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Wildland Issues

Including motorized/quiet use issues, effects of noise on wildlife, managing soundscapes as a resource.

This page includes Wildland Issues archives from January 2005 through March 2007.
To peruse items from January 2002-December 2004: [GO THERE]

Current Wildlands Issues archives: [GO THERE]

Sierra Groups Find Common Ground on Winter Recreation - A new U.S. Forest Service plan, described by some as a model for compromise when it comes to conflicting winter sports in the Sierra just south of Lake Tahoe, could end 15 years of rancorous debate and courtroom battles. The proposal, which provides segregated areas for motorized and nonmotorized sports across a rugged swath of forested terrain in Alpine County, Calif., is the result of two years of discussions between backcountry skiers and snowmobilers. "One of the key factors of this was to look over a broad landscape," said Ed Monnig, supervisor of Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. "When you look at a broad landscape, solutions are available." Skiers and snowmobilers have essentially agreed on a strategy that offers something for everyone, participants in the negotiations agreed. "We healed some old wounds, and everyone came away with a good feeling," says Rob Levy, who represented snowmobile riders during lengthy negotiations. "I believe this is the best balance we'll ever get," says Marcus Libkind of the Snowlands Network, a muscle-powered winter sports advocacy group. "It's what I would call a balance in opportunities." One innovative aspect of the plan makes a popular access road available to snowmobiles only in early and late winter, reserving the area for skiers in mid-winter, when snowmobilers can access other suitable terrain. Source: Reno Gazette-Journal/Rocky Mountain News, 3/2/07 [READ ARTICLE]

House Committee Grills NPS Chief on Recurring Yellowstone Snowmobile Studies, Newest One Due in March - In a hearing before the House Natural Parks Subcommittee, Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., complained to NPS Director Mary Bomar that the Park Service is now in the midst of its fourth Yellowstone winter-use plan, all of which have come to the same conclusion: that the environmentally preferred option is to phase out the use of snowmobiles in favor of snowcoaches. “You keep on doing the same studies, and the results all come out the same,” said Holt, noting that the Park Service has spent $10 million on the scientific research underpinning the winter-use plans. Bomar acknowledged the high degree of controversy, since the phase-out of snowmobiles was first required in the closing days of  the Clinton administration in 2001. Three Park Service studies have concluded that replacing snowmobile use in Yellowstone with the more environmentally friendly snowcoach access would best preserve “the unique historic, cultural, and natural resources associated with the parks” (Yellowstone and Grand Teton) and yield “the least impacts to air quality, water quality and natural soundscapes.” However, following conflicting federal court rulings on the snowmobile issue, the Bush administration ordered a fourth study -- which will be available for public comment beginning this month. Bomar said it would be inappropriate to comment on the new study, as it is still in draft form and the public comment period hasn't yet begun. Park officials have said that their preference is to allow up to 720 snowmobiles per day in Yellowstone and 140 per day in Grand Teton and the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway; require best available technology to limit noise and air pollution; and require commercial guides within Yellowstone itself. Source: Casper Star-Tribune, 3/2/07 [READ ARTICLE]

Utah Opens Quiet Backcountry to Snowmobiles; New Report Claims Motorized-use Bias - When the US Forest Service decided to allow snowmobile access to half of a previously non-motorized 10,000 acre recreation area used by snowshoers and skiers, local residents were upset. "This is what we've been saying for a long time," says Tim Wagner, board chairman for the Bear River Watershed Council. "The tremendous increase in [winter] motorized use in just the last 10 years has vastly trampled areas that were pretty much quiet and used by nonmotorized users traditionally. But just because there has been a tremendous increase in snowmobile use in Utah, it doesn't mean less people are recreating in a nonmotorized way." A new report by the Winter Wildlands Alliance seems to bolster Wagner's claims. A comprehensive survey of western recreation found that slightly more people enter national forests for quiet recreation than snowmobiling, but that 70% of the acreage is open to motorized use. When hard-to-access wilderness areas are left out of the equation, there are 7 times more acres open to snowmobiles than set aside for quiet recreation. "The result," the report says, "is dwindling opportunity for skiers and snowshoers to find a quality recreation experience and escalating conflict between motorized and nonmotorized users on national forest lands." Sources: Salt Lake Tribune, 1/5/07 [READ ARTICLE] High Country News, 1/16/07 [READ ARTICLE] [DOWNLOAD WWA REPORT (pdf)]

Record Number of Birds Increases Questions About NC Naval Airfield - Increasing numbers of birds using the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina have upped the ante on Navy plans to build an airfield nearby. The proposed 30,000 acre Naval site, five miles from the refuge, would be used for night-time flight training designed to simulate aircraft carrier landings. The Navy asserts that a buffer zone on their land may benefit the refuge; local birders and wildlife experts have fought the plans for the past several years. Source: News and Observer/AP, 1/16/07 [READ ARTCLE]

