New Data: Yellowstone Winter Silence Still Disrupted by Snowmobile Noise
First Test Seen of Administration's Pledge to Put 'Conservation First' in
WASHINGTON, Oct. 23 /PRNewswire/ -- In what will trigger the first major test of the Bush Administration's recent pledge to put "conservation first" in national parks, new scientific findings of the National Park Service (NPS) show that snowmobile noise has exceeded Yellowstone's standards in three consecutive winters even as the number of snowmobiles entering the park has declined. For example, snowmobile-dominated vehicle noise was audible at Old Faithful between 60 and 80 percent of the time during the peak hours of 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. for nearly the entire 2005-06 winter season, according to the 118- page National Park Service report now available at http://www.nps.gov/yell/parkmgmt/upload/final_soundscape.pdf. In response to the new data, the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees (CNPSR), a watchdog organization of 545 NPS veterans with more than 16,000 years of total NPS management experience, said the chronic snowmobile noise problem at Yellowstone interferes with visitors' opportunities to enjoy natural conditions in Yellowstone and conflicts directly with new Management Policies for the national parks adopted by the Bush administration earlier this year. The chronic noise at Old Faithful occurred with an average of just 263 snowmobiles present on each of the sampling days. Moreover, the number of snowmobiles park-wide during the past three winters has averaged only 250 per day; and yet the noise standards have been exceeded. Despite this, Senator Conrad Burns of Montana is seeking to authorize 720 snowmobiles per day in Yellowstone through a rider he has placed on the Senate's Interior Appropriations Bill. "How the administration responds to this conflict between snowmobile noise in Yellowstone and its newly-adopted policies will tell Americans a great deal about the administration's commitment to stewardship in the national parks," said CNPSR Executive Council Chairman Bill Wade, a former superintendent of Shenandoah National Park. "The new Management Policies were adopted with strong bipartisan support and the administration was widely and duly praised for its pledge to put conservation first in the national parks. But that pledge will be seen as a sham, and should be, if the administration fails to adhere to its policies in our first national park." Finalized in late August by Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, the 2006 Management Policies reaffirmed that the overarching responsibility of NPS is to conserve park resources in an "unimpaired" condition. Beyond this, the policies restored highly specific duties related to maintaining quiet and managing motorized use in the parks. These duties had been stripped in an earlier, highly controversial rewrite of the policies spearheaded by Paul Hoffman, a deputy assistant secretary of Interior at the time and former director of the Cody, Wyoming chamber of commerce. Famous for natural sounds such as hissing steam, rushing waterfalls and howling wolves, Yellowstone has more recently become known as the national park where rangers working around snowmobiles have suffered partial hearing loss. NPS now advises its employees to wear earplugs when they operate the same models of four-stroke snowmobiles used by visitors. NPS does not issue a similar warning to visitors. However, last year a nationally recognized expert in noise-induced hearing loss cautioned Yellowstone's superintendent that, based on NPS' data, visitors riding snowmobiles are at risk of damaging their hearing. Dr. Peter Rabinowitz of the Yale Occupational and Environmental Medicine Program urged Yellowstone to caution visitors that even when they are operating the newest models of park- approved snowmobiles that they are safer wearing hearing protection. NPS recently completed a report on noise monitoring conducted in Yellowstone last winter. Rather than health risks, the monitoring focused on impacts from snowmobile noise to the park's environment and to the opportunities of visitors to enjoy Yellowstone. NPS found: * "Major adverse effects" in the Old Faithful Geyser Basin, Yellowstone's most popular destination, as well as near Madison Junction. The agency says these impacts involve "an easily recognizable adverse effect on the natural soundscape and potential for its enjoyment." * Noise problems at Madison Junction reached the "major" adverse effect threshold on 75 percent of days NPS monitored. * At Old Faithful, snowmobile noise was "audible more than twice the time of snowcoaches." Rick Smith, a member of CNPSR's Executive Council and former acting superintendent of Yellowstone National Park, said: "The new findings underscore very similar monitoring results from the previous two winters in Yellowstone. They have demonstrated conclusively that the noise generated by a relatively small number of snowmobiles is depriving too many visitors of truly experiencing Yellowstone's unique sounds and the park's magnificent quiet. Many visitors will never have a second chance to visit Yellowstone in winter, so if their one visit is dominated by snowmobile noise, they are out of luck. This is not what Americans expect in their national parks. It is not what the new Management Policies prescribe. And it is not what this administration pledged when it assured Americans that conservation will come first in national treasures such as Yellowstone." The findings at Yellowstone conflict with the NPS Management Policies recently adopted by the Administration, including these precise duties: * 4.9 Soundscape Management - "The National Park Service will preserve, to the greatest extent possible, the natural soundscapes of parks." * 8.2 Visitor Use - "For the purpose of these policies, unacceptable impacts are impacts that, individually or cumulatively, would ... unreasonably interfere with ... the atmosphere of peace and tranquility, or the natural soundscape maintained in wilderness and natural, historic, or commemorative locations within the park." * 8.2.3 Use of Motorized Equipment - "Where such use is necessary and appropriate, the least impacting equipment, vehicles, and transportation systems should be used." Wade said: "Americans expect the highest standards in their national parks and nowhere is this truer than in Yellowstone. We believe that it is crucial for the administration to acknowledge the seriousness of the snowmobile noise problem in Yellowstone. New leaders in the Department of Interior and the National Park Service have a golden opportunity to give confidence to Americans who cherish their national parks by showing that -- in Yellowstone of all places -- they will vigorously adhere to the new NPS Management Policies that earned widespread praise earlier this year." ABOUT CNPSR The 545 members of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees are all former employees of the National Park Service with a combined 16,000 years of stewardship of America's most precious natural and cultural resources. In their personal lives, CNPSR members reflect the broad spectrum of political affiliations. CNPSR members have served their country well, and their credibility and integrity in speaking out on national park issues should not go ignored. The Coalition counts among its members five former directors or deputy directors of the National Park Service; 24 former regional directors or deputy regional directors; 31 former associate or assistant directors at the national or regional office level; 68 former division chiefs at the national or regional office level; and 130 former park superintendents or assistant superintendents. For more information, visit the CNPSR Web site at http://www.npsretirees.org.
SOURCE Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, Washington, D.C.
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