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Air tour plan needs a time frame

| September 22, 2021 7:45 AM

For the last 20 years the Federal Aviation Adminitration has ignored Glacier National Park’s efforts to prohibit commercial overflights.

For 20 years thousands of complaints have been filed by individuals and organizations about noise pollution destroying the Glacier experience for millions of visitors and wildlife so that a handful of people could have a thrill ride.

Five years ago, 34 organizations joined together to form Friends for a “Quiet! Glacier” Coalition, to bring this issue national attention. Other national parks were under similar abuse, so Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) brought a lawsuit on behalf of eight National Parks — to carry out the enabling legislation. The court ruled in PEER’s favor and under court supervision gave the FAA and NPS two years to enact Air Tour Management Plans for 23 National Parks.

The current ATMP draft aligns with Glacier’s General Management Plan which states the objective of a complete phase out of commercial overflights. This management priority has been supported by decades of Glacier administrations. The park’s solitude and tranquility were recognized in its 1974 wilderness recommendation to Congress; and in a 1994 NPS Report to Congress it was noted Glacier was one of the highest priority parks where overflights can diminish the ability of visitors to experience the increasingly scarce resource of natural quiet.

Since then, Glacier’s current chief of planning and environmental compliance has worked with six Glacier superintendents, and with the NPS Natural Sounds Office for over a decade, to resolve this issue. Now, there is a path to that end.

There are also improvements that could be made on the plan. Without a defined time frame associated with “natural attrition,” is it a distinction without a difference?

It could mean once again, several generations may never know the natural sounds of Glacier National Park.

Less than one quarter of one percent of the people who visit Glacier take an air tour – yet those tours disrupt quiet and natural sounds for every living thing on the ground and in the air.

According to NPS 2006 Management Policies, a national park need only to allow activities that result in no impairment of natural or scenic values; that does not itself become a primary attraction; and does not lessen the opportunity for others to enjoy the park. It doesn’t say, sometime in the future, it says now.

This ATMP draft is an accomplishment for those in Glacier who have been working on it for decades and for those who have done the difficult fine tuning now to get this far. The draft also contains troubling issues that will need to be addressed, regarding implementation and enforcement placing an even greater burden on an underfunded and understaffed national park.

Who owns the quiet and sensory heritage of Glacier National Park and the Blackfeet Nation?

We encourage people to comment on the good found in this draft as well as the areas in need of improvement – to support the Park, our Park, in their efforts to save a unique experience that includes the opportunity for natural sounds and quiet, for present and future generations. Glacier International Peace Park is not a carnival, it is a cathedral.

Friends for a Quiet! Glacier invite you to visit the informational website and the Quiet! Glacier petition which has 35,663 signatures from all 50 states, 65 countries and 3,438 written comments in support of Glacier’s overflights phase out now.

The Quiet! Glacier message has been straightforward and consistent – to help the park restore quiet because:

There is a disproportionately small number of people causing noise pollution adversely impacting the natural experiences for the majority of visitors. Everyone who visits the Park has access to the view and experience on Going-to-the-Sun Road by car, shuttle, or bus. And because of the commercial air tours, everybody who visits Glacier National Park has to endure the noise and disruption of overflights servicing a very few. (Exempt from the petition are administrative and emergency flights.)

Glacier is over 90% defacto Wilderness. NPS Director’s order No. 41 states that defacto Wilderness be managed as Wilderness. It defines the No. 1 NPS role and responsibility as “Visitor and Resource Protection.” Commercial overflights are not part of Wilderness or Visitor and Resource Protection.

This is a noise and visual pollution issue, not an aviation issue.

Quiet! Glacier petition is at https://www.change.org/p/glacier-national-park-needs-our-help-to-restore-the-natural-soundscape-please-sign-quiet-glacier-petition

Quiet! Glacier website is at https://www.quietglacier.com/

To read the ATMP draft and comment before the Oct. 3 deadline, go here: https://parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?parkID=61&projectID=103520&documentID=114733

Mary T. McClelland

Coordinator, Friends for a Quiet! Glacier