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Conservation Groups Urge National Park Service to Reinstate Jet Ski Bans


Are Jet Skis, also known as Personal Watercraft, appropriate for national seashores and national lakeshores? Photo by Will Pate via Flickr.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and National Park Service Director Mary Bomar are being asked once again to stand behind their pledges that science will guide management decisions in the national park system.

While that was the request when Yellowstone National Park officials were debating whether to allow recreational snowmobiles to continue on in the park, now the focus is on Jet Skis (generically known as personal watercraft, or PWCs).

Earlier this year, when the Park Service kicked off its Centennial Initiative, the Interior secretary and Park Service director spoke glowingly of protecting the park system's resources for future generations.

* Stewardship and science will guide decisions, Mr. Kempthorne said in his cover letter regarding the Centennial Initiative to the president. An inventory of all wildlife in parks will be completed, a vital baseline to monitor change and adjust management. Strategic acquisitions will protect landscapes.

* Much has been accomplished and more remains to be done to fulfill a common American dream -- to leave things better for those who follow us, added Ms. Bomar in her own letter.

* This is not only a report to the president, but a pledge to the American people, who are the shareholders in the greatest system of parks and special places in the world ... a pledge that the men and women of the National Park Service will continue in preserving these wonderful places for the generations yet to come, Ms. Bomar added a bit later.

But with the Yellowstone snowmobile decision on its way to being finalized despite scientific reports from the park's own staff that Yellowstone's resources would be better off without snowmobiles, those pledges are being questioned.

Today a trio of conservation groups is asking the Park Service to reinstate bans against personal watercraft in Gulf Islands and Cape Lookout national seashores as well as Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. If the agency balks, the groups say they'll take it to court over the matter. (See attachment)

Back in 2000 the Park Service found that PWC use was inappropriate in most units of the national park system. At the time it said PWCs were "high-performance vessels designed for speed and maneuverability and are often used to perform stunt-like maneuvers." In March of that year the agency, which also found that PWCs can be harmful to the environment, conflict with other users, and constitute a safety concern, issued a final rule prohibiting the use of PWC in national parks.

However, shortly after the Bush administration took office the Park Service cited 21 parks where PWCs had been allowed and gave them two years to finalize rules to continue the use, if they thought it was appropriate. Six of those parks decided to ban the watercraft. In fact, at Cape Lookout, Gulf Islands, and Pictured Rocks, PWC use was discontinued from 2002 to 2006. Last year, though, the Park Service reversed itself and began finalizing regulations to allow PWC use back in these park units.

At Cape Lookout, a much more peaceful and secluded national seashore than its big brother just to the north, Cape Hatteras, visitors can enjoy 56 undeveloped miles of beach front along with four barrier islands. While the lack of development is a big plus for marine life and shore birds, PWC use seemingly conflicts with that setting and even the seashore's mission.

In February 2006, when Cape Lookout officials were going through the process to draft PWC regulations, they noted that:

"Some research suggests that PWC use affects wildlife by causing interruption of normal activities, alarm or flight, avoidance of degradation of habitat, and effects on reproduction success," read the Federal Register notice. "This is thought to be a result of a combination of PWC speed, noise and ability to access sensitive areas, especially in shallow-water depths."

A bit further the report notes that "...experts from around the country have voiced concern that PWC activity can have negative impacts on marine mammals, disturbing normal rest, feeding, social interactions and causing flight."

"Toothed whales (included dolphins) produce sounds across a broad range of communication as well as echolocation, a process of creating an acoustic picture of their surroundings for the purpose of hunting and navigation," the narrative continues.

"Watercraft engine noise can mask sounds that these animals might otherwise hear and use for critical life functions and can cause temporary hearing threshold shifts. Bottlenose dolphins exposed to less than an hour of continuous noise at 96 dB experienced a hearing threshold shift of 12 to 18 dBs, which lasted hours after the noise terminated. A hearing threshold shift of this degree would substantially reduce a dolphin's echolocation and communication abilities."

When the decision was made in 2001 to ban PWCs at Gulf Islands -- a 160-mile stretch of barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico, off the shores of Florida and Mississippi -- the Park Service supported that decision by explaining that “PWC use poses considerable threats to estuarine flora and fauna, pollutes waters essential to estuarine and marine health, poses unacceptable risks of injury to operators and bystanders, and conflicts with the majority of other longstanding uses of the Seashore.” Nonetheless, in May 2006 the Park Service reopened Gulf Islands to jet skis.

