Wyden, Merkley win Crater Lake Air Tour ban

Wyden, Merkley Win Singular Protection for Crater Lake from Air Tour Flyovers
From US Senator Ron Wyden

Washington, D.C. – In order to preserve the unique quiet and solitude of Oregon’s sole National Park, Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley today won greater authority for the National Park Service to ban air tour flyovers in Crater Lake. Their amendment, which was passed in the Senate as part of the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill, allows the Park Service the ability to deny air tours over the park without first having to prepare an air tour management plan, as is the case with every other National Park.

“I see this as a first step in keeping our National Parks free of noise pollution that can ruin visitors’ experience of our national treasures,” Wyden said. “From today on, the precious quiet of Crater Lake will be something future generations can count on as much as we do today.”

“Crater Lake is unique not only in the state of Oregon, but in the entire nation, in its natural beauty,” said Merkley. “This is an important provision to preserve this special place.  Future generations should be able to travel there without noise disruptions and enjoy the same experience travelers from all over the world see today.”

Wyden has been working to secure protections for Crater Lake from air tour flyovers since last summer, when he received a commitment from then-nominee for Director of the National Park Service, Jon Jarvis, to protect the “fragile beauty” of Crater Lake. The amendment’s acceptance into the FAA reauthorization bill gives Jarvis the authority to make good on that promise in the near future, without first having to develop a costly and time consuming management plan.

Another benefit of the amendment is that it clearly defines the role that the National Park Service (NPS) plays in protecting National Park resources and values, while also reasserting the authority that the Federal Aviation Administration has over ensuring the safety of America’s airspace.

The amendment modifies an existing law that requires the FAA and NPS to jointly develop air tour management plans before denying requests to operate air tours over national parks.  No such management plan has ever been completed in the decade since that law took effect.

Senator Wyden’s statement follows:
M. President, I rise in support of this legislation to modernize our nation’s aviation system and I am especially pleased that it includes Senate Amendment 3534 to protect the pristine beauty and quiet of Crater Lake National Park.

This amendment offered by Senator Merkley and I would bring an end to the bureaucratic stalemate that exists between the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Park Service over implementation of the National Parks Air Tour Management Act of 2000.

That act required the FAA and the Park Service to work together in regulating air tours over national parks. Unfortunately, that is not happening. After nearly a decade, these two agencies have yet to complete a single required air tour management plan for those parks with air tours.

Meanwhile, parks where air tours applications are pending are in limbo over whether tours will operate and where. Efforts to provide adequate safeguards to protect the parks’ resources have stalled, leaving places such as Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park – the 6th oldest national park in the nation – lingering in needless uncertainty.   In short, the law is not working as it was intended  and providing no  benefit to anyone.

When an air tour company applied last year for permission to fly tours over Crater Lake National Park, the public outcry in my state and elsewhere was swift and dramatic — and for good reason. Anyone familiar with Crater Lake knows that it is one of the crown jewels of the nation’s system of national parks. It is a place that my constituents care deeply about.  It is visited by countless Oregonians and tourists alike every year who come to see its deep-blue lake, dramatic lava flows, towering trees and, perhaps most of all, to experience its quiet.

While we cannot agree on what to do about air tours over every single national park, we can agree that if we are going to ban them anywhere it should be Crater Lake. Such a ban will guarantee future generations the same pristine solitude that exists today.

Since Crater Lake represents one of the few places to escape the din of everyday life, I and many others have serious concerns over what the proposed helicopter over flights would do to that tranquility.

Yet that concern isn’t able to be considered by the FAA and the Park Service under the requirements found in the current National Park Air Tour Management Act of 2000.  Parks such as Crater Lake must go through the costly and time-consuming process of attempting to craft an air tour management plan before being able to deny an application for air tours.  As no such plans have been completed for any park in 10 years, there is little prospect of getting any certainty any time in the near future.   This is uncertainty for air tour operators and for parks visitors alike. Will there be over flights or won’t there? The way things work now, we’ll never know and our treasured parks don’t get the certain protection they need.

My amendment would provide needed clarity regarding the responsibilities of the FAA and the National Park Service so that air tour management plans can finally be completed.  It will speed implementation of the Act by ensuring that air tour management plans are not required at Crater Lake, where it is clear that having them would be unacceptable to park resources or visitor experiences.

I am pleased that Senator Rockefeller has worked with me to include this amendment in the Manager’s package.  I thank my colleagues Senator Merkley who cosponsored this amendment and Senator Alexander who also lent his support.  This amendment will help ensure that our parks resources are protected.

M. President, I yield the floor.

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