Judge Urges Reconsideration Of PWC Use In National Parks

A judge has suggested that national parks should once again ban personal watercraft. This after the parks already conducted lengthy environmental impact assessments, and ruled in favor of continued PWC access.

9th August 2010.
By Jeff Hemmel

Okay, enough with the cutesy YouTube videos…time to get back to some real news, like the potential for PWC bans once again in several of our country’s national parks.

You may, or may not, know the story behind the original bans. In 2000, the National Park Service banned PWC use in all national parks with the exception of 21 that were deemed to have “prior” PWC usage. Those 21 were given a grace period to research PWC use and come up with a workable plan for access, that led to some lawsuits between the NPS and several environmental groups, and ultimately the craft were banned from the 21 parks, until each and every one conducted the appropriate studies, formulated plans for access, and presented a solution.

The good news, of course, is that while the delays were lengthy, one-by-one the parks voted for continued PWC access. Helped in no small part by the introduction of much-cleaner, much-quieter four-stroke models, the industry declared victory, and the issue seemed to at last fade from the spotlight.

At least, until recently. In July, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler of the District of Columbia ruled that both Gulf Islands National Seashore (Florida) and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (Michigan) violated federal law by allowing PWC back into the parks. Specifically, she questions if the NPS really looked at the relevant data, and if it had, how it could have reached its conclusion.

“Why has NPS issued Rules allowing jetski use (sorry Kawasaki, the wording is hers, not mine) in two beautiful and pristine national parks, acknowledging that such use will impact, to varying degrees, water quality, air quality, wildlife, animal habitats, soundscapes, visitor use and safety, etc., when the users of jetskis are perfectly free to enjoy their vehicles in other, equally accessible areas, without threatening the serenity, the tranquility—indeed, the majesty—of these two national treasures?” asked Kessler. She then went on call PWC highly polluting and noisy.

Evidently she hasn’t checked out the industry in several years…

The judge’s ruling changes nothing in the short term, but what she’s asking — that the NPS reconsider whether to allow PWC within the parks — could once again open an issue that many had considered long closed.

Chris Manthos, Executive Director of the American Watercraft Association, is livid. ”We fought to restore fairness and equality to these public waterways and won based on science,” Manthos explained to me. “Now, the anti-access crowd put up a single individual in each park unit claiming they were ‘bothered’ by personal watercraft and that’s all it took? Every boater best sit up and take note; who’s next?

“The judge based her decision partly on the Yellowstone snowmobile case. (In 2008, a fellow judge criticized the NPS for allowing snowmobile access within Yellowstone). You can walk into Yellowstone, but you can’t walk into these parks. You need a watercraft.

“Tyranny by the minority, plain and simple.”

Manthos goes on to suggest that this is a perfect example of how a small environmental group can follow an agenda to drive the public away from public lands and waters.

“We complied with the original rules, and worked within the framework of the system like citizens are supposed to,” argues Manthos. “A large amount of taxpayer money was spent on an environmental assessment showing personal watercraft were no more of an impact than any other other powerboat, and now the government’s own assessments mean nothing?

“If you’re a boater, this is a wake up call. These people can’t be reasoned with, and they don’t care about you or your choice of recreation. They want all boaters out.”

Strong words for sure, but this is a guy who’s been fighting to keep PWC on the water for a loooong time. And if he’s this concerned, all of us should likely be, too.

What can you do? At the minimum, keep track of the issue and see where it heads. Better yet, write a few emails and make your opinion heard. You can also help the cause by joining the American Watercraft Association. This is a small operation of hard-working people who need all the help they can get.

Remember, they’re fighting so that we can all be out on the water…let’s help them out.


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About the author:

Jeff Hemmel

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Jeff Hemmel writes for boats.com, Boating, PersonalWatercraft.com, and Powersports Business. The former Senior Editor at Watercraft World, Jeff is a multi-time award winner as well as a 2008 inductee into the IJSBA Hall of Fame. His first book, "The Anti-Pirate Potato Cannon...and 101 Other Things For Young Mariners To Try, Do, & Build On the Water," received a bronze medal in the 2010 Moonbeam Children's Book Awards. For more info, visit Jeff Hemmel's website.

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