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The Abstract

Off-Road Vehicle Restriction Benefits Outweigh Costs for National Seashore

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An economic analysis by North Carolina State University, Oregon State University and RTI International finds that the economic benefits of biodiversity and habitat preservation significantly outweigh the costs of off-road vehicle (ORV) restrictions at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The study sheds light on the relative economic value of efforts to balance environmental protection with human access to public lands.

“We found that the upper bound of cost estimates associated with the ORV restrictions was less than even a conservative estimate of benefits,” says Roger von Haefen, an associate professor of agricultural and resource economics at NC State and co-author of a paper on the analysis.

At issue are some coastal areas of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore that are nesting sites for endangered sea turtle and bird species. The same areas are also used for recreational purposes and have, historically, been accessed in large part by ORVs. When the National Park Service limited ORV access to these areas in 2012 to protect wildlife habitat, there were concerns that the restrictions would adversely affect recreational fishing, tourism and the regional economy.

To assess the extent of this impact, the researchers collected publicly available data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration regarding marine recreational fishing. Those data allowed researchers to assess how much recreational fishing took place in the affected areas of Cape Hatteras.

The researchers then used the data to develop an economic model that could predict how recreational fishing behavior may change in response to the ORV restrictions – and, ultimately, how much the restrictions may cost recreational anglers.

“There are multiple affected groups here: local businesses and recreational users, including anglers,” von Haefen says. “There are costs to local businesses, but those losses are offset by gains to other businesses in neighboring coastal towns. i.e., if people don’t fish at Hatteras, they likely fish elsewhere in the region. In short, the economic impact to businesses is a wash. The tourism data since the ORV restrictions were put into place bear this out – visitor numbers haven’t dropped.

“That leaves us with addressing costs to the anglers themselves,” von Haefen says. “Specifically, what we’re looking at with our model is the difference between what people are willing to pay for recreational trips to Hatteras – with or without ORV restrictions – and what those people actually pay for those trips – with or without ORV restrictions.”

The researchers found that the cost of the ORV restrictions – the difference between what people are willing to pay and what they actually pay – ranges from $403,000 to $2.07 million per year.

The researchers then added in related costs, such as those associated with: administering the ORV restrictions; increased traffic to other coastal areas; and impacts on surfers and other recreational beachgoers who aren’t anglers. Altogether, the costs associated with the ORV restrictions came to between $3 million and $12 million per year.

However, peer-reviewed, conservative estimates show that the economic benefits associated with habitat protection measures – what people are willing to pay – range from $13-48 million.

“And that doesn’t include other potential benefits to recreational users, such as beachgoers who prefer to visit areas that don’t allow ORVs,” von Haefen says. “Those benefits also don’t include potential benefits from outside of North Carolina, such as residents from neighboring states who are willing to pay to protect endangered species along the coast.

“This study indicates that the ORV restrictions are actually a net benefit for North Carolina,” von Haefen says. “More generally, our work also offers insights into the value of environmental protection efforts on public lands. That’s particularly relevant given the ongoing national conversation about how to best balance environmental protection efforts and access to public lands.”

The paper, “Recreation Costs of Endangered Species Protection: Evidence from Cape Hatteras National Seashore,” is published in the journal Marine Resource Economics. Lead author of the paper is Steven Dundas, a former graduate student at NC State who is now on faculty at Oregon State University. The paper was co-authored by Carol Mansfield of RTI International. The work was supported, in part, by the National Park Service, which has a dual mandate to promote recreational access and environmental preservation on the lands it manages.


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  1. I grew up in the area mentioned visiting the beaches regularly before and after the restrictions. I am pleased with the restrictions and prefer the area without the unsightly tire tracks everywhere. It makes my photography hobby much more enjoyable when visiting my hometown. Of course I am also pleased with the added benefits to wildlife since I enjoy taking pictures of them. My only regret as a teenage nest watcher, was missing out on witnessing a live hatch taking place. Definitely on my bucket list for the future!

  2. I don’t think restrictions on ORV areas will reduce the amount of people who would like to off road as a leisure activity. Restricting access would force them to illegally off road in restricted areas where more damage can occur. What about using Australia as a model? There are thousands of miles of ORV trails and because their use is so widespread, people don’t mind conserving and treading lightly.

  3. Having seen the effects of the ORV ban first hand I think the study is off the mark. First OBX ORV areas were extensively used by PEOPLE that enjoyed using them. Yes Anglers moved, but to areas much less productive. Secondly, most ORV users were beach-goers versus anglers and again these were thousands of PEOPLE that enjoyed not having to deal with the typical beach experience and went ORV to avoid it. Lastly, I have seen the economic impact on the southern section of OBX in the ban area and it is not pretty. The ban has effectively removed a great resource for PEOPLE due to these few do-gooders. Calculate that….

  4. With the spread in the dollars as shown in the article how can any conclusion be valid? Not mentioned or likely taken into consideration is the millions of dollars paid in ‘Beach Permits’ fees which are supposed to be used solely in the Seashore. Those millions of dollars have been used in many ways by NPS to benefit the public as a whole including improvements for beach access.


    “the difference between what people are willing to pay and what they actually pay – ranges from $403,000 to $2.07 million per year.Altogether, the costs associated with the ORV restrictions came to between $3 million and $12 million per year.”