Press Release Sep 2, 2021

Environment groups warn air tour plans threaten Washington national parks

Allowing and expanding low-flying air tours throughout Olympic and Mount Rainier national parks would disturb parks’ natural quiet

Seattle, WA – A proposal that could allow an increase in low-flying commercial air tours around Washington’s most famous national parks threatens to disturb the park’s natural sounds, disrupt wildlife and spoil park visits, according to a broad group of environmental organizations in the region.

The National Park Service (NPS) is currently drafting an air tour management plan (ATMP) for a number of national parks, including Mount Rainier and Olympic. This plan would permit – and potentially increase ­­– low-flying commercial air tours over Washington’s most well-known national parks.

The ATMP would, for the first time, give the National Park Service control over overflights of up to 5,000 feet above ground over these national parks. It have chosen to do the plans under a categorical exclusion of the National Environmental Policy Act, which precludes any significant environmental analysis, consideration of range of alternatives or impact analysis for this important decision.

The 28 environmental groups, including the National Parks Conservation Association and Washington Wild, wrote a joint letter to the NPS expressing their concerns about the potential for commercial air tours to impact the parks, and urging the NPS to consider not permitting air tours altogether to protect the park.

Read the letter in full here (.pdf)

The letter raises concerns that the noise from low-flying commercial air tours would disturb the natural tranquility of the parks. Olympic National Park is home to the most naturally quiet place in the lower 48 states, and 95% of the park is designated as wilderness. Its naturalness has earned the park its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Both parks are habitats for numerous threatened and endangered species.

“National parks like Olympic and Mount Rainier serve millions of visitors seeking a natural experience, including the opportunity to enjoy nature’s sounds and quiet,” said Rob Smith, Northwest Regional Director for the National Parks Conservation Association, a national park advocacy organization. “Low-level air tours should not disrupt that experience for the many who seek it, especially when views of these parks are equally available to everyone from roads, trails and vista points.”

“As someone who grew up on the Olympic Peninsula in the shadow of Olympic National Park, I enjoyed the quiet wonder found within the majority of the park that is protected as federally designated Wilderness,” said Tara Peters, Communications and Engagement Manager for Washington Wild, a statewide nonprofit that has worked to protect Washington’s wild lands and waters for more than four decades. “The current level of analysis being proposed by the Park Service is insufficient to ensure that low-level air tours will not compromise the hard-fought Wilderness values of solitude, quiet recreation, and core wildlife habitat within the Park.”

“Today natural sounds are endangered. Most people think that national parks with wilderness areas are quiet. Natural sounds include elk bugling, the chorus of frogs, owls hooting, or thunder, but also the background hum of water, wind, insects, and rustling leaves,” said Roger Andrascik, the Head of Natural and Cultural Resources at Mount Rainier National Park until 2015. “Protecting wilderness means more than guarding against development, but also keeping spaces free of noise pollution, including the sound of aircraft overhead that can affect the people who visit these places and the wildlife that calls them home.”

“If we preserve the soundscape, we preserve the habitat,” continued Andrascik, “I go into the Mount Rainier Wilderness with the intention of experiencing quiet and solitude. Natural sounds are important for healthy, intact ecosystems and challenges us to limit our negative effects on the functionality of these systems.”

“More than 90% of Olympic National Park is designated wilderness and we are concerned about maintaining the park as a place where wilderness is respected,” said Donna Osseward, President of Olympic Park Advocates and long-time wilderness advocate. “Airplane noise is not a natural experience. It is an unnecessary, distracting and disturbing annoyance to people and animals.”

“The ancient forests of Mount Rainier and Olympic have unique acoustics which afford exceptional listening opportunities for park visitors,” said Gordon Hempton, an acoustic ecologist. In fact the two-second decay time precisely matches our finest cathedrals. These rare quiet spots afford fountains of health and wellbeing.“


About The National Parks Conservation Association: Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its nearly 1.6 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for future generations. For more information, visit

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