More Cell Towers, WI-FI and Web-Cams Coming to Yellowstone; New Plan Extends Large Electronic Footprint Across Yellowstone’s Iconic Sites

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 18, 2008  1:29 PM

CONTACT: Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)
Bill Boteler (202) 265-7337

More Cell Towers, WI-FI and Web-Cams Coming to Yellowstone
New Plan Extends Large Electronic Footprint Across Yellowstone’s Iconic Sites

WASHINGTON – September 18 – 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.

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