WASHINGTON - Newly confirmed Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne has endorsed a policy that may limit the access powersports enthusiasts, including boaters, have to national parks, the Associated Press reported in a story yesterday.
The new plan, which stresses that conserving natural and historic places will be the predominant job of the National Park Service, essentially reverses a proposal by former Interior Secretary Gale Norton, and the Park Service, which would have placed more emphasis on recreation, AP reported.
Norton had backed a policy stipulating that in order for activities to be prohibited, they must "irreversibly" harm the parks instead of only harming them. Critics, however, believed that policy would benefit recreation and commercial interests at a cost to conservation.
The plan backed by Kempthorne, which officials said will become the official parks' policy in three weeks, emphasizes that when deciding whether to allow cell towers, ATVs, jet skis or other motorized vehicles, a park supervisor must consider whether any new use would damage not only the air, water, land and wildlife but also "the atmosphere of peace and tranquility and natural soundscapes" in parks, according to the story.
In response to news of the plan, Monita Fontaine, vice president of Government Relations for the National Marine Manufacturers Association, told Boating Industry that NMMA is concerned by the signals the policy sends.
“Public recreation and responsible environmental stewardship are not mutually exclusive," Fontaine said. "It is only logical to promote balanced open public access - when people see and experience the beauty of their national parks they will want to conserve these treasures and use them in responsible ways. Public lands offer amazing recreational opportunities for millions of Americans and for far too long there has been a dangerous trend to downplay the public's use of our parks and waters.
“We're concerned that this signals a change to a 'guilty until proven innocent' approach at a time when we should be identifying and reducing the impediments to public recreation. NMMA will monitor this closely and continue to advocate for increased public recreational access to public lands and waters.”
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