Yellowstone Staff Releases Draft Long-term Winter Use Plan - Round three of the recurring quest to set a long-term plan for use of snowmobiles at Yellowstone took a step forward with a preliminary release of the newest Draft EIS. Yellowstone planners propose to continue with roughly the same interim plan they proposed two years ago in their effort to break the impasse between the Clinton-era ban on snowmobiles and the Bush administration plan to allow more snowmobile use, both of which were tossed by dueling federal courts. The current draft plan suggests allowing 720 snowmobiles per day, and maintaining the requirement that all snowmobiles be part of guided tours (this requirement has kept actual snowmobile numbers under the maximum allowable for the past two winters). For now, comments are being solicited from states and counties bordering the Park; a public comment period will come following the release of the DEIS in a couple months. The new plan will go into effect for the winter of 2008-9. The noise impacts of the new plan are troubling, as it may increase the very traffic that is causing repeated noise intrusions at popular tourist spots: “Yellowstone has a noise problem with 250 snowmobiles a day,” Jon Catton, an environmentalist in Bozeman, said. “The park service says it already interferes with visitors’ ability to hear erupting geysers and wildlife. This proposal will make it worse by allowing a threefold increase.” A spokesman for the park, Al Nash, said, “All of our measures would meet federal and state air quality guidelines,” because of new technology. Noise problems, Mr. Nash said, are largely caused by older snow coaches, an over-snow bus on rubber treads or skis. The new plan requires such coaches to meet stricter sound and emission levels and limits them to 78 a day; on average, 32 now enter the park daily. Source: Casper Star-Tribune, 11/21/06 [READ ARTICLE] New York Times, 11/21/06 (sub) [READ ARTICLE]
Followup: EPA Questions Park Service Assumptions: In its comments to a preliminary draft of the new Yellowstone Winter Use Plan, the EPA has questioned whether the proposal jibes with agencywide management policies updated last year intended to limit effects on the natural environment, minimize harassment of wildlife, preserve quiet in the parks and perpetuate the best air quality possible. While the draft considered any impacts on air quality or visitor experience to be "minor," the EPA urged such effects to be given more attention. A final draft is expected to be released this spring, with a final plan perhaps in place for next winters' season. Source: Billings Gazette, 1/16/07 [READ ARTICLE]
See AEI Special Report: Yellowstone Winter Use Plan

Recordist Hempton Installs One Square Inch of Silence in Olympic National Park - Gordon Hempton, a natural sound recordist and master listener who gained a measure of fame during the 1990's boomlet in natural sound production, has created a physical expression of his long-time drive to encourage national parks to establish sonic refuges. In Olympic National Park, which is one of the places which the least intrusion of human sound in America, Hempton has established his first "One Square Inch of Silence," at a location that is generally free of human noise. Visitors, led by directions found on his website, are invited to visit the spot and leave their impressions in a jar. "Quiet is going extinct," Hempton said. "I wanted to find a quiet place and hang on to it and protect it." National park officials like the concept. "We're certainly aware of the need to take whatever measures we can to maintain the natural quiet," said park Superintendent Bill Laitner, who hiked to the spot with Hempton earlier this year. "We are so strapped for resources that there's just no way we can . . . do this kind of research on our own." Hempton has also released a CD recorded at the Olympic One Square Inch. Source: CNews/Canoe, 10/28/06 [READ ARTICLE] Hempton website [GO THERE]

Belize Thumper Truck Survey in Park Put on Hold Pending EIS - Approval for seismic surveys in Sarstoon Temash National Park has been overturned by the Belize Supreme Court, which agreed with environmental advocates that the proposed project must first undergo an Environmental Impact Assessment. The Court did not, however, rule out energy development in national parks, as the litigants had hoped. In addition, the decision left uncertain the degree of participation that is mandated by existing "co-management" agreements between the federal government and indigenous communities. Sources: News Belize, 9/27/06 [READ ARTICLE] Amandala.com, 9/27/06 [READ ARTICLE]

Tranquilarians Derail Motorcycle Races in Sonoran BLM Lands - A grassroots group based in southern Arizona has convinced the regional BLM office that a proposed motorcycle race course in near Ajo would be inconsistent with conservation needs. The BLM had been preparing an Environmental Assessment, but decided that the track was clearly an inappropriate use and abandoned the EA process, issuing a letter to the applicants explaining its decision. The Sonoran Desert Tranquilarians had gathered supporting information on rare plants and animals, and the track's likely impact on desert washes. Source: Tranquilarian website, 7/17/06 [WEBPAGE] BLM Letter, 4/19/06 [READ LETTER]

Park Service Tosses Revisions to Management Policy - In a surprising turnaround, freshly minted Interior Secretary Dick Kempthorne announced a new draft management policy plan that restores conservation as the predominant management principle in National Parks. The previous draft plan, released last year, was itself a somewhat more conservation-oriented revision of a plan floated by administration officials that raised a firestorm of protest when it was made public in 2004. The new, and presumed final draft received praise from environmental organizations for scaling back the previous balance of conservation and access in directing planning. Specifically, the new draft will not allow off-road vehicle use in wilderness parts of Parks that have yet to receive congressional wilderness designation. Soundscape remains as a key resource to be protected and restored as part of future Park planning and management efforts. Source: Deseret News, 6/20/06 [READ ARTICLE]

Low Flying Copters Disrupt Nesting Birds, Lambing Sheep - Low-flying helicopter training missions in the UK have suddenly become louder, after the shift to a new 'copter. National Park authorities claim that the Ministry of Defence has ignored an agreements to work together on the timing of flights, leading to disruption of nesting birds and triggering anxious calls from sheep farmers whos ewes are being startled during lambing; a Parks spokesman called the Ministry's lack of concern "disturbing and arrogant." An Army spokesman responded that "We are very sympathetic of other peoples needs, but we have needs too. The Ministry of Defence is committed to ensuring that low-flying training across the UK is spread as widely as is practically possible so that no single area is too burdened." Source: Guardian, 6/19/06 [READ ARTICLE]

