Washington, DC — A new plan for Yellowstone National Park will greatly expand cell phone, internet and wireless web coverage in high-visitation areas, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). This Wireless Communications Service Plan for Yellowstone was unveiled on Wednesday in the hope of ending a four-year moratorium on new permits for cell towers and related facilities.
While this new plan is couched in terms such as a “limited increase” to “protect park resources”, it actually opens the door to any wireless structures or applications not explicitly prohibited by law. The plan signals the park’s desire to eventually relocate a controversial cell tower overlooking Old Faithful. Among the other features of the plan are –
- At least one new cell tower in the Yellowstone Lake area, a massive new tower array that will dwarf the fire lookout atop Mount Washburn (the highest point in the park) and expanded coverage in Canyon and Tower-Roosevelt. Thereafter, additional new towers could be approved without limit by an internal park committee lacking any representatives of the public;
- Wireless internet access in all lodges, stores and “administrative facilities” subject to an attempt “to develop WiFi-free zones” in places such as the porch of the Roosevelt Lodge and the lobby of the Old Faithful Inn; and
- Wireless web cameras would be allowed in all “developed areas of the park” and could be placed in the backcountry for unspecified “resource monitoring or…safety concerns.”
The anticipated electronic usage is expected to be so heavy that Yellowstone proposes “courtesy signing and protocols” to discourage rude or inappropriate cell phone or other communications use, though it is not clear how any guidance will be enforced or even who will pay for the signs.
“Yellowstone now aspires to be an amusement park where communing with nature requires a dead zone,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch whose organization has drawn attention to the proliferation of cell towers in national parks. “Yellowstone officials decided that ‘visitor expectations’ trump resource protection, in essence, placing park values of solitude, natural sound and landscapes up for a vote.”
Despite studies associating cell phone usage with auto accidents, Yellowstone concluded cell coverage has not affected vehicular accidents or wildlife strikes. The plan notes cell coverage’s role in emergency calls after accidents but refused to even consider an alternative of limiting cell access to 911 calls.
“This plan tries to disguise that it is directly promoting purely commercial services at the expenses of park resources,” Ruch added. “While we are happy Yellowstone has finally begun to plan, the quality of this effort leaves a lot to be desired.” The Environmental Assessment for Yellowstone’s Wireless Plan will remain open for public comment until October 31st.