EMERALD ISLE — The deadline for commenting on a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to designate hundreds of thousands of acres, including 150 miles of North Carolina beaches, as “critical habitat” for the rufa red knot passed Monday.
Members of the state’s congressional delegation requested the comment period be extended, and Greg Rudolph, manager of the Carteret County Shore Protection Office, said in an email Monday he was “very surprised” the USFWS ignored that request.
As a result, the county on Monday filed its official comments with the federal agency.
The bird, a sandpiper with a wingspan of about 20 inches and a ruddy head, visits 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 in Carteret County. 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.
“As a local government with beaches that would be subject to the proposed rule, we have a vital interest in this proposed rule,” the county began in its comments.
“We are committed to continue implementing measures that will ensure the survival and recovery of the red knot rufa; however, as discussed below, we have significant concerns regarding the proposed rule. Rather than designating ‘critical habitat,’ USFWS has overreached and designated habitat for the red knot rufa.
“We respectfully request that USFW withdraw its designation of critical habitat for the red knot rufa for (Bogue Banks) and withdraw its designation of critical habitat for all units until the public is provided an opportunity to review the underlying numerical data supporting the designation,” it continued.
The county’s comments called the USFWS proposal “arbitrary and capricious” and said the federal agency “has failed to adequately support this sprawling proposal.”
The county asks if the USFWS is seeking to transform public beaches into bird preserves, and claimed the agency is saying “any conceivable human activity carried out at the beach is a threat to the red knot rufa and must be managed.”
“USFWS not only failed to adequately consider existing regulations and programs that ensure that red knot rufa habitat is protected and maintained, it failed to analyze the impacts of designating critical habitat on the effectiveness of these successful programs as required by the Endangered Species Act.”
The congressional delegation’s letter asked that the comment period be extended for at least 30 days, and preferably 60 days, so local governments would have time to understand how potential special management considerations or protections may impact ongoing or anticipated actions, including shoreline stabilization, disaster response and recovery and dredging.
In total, approximately 649,066 acres are proposed for critical habitat designation in 13 states, including Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.
During a virtual public hearing in August, most speakers, largely from the northeast, where the red rufa knot historically has been more commonly seen than in North Carolina, spoke in favor of critical habitat designation.
Mr. Rudolph, whose office oversees not just beach nourishment and dredging projects, but also the county’s responses to federal environmental and conservation proposals, said he’s definitely concerned, particularly in light of the comparatively small numbers of red knots that come here.
The impacts of the critical habitat designation, according to Mr. Rudolph, “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.”
Many of the speakers during the USFWS 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 the Delaware Bay beaches during the 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.
Editor's note: This article and headline were last updated at 11:08 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021.
Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email firstname.lastname@example.org; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.