Wind Farm Puts Squirrels on Edge - A recent study of ground squirrel behavior suggests that squirrels living near wind farms show more signs of stress, including being quicker to dash back to their holes when they heard an alarm call, and spending more time looking around for predators. The University of California researchers linked these behavioral differences to wind farm noise, speculating that the squrrels remained more alert in order to compensate for difficulties communicating. (ed. note: I plan to contact the researchers to learn more; my observations of some ground mammals suggests they may also be sensitive to overhead motion) Source: New Scientist, 5/3/06 [READ ARTICLE]

More Cellphone Towers Being Considered in Yellowstone - Officials at Yellowstone National Park are developing an environmental assessment for expansion of cell phone service in the park; five towers currently provide only partial coverage. Discussions with telephone industry representatives early last year centered on finding locations for towers that will have minimal impact on park visitors. Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash said there has been no decision yet to expand existing wireless services and that current planning is designed simply to set the stage for such decisions in the future. The planning was leaked by PEER, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which blames cell phones for a "death of solitude," with tourists gabbing on the phone in some of the nation's most revered nature spots. It alleges the park's meeting with industry on March 31, 2005, was illegal because there was no public notification. "Yellowstone belongs to the American people who ought to have some say before it is transformed into a giant cybercafe," PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch said. The public will get a chance to weigh in next month during a comment period before officials draft the plan and again when the draft circulates in late summer, with a final decision expected by year's end. (ed. note: Thus, it appears that offical "scoping" for the EA will take place in June, with a draft EA and final EA coming in a matter of months; unusual efficiency, and laudable, though the fact that they've been doing behind-the-scenes planning for over a year suggests that the public comments may not influence the planning as substantially as would be hoped) Source: AP/Yahoo, 5/2/06 [READ ARTICLE]

Sound Monitoring at OHV Event Increases Compliance - After three years of checking the sound output of OHVs participating in a weekend trail ride festival in California, organizers are pleased to report that their education efforts have markedly increased the use of mufflers that meet the state noise limits (for years, enthusiasts have upgraded their power and exhaust systems, resulting in excessively loud machines). "I think our collective efforts to address excessively loud OHVs have been a huge success at this event," said Don Amador, western representative for the BlueRibbon Coalition, a motorized use advocacy and education group, "The vast majority of riders are showing up at the tech station with new generation sound compliant exhaust systems. Off-roaders now realize that the future of the sport depends on their commitment to becoming members of Team Stealth." Source: BlueRibbon Coalition press release, 6/7/06 [READ PRESS RELEASE]

Yellowstone Releases Preliminary Snowmobile Alternatives - Breaking from traditional practice, the Park Service has released a statement summarizing the alternatives being considered as they develop a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for winter management. The range from a complete ban on snowmobiles, to increasing current limits and re-introducing non-guided snowmobiling on a limited basis. Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash said it is likely that a variation on some of the options would be incorporated into the draft environmental study expected out this fall. He called the release of the preliminary alternatives - the centerpiece of two open houses this week - an extra step in the planning process, and an opportunity to "share with people our thinking." Though there will be no formal comment period, the Park Service still welcomed public insights. Source: The Missoulan, 3/14/06 [READ ARTICLE]
See AEI Special Report: Yellowstone Winter Use Plan

Montanans Reach Compromise on Snowmobile Use - Agreements between snowmobile users and quiet recreationists have broken a long-term managment logjam in the mountains of Montana. In the last six years, they’ve made five deals that cover about 2.5 million acres of national forest in eight mountain ranges. In each deal, the statewide groups and their local affiliates have taken the lead, agreeing on where motors should and should not be allowed. They draw boundaries around areas where they can’t agree, hoping to settle those later. Then they present the results to the Forest Service, which uses them as a starting point for their travel planning process. The agreements often extend beyond current conflicts, including mutual understandings that the areas designated will not be challenged in future wilderness designation processes--areas with snowmobile routes will not be proposed as wilderness, and snowmobilers will not oppose wilderness designation for quiet areas. Source: High Country News, 3/6/06 [READ ARTICLE]

Colorado River Recreation Plan Increases and Restricts Motorized Boat Tours - A ten-year planning process has resulted in a new recreation plan for boaters in the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. The new plan allows up to 600 motorized pontoon passengers and three commercial overnight trips on the Lower Gorge each day — three times more than they are now allowed, but far fewer than the 1,800 passengers per day originally requested. Jet-boat tours were ruled out. At the same time, on the upper river, maximum group sizes and the number of daily launches will drop, and the months restricted to oar-powered access will more than double, to six months. Some wilderness advocates continue to push for wilderness designation on the river, and threaten legal action to remove motorized recreation. Source: High Country News, 1/23/06 [READ ARTICLE]

