Laura B. Comay Analyst in Natural Resources Policy
Carol Hardy Vincent Specialist in Natural Resources Policy
Kristina Alexander Legislative Attorney
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 to bicycles.
Date of Report: February 8, 2013
Number of Pages: 21 Order Number: R42955 Price: $29.95
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