- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 23, 2008

You’ve got to hand it to animal rights activists and ecologists. Once they find a target, they don’t give up easily.

When the Defenders of Wildlife and the National Audubon Society figured that Outer Banks, N.C., surf fishermen and their beach buggies might harm nesting sites of the piping plover and other birds, they brought a suit against the National Park Service and the Fish & Wildlife Service over the Interim Protected Species Management Plan, which was to set standards for off-road vehicle (ORV) use and species management. Everything came to a screeching halt — for a while.

It was all about where a surf fishing vehicle could drive and the fear that the fat-wheeled ORVs might run over the nests of bird species even though they never nest where the ORVs drive. The birds always are farther up in the sand dunes, a good distance away from the hard, packed sand used by beach vehicles.

But when a bird lover worries, they want to stop everything. First get an environmental impact statement but most of all keep those “rough” surf anglers away from the beach.

The plaintiffs asked U.S. District Court Judge Terrence W. Boyle in Raleigh to grant a temporary injunction until the suit is settled to prohibit ORV use on six popular areas of the Outer Banks: the Bodie Island spit, Cape Point and parts of the South Beach, Hatteras Inlet and the north and south points of Ocracoke Island.

The judge allowed the Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance to become defendant/intervenors in the lawsuit to make sure the user groups — surf fishermen — were represented.

A settlement was reached. However, it settled nothing.

Management of seashore resources will be in the hands of Judge Boyle and the special-interest groups that negotiated the terms of the settlement without input from anyone in the outside world. Until a long-term ORV use regulation is established — perhaps in three years — the National Park Service will enforce the terms of the settlement.

Until then, buffer zones to protect piping plover nests have been established that certainly will keep vehicles away, even pedestrian traffic. The judge can modify the buffer zones, but the ORV user groups aren’t the least bit happy about the settlement. The question is: Why then did they settle, and why wasn’t the general public included in some type of special hearings?

Riverkeeper visits smallmouth club — Jeff Kelble, the Shenandoah Riverkeeper, will be the special guest at the Potomac River Smallmouth Club meeting April 30 at 7:30 p.m. at Vienna Fire Station.

Kelble, a former fishing guide and officer of the smallmouth club, will talk about the Shenandoah’s bass fishing, where to go and what to expect. The public is invited. For additional information, contact [email protected]

Maryland Fishing Challenge A tourism promotion effort known as the 2008 Maryland Fishing Challenge, which features a tagged rockfish known as Diamond Jim, is under way.

More than 60 species of fish are eligible for prizes that include up to $25,000 in cash awards from Boater”s World; a pickup truck from Central Atlantic Toyota; a boat, motor and trailer from Bass Pro Shops; prizes from the Outdoor Center in Oakland and a $5,000 diamond from Smyth Jewelers.

Any angler who catches a citation award-qualifying fish will be eligible to win one of several grand prizes. Beginning in early June the hunt for Diamond Jim starts.

Among the fish that are eligible for prizes are large- and smallmouth bass, trout, walleye, muskie and panfish in freshwater; striped bass, bluefish, drum, sea trout and perch in the Chesapeake Bay; and tuna, marlin, flounder, kingfish and sea bass in the Atlantic. The contest runs through Sept. 1. For details, go to www.dnr.maryland.gov/fishingchallenge.

c Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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