BLM Proposes Categorical Exclusions for Seismic Thumper Trucks - A new policy announced by BLM proposes to streamline oil and gas development by adding several categorical exclusions, including one for seismic exploration. The proposal is based on a history of doing environmental assessments that result in FONSI (Finding of No Significant Impact) rulings; however, in recent years, the Bureau has been pressed to more carefully consider possible impacts of seismic exploration. Earlier this month, the Interior Board of Land Appeals, an administrative law court within the U.S. Department of the Interior, ruled that seismic exploration in southern Wyoming could have a significant impact on the environment. Encouraging energy companies and conservationists to negotiate a compromise on the issue, the court temporarily blocked the use of 32-ton “thumper trucks” across parts of Adobe Town, the Kinney Rim and the Powder Rim in Wyoming’s southern Red Desert. The new exclusions would limit opportunities for public participation during the planning of new development and issuance of permits, leaving court challenge as the primary avenue for involvement. Stockmen and energy companies feel that detailed NEPA processes are often unnecessary impediments, especially for permits and renewals for grazing plans that have already been examined during the planning phase, and for energy projects that are similar to ones already in place. Source: Casper Star-Tribune, 1/27/06 [READ ARTICLE]

Grand Canyon Air Tour Planning Enters 2-year Home Stretch - Triggered by an Executive Order issued in 1996, Grand Canyon National Park and the FAA have been working to develop regulations on air tours that will "substantially restore natural quiet" in the Park. An Environmental Impact Statement is the final step toward implementing this program by spring 2008; the NPS and FAA announced a 90-day scoping period for the EIS, during which the public is invited to comment. A general goal has been set of of restoring natural quiet to 50% of the park, 75% of the time. Previous negotiations have failed amid lawsuits and turf wars between the Park Service and Federal Aviation Administration. Most of the park's more than 4 million visitors don't hear tour airplanes and helicopters, Grand Canyon Superintendent Joe Alston said. "The majority of the noise has been moved away from where people are," he said, with flight patterns pushed into the backcountry. Hikers and backpackers on trails like Hermit's Rest send in written complaints about the sound every few months. "We're not going to go along with any further restrictions," said one air tour operator, who flew 48,000 passengers last year, down from 100,000 in 1999. For the past two years, a series of open houses and meetings of a collaborative working group have been held; the FAA website includes many documents and surveys of exisiting flight and ambient noise information generated during this process. Source: Arizona Daily Star, 1/29/06 [READ ARTICLE] NPS Press Release, 1/26/06 [READ PRESS RELEASE] FAA Grand Canyon website [WEBSITE]
Related: Hingson Receives Award for Longtime Effort to Protect Parks from Overflight Noise - Dick Hingson, who has worked for the past decade to raise awareness of overflight noise in National Parks, received the 2005 Marjory Stoneman Douglas Award from the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) for his advocacy on behalf of Grand Canyon and Zion national parks. His important, volunteer, sound monitoring and sound source identification field research in Zion and Rocky Mountain national parks in 1995, helped him become instrumental in propelling the implementation of the 2000 National Parks Air Tour Management Act. Source: NPCA Press Release, 10/31/05 [READ PRESS RELEASE]

Yellowstone Emissions, Noise Steady as 4-Stroke Engines Become Standard - Contrary to expectations of National Park Service planners, the introduction of modern cleaner, quieter snowmobiles has not had much effect on emmissions or sound levels. The "best available technology" requirement has, since 2001, led to the current use of only 4-stroke engines. While individual machines are not significantly cleaner, air quality in general has improved, thanks to a precipitous drop in the number of snowmobiles in the park, now that all riders must be part of a guided tour. Park employees at the West Yellowstone entrance were subjected to significantly reduced noise and emissions in 2004/5, after years of dangerous levels of exposure. However, noise monitoring at several locations in the park reveals that targets for quiet have been exceeded regularly, especially in mid-day. Noise levels are not dangerous, but motor noise is common. The management goal is that any given location will be free of motorized noise at least 25% of the time; while daily averages meet that (modest) goal at even the most popular spots (such as Old Faithful), recordings indicate that it is common for oversnow vehicles (including snow coaches) to be audible 80-90% of the time during peak hours; some days the level approached 100%, and it was virtually always above 50%. Mornings are quieter, with motorized use audible less than a third of the time even at Old Faithful. There remain other, more remote, yet accessible, locations, where noise intrusion is less intense. Meanwhile, legal wrangling is minimal this year, after a Wyoming judge who had previously resisted restrictions upheld the current NPS compromise management plan, in effect while a 3rd round of comment and planning is underway. Sources: Casper Star-Tribune, 1/22/06 [READ ARTICLE] Great Falls Tribune, 12/29/05 [READ ARTICLE] Heartland Institute News, 1/1/06 [READ ARTICLE] NPS 2005 Soundscape Monitoring Report [READ REPORT(pdf)]
Related: Snowmobile groups seek some non-guided access - Snowmobile enthusisasts are askign the NPS to include some allowance for snowmobile access to Yellowstone outside the current commercial tours. The Blue Ribbon Coalition is urging members to request that 30-50% of users be able to be guided by private guides who have been certified by the Park, and that 20-30% of users be allowed unguided access. Sources: Casper Star-Tribune, 2/20/06 [READ ARTICLE] Blue Ribbon Coalition Alert [SEE ALERT]

