CRS Report Released: Motorized Recreation on National Park Service Lands
The Congressional Research Service (CRS), the public policy research arm of Congress, recently issued the report Motorized Recreation on National Park Service Lands (Feb. 8, 2013). The 21-page report authored by Laura B. Comay, Carol Hardy Vincent, and Kristina Alexander discusses the following:
In managing its lands, the National Park Service (NPS) seeks
to balance a dual statutory mission of preserving natural resources while
providing for their enjoyment by the public. Motorized recreation on NPS lands
sometimes brings the two parts of this mission into conflict. Offhighway vehicles
(OHVs) have been particularly controversial, with calls for greater
recreational access intersecting with concerns about environmental impacts and
disturbance of quieter pursuits. NPS’s laws, regulations, and policies
generally emphasize the conservation of park resources in conservation/use
conflicts, and NPS has fewer lands open to OHV use than do other federal land
management agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service.
The 113th Congress may address motorized recreation in the National Park
System, either through broad measures (such as those concerning recreational
access to federal lands) or through specific measures affecting motorized
recreation at particular NPS units.
ATVs and Oversand Vehicles. Only 12 of the 398 park units
are open to public recreational use of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), four-wheel
drive vehicles, and/or dune, sand, and swamp buggies. The extent of
unauthorized use of such vehicles is in dispute. Several units are developing
pilot education and deterrence programs to address unauthorized use. Legislative
measures in the 112th Congress sought to regulate OHV use at one NPS
site, Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
Snowmobiles. Regulatory and judicial actions to allow or
restrict snowmobile use have focused primarily on three Yellowstone-area park
units. Winter use plans developed by NPS to establish numerical limits on
snowmobile and snowcoach entries have been the subject of repeated, and often
conflicting, court challenges. Most recently, NPS has issued a draft plan and
supplemental environmental impact statement intended to govern snowmobile use
at Yellowstone for the 2014- 2015 winter season and beyond. The plan would
allow up to 110 “transportation events” per day (defined as the use of either a
multipassenger snowcoach or a group of snowmobiles).
Aircraft Overflights. Grand Canyon National Park is at the
center of a conflict over whether or how to limit air tours over national park
units to reduce noise. NPS and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
continue to work to implement a 1987 law (P.L. 100-91) that sought to reduce
noise at Grand Canyon, and a 2000 law (P.L. 106-181) that regulates overflights
at other park units. P.L. 112-141, enacted in 2012, contains provisions on air
tour management at Grand Canyon, including some less-stringent standards for
natural quiet than NPS had recommended in planning efforts. P.L. 112-95
contains provisions to expedite and streamline agency planning actions for
commercial air tours over parks generally.
Personal Watercraft (PWC). Since 2003, NPS has completed
regulations to open designated PWC areas at 13 units. In July 2010, a federal
judge ordered NPS to re-examine environmental assessments justifying PWC use at
two of those units but did not overturn existing regulations.
Mountain Bicycles. This mechanized though nonmotorized activity
also raises issues of the sufficiency of access to park lands as well as
potential resource damage and disturbance of quieter recreational pursuits.
Currently, more than 40 NPS units allow mountain biking on dirt trails and/or
dirt roads. Mountain biking advocates have worked with NPS to explore
opportunities to increase this activity in park units. In July 2012, NPS
finalized a rule that eases the process for park superintendents to open trails
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