National Parks Group Urges Federal Aviation Administration and Park Service to Protect Mount Rainier Wilderness

 
PRESS RELEASE
  FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date:   May 7, 2010
Contact:   Sean Smith, Policy Director, National Parks Conservation Association, 206-818-4041


National Parks Group Urges Federal Aviation Administration and Park Service to Protect Mount Rainier Wilderness

Group submits comments outlining concerns on Air Tour Management Plan

Seattle, WA--The nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) today filed scoping comments with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on a potential Air Tour Management Plan Environmental Assessment, which will determine if sightseeing overflights should be continued, and if so, how they will be conducted in Mount Rainer National Park.

Citing public safety concerns, potential impacts to wildlife habitat, and potentially adverse experiences for the millions of people who visit Mount Rainier annually, NPCA urged the FAA to consider broad alternatives for flight management, including no flights at all. The group also called for the completion of a legally required Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the issue.

“We go to places like Mount Rainier National Park to get away from the sights and sounds that surround us in our daily lives, like aircraft buzzing overhead,” said Sean Smith, NPCA’s policy director and private pilot. “Given the iconic wilderness that surrounds Mount Rainier, sightseeing overflights—if not properly managed—can disrupt natural sounds, dislocate wildlife, and reduce visitor enjoyment.”

NPCA recommends that the FAA and the Park Service consider or include the following as the federal Air Tour Management Plan process continues for Mount Rainier National Park:

Public Safety
Mount Rainier National Park’s topography and unpredictable weather challenges even experienced pilots. Over the past 50 years there have been at least 15 aviation crashes in the park resulting in 68 deaths. The park’s topography and weather also make search and rescue operations difficult, so the plan should include expected costs of search and rescue efforts.

Visitor Experience
With nearly half the park in subalpine, alpine or ice environments, air tour noise has the ability to impact large sections of the park where there is no tree cover, as well as the experience of most park visitors.

Wildlife Habitat
The wildlife that lives in the park’s various habitats will each react differently to air tours. The assessment must pay particular attention to high elevation wildlife such as the Pika, Marmot and Mountain Goat, as they will bear a disproportionate burden of these impacts.

Alternatives
The Environmental Assessment should include these three alternatives for analysis:
1. No commercial air tours over the park (focus on viewing the mountain from airspace beyond the park boundary).
2. Commercial air tours capped at the current level of 114 per year, with existing percentages of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.
3. Commercial air tours capped at the current level of 114 per year, with stricter limits on helicopter tours as a percentage of total tours.

NPCA's full comments are available here (PDF, 1.5 MB).

Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has been the leading voice of the American people in protecting our national parks. With 325,000 members and supporters, NPCA is the largest independent, membership organization dedicated to protecting the natural, cultural, and historic treasures of our National Park System. Our mission is to protect and enhance our national parks today for our children and grandchildren tomorrow.

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