Colorado Passes Face Restrictions on Snowmobiles - For years, the conflict between motorized and nonmotorized users of the backcountry has stewed, forcing public land stewards to step in to enforce strict boundaries and regulations. It started a decade ago this week atop Vail Pass, which sees 24,000 user days each year. Next month, new regulations and enforcement in the form of stiff fines for boundary-dodging scofflaws will arrive at Rabbit Ears and Buffalo passes near Steamboat Springs. Rachel Franchina, recreational program manager for the Medicine Bow- Routt National Forest. "The culmination of more use and more powerful snowmobiles led to more people up there simply butting heads, and we had to initiate this planning process." Last year, Dressler's team doled out 86 tickets, with fines starting at $100 and reaching as much as $5,000 for the truest scofflaws. All those tickets went to snowmobilers who had strayed beyond motorized zones, which make up about half the 55,000-acre recreation area. Skiers are allowed to go anywhere they want, and that rarely sits well with the motorized crowd. "The snowmobile community has felt for a long time that we are always the most restricted," said Charlie Cox, interim president of the Colorado Snowmobile Association. The long-standing tension between snowmobilers and skiers has been complicated in recent years by the increase in hybrid users: skiers and snowboarders who use snowmobiles to access steep virgin powder slopes. Source: Denver Post, 12/27/05 [READ ARTICLE]

Park Service Plans Management Revisions; Soundscape Protection Moderated, but Remains - After only 5 years, the National Park Service has released the draft of a new overall management plan. The central features of the revisions seem to be oriented toward replacing the current primacy of natural resource protection with an approach that emphasizes human access on equal footing with resource protection, and a general shift from absolute standards towards inclusion of modifiers such as "when practicable" and "when determined to be an appropriate use." As regards soundscape protection, the new languge slightly downgrades soundscape from a "physcial resource" to an "associated characteristic" (along with clean air and views), but it remains in the central list of resources to be protected and restored. The overarching definition that "natural soundscapes exist in the absence of human-caused sound" is removed, and adds qualifying language about how whether a sound is noise can depend on many objective and subjective factors. A requirement that the NPS "will monitor" human activities that adversely affect park soundscapes has been removed (though in practice, of course, such monitoring has occurred only sporadically). On the positive side, the new draft adds a directive: "Because noise can impact both park resources and visitor experiences, noise management is an integral component of overall park management." This may add an onus on park managers to closely monitor the noise impacts of staff activities, and also highlights the requirement that noise effects be considered in all management decisions. Some within the Park Service have raised concerns about a new "loyalty test" in which employees are asked to support administration goals; “I wouldn’t characterize it as a climate of fear as much as an atmosphere of intense intimidation,” says one active Park Service veteran who notes that Hoffman has made it clear “heads will roll” if career rangers challenge his agenda. Public comments are being accepted through February 18. SourceS: New West, 12/1/05 [READ ARTICLE] National Park Service website. Park planning page: [WEBSITE] Comparison of old and new plans: [DOWNLOAD COMPARISON(1.5MB pdf)]
UPDATE: Most Revisions Rejected in Final Plan, announced in June 2006.

National Park OHV Use Challenged - A group of environmental organizations have sued the National Park Service, claiming that the Service has allowed the use of off-road vehicles in Parks where they are not permitted. In response to a dialogue begun with the same groups in 2004, the NPS surveyed its land managers to determine whether OHV use was taking place, and whether damage was being caused. The survey confirmed the concerns of the plaintiffs, indicating that many parks have passively accepted the intrusions of OHVs, citing lack of staffing to address the problem. The Park Service maintains that illegal use is rare, and damage insignificant. Sources: Bluewater Network Press Release, 11/29/05 [READ PRESS RELEASE] Bluewater Network Website [WEBSITE] BlueRibbon Coalition Magazine, 1/06 [READ ARTICLE]

Cell Phone Towers in Parks Raise Questions - Sixteen National Parks now sport cell phone towers, and the lack of a guiding policy has watchdogs raising objections. Superintendent John Donahue is trying to balance “plugged in” with the solitude of “tuning out.” “Those are the kinds of things people are concerned about... having to listen to other people's cell phones in the woods,” says Donahue. Jeff Ruch and his public watchdog group, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, generally oppose cell towers. “People go to national parks to see nature, not antennas,” says Ruch. There is, of course, the “if-it-saves-one-life argument,” for which Scott Kennett from Colorado is a poster child. Skiing where he shouldn’t have been last winter, Kennett broke his leg. “Thank God I had my cell phone,” he says. “It would have been a real hairball situation without a quick rescue.” Source: MSNBC, 11/1/05 [READ ARTICLE]

Suburbanites Feel the CBM Pressure - While ranchers throughout the west have been dealing for years with the increasing development of subsurface mineral rights on their land for years, most recently with the skyrocketing of coalbed methane wells and noisy pumping stations, a subdivision 35 miles from Jackson, Wyoming is now bringing suburbanites the spector of traffic, noise, aquifer depletion, and air quality degredation that accompanies oil and gas development. "To kind of plunk this thing down on a subdivision that has 140 homes without any notice is shocking," said a homeowner spokeswoman, "Most of us can understand development on the Anticline or on the Jonah Field, but on this level, near homes, some people that's their only home, and everything they have is tied up in there." Source: Casper Star-Tribune, 11/9/05 [READ ARTICLE]

