WASHINGTON, D.C. — Numerous speakers during a virtual public hearing Wednesday night urged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to carry through with a plan to designate critical habitat — including all of oceanfront Bogue Banks — for the rufa red knot.
The rufa is a robin-sized sandpiper with a wingspan of about 20 inches and a ruddy head. The shorebirds visit North Carolina in the spring during their annual 10,000-mile migration from the southern tip of South America to the Canadian Arctic.
July 15, the USFWS proposed establishing critical habitat for the bird in many states, including all oceanfront Bogue, Core and Shackleford banks beaches. Other North Carolina areas proposed as critical habitat for the rufa red knot are beaches of Hatteras Island in Dare County, Ocracoke Island in Hyde County, Topsail Beach in Pender County, Fort Fisher in New Hanover County and Sunset Beach/Bird Island in Brunswick County.
The total proposed critical habitat includes nearly 650,000 acres of coastline from Massachusetts to Florida and along the Gulf Coast.
Although many spoke during the virtual public hearing, Amanda Biedermann, who hosted the session for the USFWS, said the record will remain open for written comments through Monday, Sept. 13.
Greg Rudolph, manager of the Carteret County Shore Protection Office, which oversees beach and dredging projects, as well as the county government’s responses to federal environmental and conservation proposals, said Thursday the county did not comment during the hearing, but will do so in writing by the deadline.
He’s definitely concerned about the impact of 150 miles of critical habitat designation will have on Carteret County.
According to the USFWS website, the designation “does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, wilderness, reserve, preserve or other conservation area.” It does require all federal agencies, in consultation with the USFWS, to ensure “any action they authorize, fund, or carry out is not likely to result in the destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat.”
Mr. Rudolph said that is at best worrisome for some county activities.
In an email Wednesday, he said impacts “potentially include activities or programs of any kind authorized, funded, or carried out, in whole or in part by federal agencies pertaining to coastal and inlet management activities, the National Flood Insurance Program, implementation of building codes, federal grants for public access and infrastructure improvements, and other programs/policies.”
In a phone interview Thursday, he said he’s making information available to county municipalities and urging they make official written comments to the USFWS, as well.
Many of the speakers during the hearing were from Delaware and New Jersey, where the decline in the rufa red knot population has been most noticeable.
This year, according to an email from the National Audubon Society, the number of rufa red knots visiting Delaware Bay beaches during this spring’s northbound migration was the lowest since counts began almost 40 years ago. Audubon has made saving the red knot from extinction one of its top priorities.
The Delaware Bay area has long been a crucial stopping point for the rufa red knot, chiefly because it has had an abundance of horseshoe crabs, a major food source for the bird. The crab population has also declined as it’s used for production of fertilizer and the crab’s blood is used by pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers to test products, according to National Geographic.
Faith Zerbe of the Delaware River Keeper Network, speaking during the hearing, urged the USFWS to do all it can to protect the bird, as did John Gfrorer of New Jersey.
“I support the critical habitat designation,” he said, and added that he believes the rufa red knot is “below or near the extinction threshold.”
Mr. Rudolph said he was not surprised speakers from the Delaware Bay area turned out for the hearing to support critical habitat designation.
“That’s where the horseshoe crabs (historically) are and where the red knots are,” he said.
Mr. Rudolph last month said Carteret County and everyone involved in the region have been waiting for more than five years for the USFWS designate rufa red knot critical habitat subsequent to the agency listing the species as threatened in late 2014.
“Our position, in written comments, focused on the fact that we do not possess major spring stopover areas and (we) contended the county should not be included in the critical habitat designation,” he said in an email then.
In its Federal Register posting of the habitat areas, the USFWS states the birds “depend on multiple foraging and roosting habitat areas on local, regional, and range-wide scales. It also states the shore habitat is threatened by rising sea level and shoreline stabilization.
Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email email@example.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.