Oct 18, 2011

Controversy Brewing at Chincoteague NWR Over CCP

Overwash at Tom's CoveChincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, which is located on the southern end of Assateague Island in Virginia and which is part of a popular beach community, is in the process of writing their Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP), which is required of each refuge in the nation.

The difference for Chincoteague is that some of the CCP proposals have resulted in very angry locals. In fact, rumors are that the refuge manager has been threatened and refuge supporters intimidated.

The difficulty is in getting locals who rely on beach tourism to accept the reality that rising sea levels and increasing storm events are undermining the ability of the public to continue parking close to the beach.

From the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding Chincoteague:

Last November, a severe Nor’easter hit the Eastern seaboard, flooding parts of the refuge and washing out the parking lots adjacent to the public beach. The lots, about 50 yards from the ocean, can hold approximately 960 cars, servicing the 3,000 – 4,000 people a day who visit the beach during peak summer months.

“I don’t know how many more storms we can take,” said Refuge Manager Lou Hinds.

Last year, the parking lots, made of loose shell and sand so as not to disrupt the natural terrain, were over-washed eight times by storms – more than any year in recent memory. Every time the lots are washed away, the National Park Service, who maintain the beach in partnership with the Service, has to rebuild the lots at a cost that can exceed $600,000. It’s a cost the American taxpayer has born almost on an annual basis only to see Mother Nature hit the reset button during the next, inevitable storm and wash it all away.

Climate change looms like a swirling thundercloud over the heads of coastal communities, many of whom will likely be some of the first areas to see its effects. Sea level rise and increasing frequency and intensity of storms threatens to significantly alter existing coastlines – displacing both the wildlife and people who for generations have called the shore their home. For towns like Chincoteague that depend on tourism for economic survival, landscape changes could lead to the collapse of their economy.

But 70-80% of the local businesses depend on the beach for their income and the suggestion of relocating all parking off the beach has locals upset.

While a plan of action has yet to be developed, Refuge Manager Lou Hinds noted that every year, the sea level at Chincoteague is rising – slowly, but surely.

“Our goal is to engage the community and come up with a plan that is both responsible and sustainable for the future,” said Hinds…“In less than 50 years, 115 yards of beach has been lost,” said Hinds. “We don’t have another 50 years.”

Many citizens refuse to accept the reality of climate change, but then get equally upset when they’re forced to live with the very real consequences of climate change in their own backyard. Sadly many of these same citizens are electing politicians who refuse to work to control climate change and choose instead to embrace denial, so more coastal communities will have to deal with the harsh realities that the people in Chincoteague are now facing.

Chincoteague NWR is accepting comments on their CCP until October 31. Visit the refuge website home page to find links to the CCP and descriptions of the alternative management proposals, as well as an email address where you can send comments.

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