As States Grapple with Roadless Rule, Forest Service Moves on Off-Road Vehicles - Motorized travel in National Forests continues to be under the microscope these days, as the Forest Service releases its long-awaited plan for managing the explosion of Off-Highway Vehicle use on its lands and western states scramble to meet a federal deadline for declaring their intentions about maintaining current roadless areas in their National Forests. The FS OHV plan will generally require all forests to limit motorized recreation to designated routes (some forests now have an "open unless posted closed" approach); controversy remains about the process of designating routes (especially whether illegal user-created roads will be included in inventories of existing travel) and funding for enforcement of the new restrictions. The rule contains several passing mentions of noise impacts, including the tantalizing hint that "the Forest Service anticipates developing a national standard for OHV noise levels in a future rulemaking." Meanwhile, several western states are taking different approaches to the Bush Administrations' passing the planning buck to them on implementing the revised Roadless Rule, in the name of local control of forest use. Sources: OHV Rule: [USFS OHV WEBSITE] [DOWNLOAD RULE(pdf)] Seattle Times, 11/2/05 [READ ARTICLE] Casper Star-Tribune 11/3/05 [READ ARTICLE] Missoulan 11/3/05 [READ ARTICLE] BlueRibbon Coalition Magazine, 1/06 [READ ARTICLE] [READ EDITORIAL] Roadless planning: Wyoming (Governor resists federal processs; supports ongoing federal forest planning: Casper Star-Tribune, 11/2/05 [READ ARTICLE] Montana (Governor says no more roads needed; asks counties that think otherwise to let him know by the end of the year): The Missoulan, 11/1/05 [READ ARTICLE] Colorado (State task force at work; miners press for opening): Rocky Mountain News, 11/2/05 [READ ARTICLE] Washington (state petitions feds to let them adopt Clinton rule; mulling joining CA, NM, OR in suing feds over new petition process): Casper Star-Tribune 11/3/05 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Quarter Million Call for Re-instatement of Roadless Rule - More than 250,000 Americans Thursday formally petitioned the Bush administration to reinstate the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, seeking reversal of one of the administration's most controversial environmental decisions. In an unprecedented move, conservationists, concerned Americans and more than 100 current and former Olympians employed the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) to petition for a policy reversal. The APA grants citizens the right to request the government issue, amend or revoke federal rules. Backers say the unusual step was necessary after the Bush administration failed to honor the overwhelming public support for retaining the 2001 rule evidenced during a public comment period drive. Today's announcement comes as pressure mounts in Congress, the courts and the general public to reinstate the protections that limited logging, drilling, and other destructive activities on nearly 58.5 million acres of wild national forests. A Senate bill will be introduced shortly by Democratic Senators Maria Cantwell of Washington and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico to codify the 2001 roadless rule into federal law. Last July, 145 members of Congress introduced a similar bill in the House. Source: ENS, 3/3/06 [READ ARTICLE(sub)]
Related: Public Comments Overwhelmingly Oppose Motorized Recreation on Rocky Mountain Front - 98 percent of public comments on several proposed alternative management plans on Montana's Rocky Mountain front supported the one that would ban motorized travel on all trails. "Montanans have repeatedly urged the Forest Service to support traditional recreation on the Front," said Brogger, a founding member of the Backcountry Horsemen. "Hopefully, the Forest Service will listen to Montanans and work with us to protect such a special place." Source: Great Falls Tribune, 10/12/05 [READ ARTICLE]

Hunting, Seismic Thumper Trucks Don't Mix - The Bridger-Teton National Forest has backed off from its approval of a categorical exclusion allowing oil and gas exploration to continue during hunting season. Thumper trucks, helicopters, ATVs, and explosives are likely to cause animals to avoid areas popular with hunters. Wyoming's State Game and Fish had recommended suspending exploration during hunting season, but it took an appeal from wildlife groups to force the Forest Service reversal. A similar conflict is taking place in southern Wyoming on BLM land. Source: Jackson Hole Star-Tribune, 9/10/05 [READ ARTICLE]

States Sue Feds Over Dismantling Roadless Rule - The states of California, Oregon, and New Mexico have sued the federal government over its call for states to proactively petition the feds to retain protections in roadless areas that were put in place at the end of the Clinton administration after years of study and public participation. Oregon Governor Kulongoski said, "This administration made great promises to the states about working as partners when it comes to managing and protecting our national forestlands - however its action has yet to match its rhetoric. The 2005 rule turns the clock back on years of work, including millions of public comment and millions of taxpayers' dollars, and the end result is greater uncertainty about the protection of our special roadless areas - not greater security," said the governor. Under the Bush revision, states must file petitions with the feds indicating which national forest lands they want protected within their borders -- a costly process involving mapping, assessing impacts on wildlife, and more -- with no assurance that their preferences will be followed. If states don't request protections, the lands are de facto left open to possible development. Source: The Oregonian, 8/31/05 [READ ARTICLE] LA Times, 8/31/05 [READ ARTICLE] ENS, 8/30/05 [READ ARTICLE(sub)]

Park Service Staff Resists Mission Changes; Soundscape Program at Risk - A high-ranking appointee at the Interior Department proposed fundamentally changing the way national parks are managed, putting more emphasis on recreational use and loosening protections against overuse, noise and damage to the air, water, wildlife or scenery. But a group of senior National Park Service employees rejected the proposal at a meeting this month. Small word changes in the proposal would have dramatic effects: while current management disallows activities that would "impair" park resources, the new plan suggested that "permanent impairment" would be the standard, a much higher and potentially more vague bar. It also explicitly allowed snowmobiles on all paved roads in all parks. The draft dropped current inclusion of preserving and restoring natural quiet and natural sounds in parks. However, an early-August meeting of high-level field managers rejected the proposal; a new version is in the works. Source: LATimes, 8/26/05 [READ ARTICLE] NYTimes, 8/26/05 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: NPR Stories on Sound in Parks: Includes two segments, one on the Grand Canyon, and one on other parks, as well as short sound samples of both natural and human-created sounds in parks.
Grand Canyon Segment [READ AND LISTEN TO STORY]
Eavesdropping in National Parks Segment [READ AND LISTEN TO STORY]
NPS Natural Sounds Program Website [SEE WEBSITE]