Today Friends of the Earth, The Wilderness Society, and the National Parks Conservation Association claim these reversals violate both the recently adopted Park Service Management Policies and a settlement agreement reached by the Park Service and Bluewater Network, a division of Friends of the Earth, in 2001. And they are calling on Mr. Kempthorne and Ms. Bomar to honor the Park Service's 2000 decision by reinstating the previous decisions to discontinue jet ski use at Gulf Islands, Cape Lookout, and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

“The Park Service largely banned jet ski use based on findings that these machines threaten wildlife, damage water quality, and spoil other people’s visits,” says Danielle Fugere of Friends of the Earth. “The 2006 decision to re-open these parks to Jet Ski use without any new data appears to have been based on politics, not sound science.”

At The Wilderness Society, Kristen Brengel says that, “The mission of the national park system is not debatable. From the shores of Cape Lookout to the waters of Lake Superior at Pictured Rocks, these special places must be conserved for future generations. We hope Secretary Kempthorne and Director Bomar uphold their commitment to the mission of the Park Service and restore the protections for these park units by reinstating the bans on jet skis.”

“Our national park system holds some of our country’s most renowned beaches and wild lands,” adds Mary Munson of the NPCA. “All Americans should be able to enjoy these special places, not just for specific activities and definitely not for motorized recreation that damages waterways and disturbs the natural atmosphere.

"Jet skis are fine for some water bodies and can be enjoyed in lakes, seashores and rivers throughout the country, but in the national parks at issue here, their use violates a national standard of protection. We hope the Interior secretary and National Park Service director will allow future generations to visit the parks free of disturbances by ending damaging and dangerous jet ski use in Cape Lookout, Pictured Rocks, and Gulf Islands.”


Every single person who contributes comments to NPT is a resource -- somebody with experiences to share, insights to offer, questions to challenge us with. Consider J Longstreet, for example. Isn't it great that a park superintendent wants to share in our forum? There are fewer than 400 national park superintendents in the entire country, for crying out loud, and these are exactly the people we need to be hearing from and talking to and yes, even trying to persuade. We need to engage them even if we don’t agree with all the things they say, all the views they hold, all the things they want to do. And what happened to this superintendent when he joined in and commented? He got dissed by several of our commenters (you know who you are) in a mean-spirited way, as though he were an enemy to be disposed of. No effective leader achieves important goals by throwing away valuable resources, cutting off critical lines of communication, and insisting that “it’s my way or the highway.” Let’s not drive each other away. Everybody’s a resource.

Frank, it's your constant scab picking at that NPS that irritates. We understand your grievances run deep and hard, but your losing your point by the constant brow beating on the parks. The less said, the better the impact! I think you're being a bit overly sensitive about Kurt's comments about slowing the constant negativity. You have made your point many times over. However, your comments are well taken with some merit.

"We don't want you to stop commenting. But we think you've more than made your feelings known about what you think of the Park Service and its employees. The Traveler is not the forum for this continued condemnation." Kurt Repanashek

I will respect the wishes of NPT and cease posting comments at the NPT site critical to the status quo of national parks management. NPT is a private endeavor. NPT is not subject to the protections of the First Amendment; that's one thing it has in common with the NPS.

It's regrettable that grown adults cannot simply ignore that with which they do not wish to contend. Instead, they censor. They silence. They misrepresent.

My comments have been called shrill, but if you search the record, you'll mostly find reasoned arguments about wrestling national park management from the quagmire of partisan politics. Occasionally, I've been Abbey-esque, but it's a sad statement that NPT wouldn't welcome Cactus Ed's opinions and writing. Those seeking to perpetuate the current paradigm of political management of national parks mislabel criticism as negativity, and in that way, NPT further resembles the NPS. Because of comments critical of NPS bureaucracy, supposedly "in extreme cases, folks simply are not returning to the Traveler." I would enjoy seeing some hard evidence on that, and would beg to differ. Healthy debate attracts participation, and if you look at the posts with the most comments, they are usually hot topics with a lot of debate.

Regardless, I'll take the debate elsewhere. Stop by my homepage from time to time. Leave a comment if you support park management unfettered from political partisanship. More importantly, leave a comment if you don't.

"Everyone is in favor of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people's idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone else says anything back, that is an outrage."
-- Winston Churchill

"Without debate, without criticism, no administration and no country can succeed -- and no republic can survive."

