Washington, DC — Five years after adopting a highly touted plan to rein in unmanaged expansion of wireless technology, Yellowstone National Park has not followed through on its promises to reduce impacts on park vistas, historic areas and the backcountry, according to a detailed new analysis released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The result has been to fuel ever broader coverage and more bandwidth throughout the world’s first national park.
When its Wireless Plan was unveiled in 2008, park officials made clear that the new Plan’s primary emphasis was on restricting cellular service “so as to protect park resources and limit the impact on park visitors.” Adopted the next year, the plan featured mitigation measures, such as cell and WiFi-free zones, courtesy signage, limiting backcountry spillover and moving an unsightly tower overlooking Old Faithful.
Five years later, cell coverage has steadily expanded in Yellowstone but virtually none of the restrictions has been put in place:
• Not one of the promised “cellphone-free” zones has been designated;
• The Park has put up only seven small signs urging courteous use of electronic devices at iconic viewing areas. Yet, in 2010, the Park envisioned the need for 50 such signs;
• Cell signals now penetrate deeply into the backcountry of Yellowstone, what was one of the remotest areas on the continent, despite pledges to limit signals to “developed areas;” and
• The plan’s provision for removing a controversial cell tower looming over the Old Faithful Historic District has gone nowhere.
“People are asked to turn off or silence their electronic devices in church, in a theater and even on the golf course but not in the cathedrals of nature,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization has long urged NPS to follow its own policies on protecting park views, soundscapes and wilderness values. “The relationship between the Park Service and the telecom industry has been decidedly one-sided – all give and with each door converted into a walkway.”
Perhaps the clearest dereliction of protecting park views is the remarkable transformation of one of Yellowstone’s most stunning views – the summit of Mt. Washburn. Yellowstone has allowed placement of so much telecom equipment on Mt. Washburn that it looks like a massive Cold War bunker. Its electronic array is so intense that the Occupational and Safety Administration has warned that it emits radio frequency radiation in excess of federal safety standards.
“When the Park Service decided that ‘visitor expectation’ justified letting commercial operators erect towers on public lands it stepped onto a slippery slope and is still sliding,” added Ruch, noting that now Yellowstone is moving to accommodate much more powerful 4G systems to speed streaming of movies, downloading of music and multi-player electronic games. “Before stumbling forward into the next generation of technology, Yellowstone and National Park officials need to step back and rethink what place serenity, solitude and the ability to be truly disconnected have in our national parks.”
Look at the monstrosity Mt. Washburn has become