Deja Vu All Over Again: Feds Initiate 4th Yellowstone Snowmobile Study - After dueling Federal Courts in Wyoming and DC threw out, respectively, the Clinton and Bush Winter Use Plans, Yellowstone managers announced an interim approach, modeled on the Bush plan, which required all snowmobiles to be part of guided tours, and encouraged snowcoach (busses on treads) use. For the two winters this approach has been in use, snowmobile use, and its attendent air and noise pollution, have been down dramatically. Now, as the second year of a three year interim plan approaches, the Department of Interior is initiating yet another comprehensive planning process to decide what to do next. They are optimistically calling this a "long-term Winter Use Plan and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)"; a central stated aim is to analyze "an alternative allowing only mass-transit snowcoaches." Each of the previous studies has concluded that snowcoaches offer the most environmentally sound option for providing winter access. The scoping period, the initial opportunity for public input, lasts until September 1. For more information, see the NPS website. [WINTER USE PLANNING SITE] [COMMENT SUBMISSION LINK]

Western States Take Varied Approaches to Federal Passing of Buck on Roadless Areas - In response to the Bush Administration's decision to not implement a federal Roadless Rule to limit new roadbuilding on National Forests (proposed by the Clinton National Forest team after years of in-agency study and record levels popular support), Western governors are taking every possible route in response to the demand from Washington that states formally petition the feds to protect roadless areas in thier states. Colorado is taking the bull by the horns: a 13-member task force will solicit input from citizens and make a proposal. In Utah, long a bastion of resistance to federal limits on roads and off-road use, the Governor simply plans to make no requests of the feds, suggesting that ongoing revisions of Forest Management Plans in 4 of Utah's 6 National Forests will suffice. And Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer wrote a strongly worded letter to Bush, saying that Montana has insufficient resources to evaluate and establish a roadless plan for the state’s 6.4 million acres of federal roadless lands and asking for federal help. He pointed out that Montana already went through an “exhaustive” public process to create roadless acres in the ‘90s, and that undertaking the process again is an overwhelming task. Source: Wildlands CPR SkidMarks, June 2005

Montana NF Study Shows Motorized Use Generates Little Economic Benefit - An economic impact study by the Gallatin National Forest, commissioned after a US Congressman and members of the public expressed concerns that limiting motorized use would damage local economies, has found that non-motorized recreation contributes close to twice as much to local coffers as does motorized recreation, and that all forest recreation amounts to only 2% of the local economy. The study breaks down people’s activities in the forest, and finds that the vast majority prefer nonmotorized usage: Hiking and walking make up 29.1 percent; relaxing accounts for 10.6 percent; hunting is 9.2 percent; downhill skiing is 8.2 percent; snowmobiling is 7.8 percent; fishing is 6.6 percent; developed camping is 4.5 percent; viewing natural features is 3.7 percent; nonmotorized water use is 3.2 percent; and viewing wildlife is 2.9 percent. Source: Wildlands CPR/Gallatin National Forest, June 2005 [GALLATIN FOREST TRAVEL PLANNING SITE]

Snowmobile, Skier Groups Continue Consensus in Montana - Another successful collaborative proposal for managing winter motorized use in the National Forests of Montana bodes well for such initiatives in the future. The Montana Wilderness Association and Montana Snowmobile Association both signed onto a proposal that would keep some popular snowmobiling areas open, while closing off areas important for quiet recreation and wildlife. This is the latest in a string of consensus-driven plans that Gatchell and Brown have developed. In 2000, they crafted a plan for the Seeley Lake area of the Lolo National Forest. They have also worked together on winter recreation agreements for the Flathead National Forest and the Little Belt and Big Snowy mountains. They both say their approach is important in order to avoid court battles where one side wins everything, instead of compromise solutions that benefit everyone. Source: Wildlands CPR SKID MARKS #95, May 31, 2005 (no link)

Wyoming Survey Impacts on Wildlife Questioned - A seismic survey planned in Wyoming should require an EIS, rather than the more limited EA that was just released for public comment. Terrestrial seismic surveys use "thumper trucks" to create sound waves that are used to analyze sub-surface geology. The Clark's Fork area where the current survey is planned includes habitat for plover, sage grouse, curlew, mule deer, and elk. Source: Cody Enterprise, 5/18/05 [READ ARTICLE] [DOWNLOAD EA(pdf)]

