Mount Rainier Wilderness Slated for Cell Coverage
Proposed Cellular Antennas in Paradise Visitor Center Will Wire Wilderness
Washington, DC — One of America’s premier wilderness parks is being steadily blanketed by cellular signals, thus allowing visitors in its most remote corners to download music, stream videos or even hunt Pokémon, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Mount Rainier National Park in Washington State is now considering new commercial cellular facilities in a visitor center that will spill cell coverage across its surrounding designated wilderness.
Approximately 97% of Mount Rainier National Park is designated wilderness, which by law is to remain “untrammeled” by humans and be managed to preserve its wilderness character. The Park is now reviewing two right-of-way permit applications from Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile to install wireless communications facilities within the Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise. The Paradise area is surrounded by wilderness. The coverage maps from the two providers indicate that signals from their facilities will spill deeply into park wilderness. Public comment on “scoping” for the plan closes today.
“The essence of wilderness is escaping the electronic tendrils of civilization,” stated Jeff Ruch, Executive Director of PEER, which is urging the Park to reject the applications. “Public lands and resources should not be used to subvert wilderness for commercial purposes, especially in a place called Paradise.”
PEER further contends that officials should do more to protect the Park’s wilderness character, including:
- Adopting its stalled Wilderness Stewardship Plan. In late 2014, the Park announced that it would prepare a plan to guide the management of visitor use and enjoyment of the Mount Rainier Wilderness, while preserving its character. This plan’s draft environmental impact statement was scheduled for completion this year but has yet to materialize; and
- Limiting spillover from neighboring cell towers. Two cell towers bordering the Park are now covering Sunrise (in the east) and starting to cover areas near Longmire (in the southwest, east of Ashford). Coverage maps show large cellular signal footprints in surrounding park wilderness.
National Park Service Management Policy § 188.8.131.52 requires that “When construction of telecommunication facilities on nonpark lands might adversely impact park resources and values, superintendents will actively participate in the applicable planning and regulatory processes and seek to prevent or mitigate the adverse impacts.” In response to a PEER Freedom of Information Act request, the Park was unable to produce records of any attempts to limit cell signal spillover from the abutting towers.
“Considering projects with impacts on wilderness without an overall Wilderness Stewardship Plan puts the cart well before the horse,” added Ruch, expressing consternation that wilderness management still appears to remain an afterthought in a park consisting almost entirely of wilderness. “Little by little, antenna by antenna, tower by tower, the potential for true solitude in even the wildest places is inexorably eroding from the cumulative effects of official indifference.”