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Air tour management plan for Glacier National Park completed Friday

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A rainbow shines over Glacier National Park's Lake McDonald in August, 2016. PHOTO BY JACOB W. FRANK / NPS

DAILY MONTANAN STAFF

An air tour management plan for Glacier National Park was completed Friday, setting guidelines meant to preserve the park’s resources.

The plan was established by the National Park Service and Federal Aviation Administration and is part of the National Parks Air Tour Management Act of 2000. It will allow air tour operators to provide up to 144 air tours per year—the three-year average between 2017 and 2019.

“The purpose of the air tour plan is to ensure that park resource values in Glacier National Park, including natural sounds, wilderness character, visitor experiences, and other natural and cultural resources, are protected,” said the park’s Deputy Superintendent, Pete Webster in a press release.”

The plan includes things like semi-annual reporting requirements for commercial air operators and a wildlife avoidance provision.

“Once operators become aware (through visual identification, communication from the NPS or other federal agencies, state or tribal agencies, or through other means) of the presence of wolverines, Canada lynx, or grizzly bears along the flight route, operators are required to avoid these areas…,” the plan reads.

While air tours have been part of the park experience for many years, the management plan will provide oversight and accountability for the companies that offer them. In addition, air tours will be subjected to specific routes and altitudes, according to the release.

The plan also includes a provision to phase out commercial air tours through attrition, with all remaining air tours ending on December 31, 2029.

“As stated in the Park’s General Management Plan and subsequent planning efforts, natural sounds and visitor enjoyment are preserved by addressing noise issues, including working with FAA to phase out commercial air tours through attrition, which has been and remains a priority management objective for the Park,” the plan reads.

Glacier is among 24 parks in the NPS system for which the agencies are developing air tour management plans. Each plan was developed to allow air tours to be managed in a consistent way aligned with NPS goals and FAA safety guidelines, according to the release.

As part of the process, the agencies consulted with American Indian Tribes that have tribal lands adjacent to the park and that attach historical and cultural significance to resources within the park, including the Fort Belknap Indian Community, Crow Tribe of Montana, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, Apache Tribe of Oklahoma, Blackfeet Tribe and the Chippewa-Cree Indians of the Rocky Boy’s Reservation, according to the release.

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