Snowmobile Season Winds Down in Yellowstone - With poor snowpack and new rules requiring guides for all snowmobile users, snowmobile use was down this winter in Yellowstone National Park. As the season wound down, the media addressed snowmobile use from a number of angles:
Lacking Snow, Yellowstone Snowmobiling Suffers Interior Secretary Norton favors return of unguided sleds. Source: WESH, 3/10/05 [READ ARTICLE]
You Don't Need a Motor to Experience Yellowstone Secretary Norton Neglects non-motorized users; after "much more ordinary" snowcoach ride, "with an unenthusiastic shrug, she added, "It's not as special as a snowmobile." Source: Aspen Weekly/Writers on the Range, 3/6/05 [READ ARTICLE]
Snowmobile Sales Down - After years of steady increases, sales of new snowmobiles have dropped steadily since 2002, though the number of licensed riders is at an all-time high. Warm winters in the upper midwest, along with rising prices of new machines, are blamed for the decreases. (this is a very comprehensive, informative article on snowmobile trends, from usage to technological changes) Source: Bozeman Daily Chronicle 3/21/05 [READ ARTICLE]
Explosives Dropped in Yellowstone to Keep Pass Road Avalanche-free Road serving east entrance snowmobiles and snow coaches is used by 3% of winter visitors Source: The Denver Channel, 3/10/05 [READ ARTICLE]
New Plan Keeps Snowmobilers Away Earlier coverage of the marked decline in snowmobile use under the new rules: From a peak of nearly 30,000 snowmobile visits in January 2002, numbers for the past two Januaries have dropped to under 9,000. Source: Billings Gazette, 2/9/05 [READ ARTICLE]
Blue Ribbon Coalition Files to Intervene in Pending Case
Responding to ongoing pressure from environemental groups fighting the current Park Service snowmobile plan, the BlueRibbon Coalition, a motorized use advocacy group, has filed to become part of the most recent suit. "We have been involved in every significant development in this saga, and we remain dedicated to preserving a reasonable winter use system that includes snowmobiles," stated Jack Welch, President of the BlueRibbon Coalition. The latest case was filed on November 4, 2004, by the Fund for Animals and others, challenges the Park's assessment of the impact of groomed roads on wildlife movements. Source: Press Release 2/1/05 [READ PRESS RELEASE]
See AE.org's Special Report on the Yellowstone Winter Use Plan

Wyoming Asks BLM Wind Development to Give Sage Grouse Sonic Space - In comments submitted to the BLM after release of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement governing wind development in the west, the state of Wyoming has stressed the importance of protecting sage grouse leks from possible noise impacts from wind turbines. "Since noise is not expected to be an issue other than immediately adjacent to turbines or overhead power lines, we recommend ... (the) siting of turbines and power lines avoid sage grouse leks for an adequate distance to negate potential noise impacts," Game and Fish Deputy Director Bill Wichers wrote. Other comments noted in this article include oil and gas developers concerned about the impacts on their rights of way, and landowners wishing to be sure they will still have access to limited power grid for their wind developments. Source: Casper Star-Tribune, 3/15/05 [READ ARTICLE]

Dune Buggies Limited in Big Cypress - A National Park Service managment plan that put severe limits on off-road vehicle use was upheld by a federal judge, and will go into effect. The new plan designates 400 miles of roads for ORVs; previously, over 23,000 miles of swamp buggy ruts had covered the fragile cypress stands, hardwood swamps, and mangroves. Source: ENS, 2/24/05 [READ ARTICLE(sub)]

Snowmobile Use Way Down in Yellowstone - It appears that the Bush revision of Yellowstone's winter use plan has not kept the floodgates open to snowmobiles as much as many feared. The daily caps on snowmobiles in the park have not been approached this year, as total snowmobile use continues to decline even after a precipitous drop last winter. The Bush administration replaced the planned Clinton ban on private snowmobiles with a plan that allowed numbers to remain high, but required all riders to be part of guided tours; it seems that many snowmobilers have chosen to ride independently in national forests, rather than as part of tours in Yellowstone. From a peak of nearly 30,000 snowmobile visits in January 2002, numbers for the past two Januaries have dropped to under 9,000. Snowcoach tours, advocated by the Clinton plan, are seeing a modest increase, and cross-country skiing is also on the rise. Local businesses are adapted to the changes. Scott Carsley of Yellowstone Alpen Guides, which provides snowcoaches and cross-country ski tours in the park, said his business has been improving the past several years. "We have seen a huge increase in the number of cross-country skiers in the park," Carsley said. "I think we're moving more into silent-sports enthusiasts, more into muscle power perhaps." The kind of visitor is also changing. Carsley said his company is seeing more people from milder climates, including the South and Pacific Northwest. Randy Roberson of Yellowstone Vacations has put more emphasis on snowcoaches in his tour business. The 22-year-old company spent years as one of the top snowmobile rental companies in West Yellowstone. The company has recently added several "luxury" snowcoaches to its fleet. "The positive response is just unbelievable," Roberson said. "A lot of our snowmobile customers are converting to snowcoach customers." Source: Billings Gazette, 2/9/05 [READ ARTICLE]

Bats Dying in Wind Turbines - Unexpectedly high numbers of bat deaths at wind farms in West Virginia and Pennsylvania have caught scientists by surprise and made conservationists anxious. Whether the spinning turbines entice the bats or confuse their sonar navigation is unclear, but researchers say an estimated 1,500 to 4,000 bats may have perished in the blades of 44 turbines at one farm in West Virginia in 2004. And with some 700 new turbines proposed for the region this year, bat lovers are especially worried. "Take the most conservative estimates of mortality and multiply them out by the number of turbines planned and you get very large, probably unsustainable kill rates," says Merlin D. Tuttle of Bat Conservation International. Source: Grist/Washington Post, 1/1/05 [READ ARTICLE]

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