The bottom line is that Anonymous and Mr. Smith are attempting to neutralize two critics of the current system by labeling their postings as nothing more than blatant negativity. If the truth be known Frank and I have repeatedly made suggestions and shared our ideas for forging a different path in the management of the national parks. In the meantime we have also continued to point out the failings and political corruption of the current system, as a good many of the featured articles on this website readily attest to, as a means of bolstering our point. This is what caring watchdogs do when they wish to keep the pressure on those in charge to bring meaningful change or a full-scale deconstruction into something totally new.

I'm glad that Superintendent Longstreet is able to "understand the reasons for my frustrations and anger, and channel that energy into more positive, and more selective, communications." I'm sure those skills are important in maintaining a career in the current system but I do not share the same abiding faith in that system that he does.

The truth is that I love the parks but don't trust their politically driven administering agency to accomplish the job of preserving and protecting them over the long haul. There is currently too much waste, corruption, careerism and politics for the critical functions to be carried out in an effective manner. That is my stand and as long as there is a forum to discuss better ways to do it I will.

This website is about supporting the parks, not worshiping the government agency that has a monopoly on their administration. Instead of attacking us I suggest they'd both look a whole lot more credible if they engaged us on our ideas instead.

If people tell you that your negative energy sucks the life out of a room when you enter it, it's time to take a long, hard look at the way you relate to others.

Frank and Beamis, I don't read every post; I browse NPT selectively. I'm nonetheless pleased to see that we agree on some things and that you've on occasion been complimentary to NPS employees. It's a nice side of you guys; you should try using it more often. We all agree that the NPS has problems and needs to be held accountable; Rick Smith and I simply want it to succeed where it often appears that you'd prefer it to fail. I'm sure we'd both be happy to be proven wrong about that.

One of my NPS mentors once told me that MY negativity was a drain on the organization and compromised my ability to achieve my pro-resource objectives. That was a wake up call for me. It caused me to think more critically, to understand the reasons for my frustrations and anger, and channel that energy into more positive, and more selective, communications. It's allowed me to get far more accomplished since then, and win more allies. Which also means more victories and less tilting at windmills. I am pretty confident that the track record doesn't show that as the point I entered the dark side, either.

Enough about you, and enough about me. I'm signing off of this thread.

J Longstreet

I can't add much to what Beamis has said, but will offer the same: "Kurt and Jeremy are free to ask me to stop contributing if they feel my postings are a poisonous cancer on this website and I will respectfully comply."

Mr. Smith, when addressing Congress, you said, "As a matter of generational equity and of respect for those who came before us, we should manage [national parks] with the highest regard for their resource integrity and their ability to remind us of who we are as a people and a nation. We should not be careless with this legacy nor allow it to be subjected to a political agenda." [Emphasis added.]

When you addressed the ANPR in 2004, you stated that we are falling "into the trap that Albright warned us about years ago about becoming just another federal bureaucracy"; you attribute this to forgetting traditions, while I attribute it to the growth of the size of the system and government, both of which are not mutually exclusive.

I wholeheartedly agree with you and have been expressing those opinions, which are based on my experiences and research. We might disagree on a possible solution, but our concern is the same.

I'd only point out that Superintendent Longstreet was also loudly lamenting the negative politics of an uncaring Congress saddling the NPS with inappropriate parks. He seems to agree with me on at least a few things.

Kurt and Jeremy are free to ask me to stop contributing if they feel my postings are a poisonous cancer on this website and I will respectfully comply. The truth of the matter is that many folks, including a lot of current rangers, do see the NPS as a politically compromised organization in decline and I can tell you this with some degree of knowledge garnered from a wide variety of personal contacts among active rangers in the field. The Pat Buccello scandal is not an isolated incident nor is the political arm twisting that Fran Mainela recently spoke out about concerning snowmobiles in Yellowstone. (As usual she waited until she was a former employee before coming out with the truth). If you think the majority of my postings are simply the bitter ravings of a disgruntled former employee I respectfully declare you to be wearing blinders, which a successful career in the agency often requires.

This is NOT about having an ax to grind but calling it like I see it. I care about the future of the parks and for the most part see the long-term solution to their continued viability as something other than the current business model of a military-style civil service bureaucracy headquartered in Washington, DC.

As for any lingering bitterness you think I may possess I have none, as I am quite happy in my current life and pursuits and left the ranks of the green & gray on good terms, highly evaluated and amply awarded. If my somewhat dim view of the bureaucratic machinations inherent in the operations of the NPS is perceived as blatant negativity I challenge you to engage me in a spirited defense of your beloved agency or to politely ignore it. If I'm a crank at least I strive to be an articulate and reasoned one.

By the way my recent post on the Petrified Forest was laudatory of both the rangers and the park. Did you get a chance to read that one?

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