management, we met Josh Boles, the lead interpreter for Hatteras and Fort Raleigh.  Josh introduced us to “the pile of dirt” that was part of Fort Raleigh. Behind the fort is the amphitheater where they perform the longest running drama, The Lost Colony. Roanoke Sound comes right up behind the amphitheater, which is a beautiful site, but shows how close we are to losing some of these important landmarks. This threat creates questions for the park service on what and how they should do to continue to preserve the lands. Josh pointed out buoys in the sound that mark the current channel and said that they show where the shoreline was back in 1585 when the colonists would have landed. It is assumed that the lost colony is somewhere now under water between the coast and the channel.

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Josh gave us the information about Ft. Raleigh and then met us at the Wright Brothers Memorial. The most memorable thing about Josh was just how passionate he was. He went out with us in the rain to run the path of the first flight, and gave us a 5 minute lesson on physics. On the wall in the entrance lobby was a small piece of the original airplane flown by the Wright brothers that was given to astronaut Buzz Armstrong, who took to the moon and then gifted it back to the memorial. It was amazing to think how far technology changed in 60 years from the first flight to the first man on the moon. Josh stressed that part of the NPS’ mission is to preserve places that have such cultural significance. He used the parks in DC as another example and had us think about how it took 50 years from Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech to the election of an African American president. Where will we be in 50 years? We are not sure, but we are glad to be able to enjoy these sites and cultural events before they possibly wash away. Literally. 

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