Yellowstone’s Thermal Features vs. Expanded Bandwidth

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For Immediate Release:  Wednesday, April 14, 2021
Contact:  Jeff Ruch (510) 213-7028; Kirsten Stade

Yellowstone’s Thermal Features vs. Expanded Bandwidth

Plan to Bury 187 Miles of Fiber Optic Cable May Damage Park “Hot” Spots

Washington, DC — A plan to bury 187 miles of fiber optic cable may compromise some of the unique hydrothermal features that led to the creation of Yellowstone National Park back in 1872, according to a filing today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The plan would multiply bandwidth in the park some 300,000-fold by trenching areas where specialists warn further infrastructure should be “prohibited” and current infrastructure should be removed, where possible, not expanded.

Yellowstone officials are pushing a plan to bury 187 miles of fiber optic cable along its existing road network to dramatically strengthen its internet connectivity. Unfortunately, those roads traverse areas that run the “risk of permanently impairing the Old Faithful hydrothermal system,” according to a report from an expert panel the park convened in 2014. In some instances, existing roads have already “catastrophically” harmed resources, such as excavation for the Old Faithful overpass which dried up nearby hot springs.

“Yellowstone was founded to allow the public to commune with natural wonders found no place else on the planet, not to better commune with Verizon,” stated Pacific PEER Director Jeff Ruch, noting that today marks the close of public comments on the plan. “Rather than undo mistakes of the past, Yellowstone’s leaders seem determined to double down on them.”

The plan’s Environmental Assessment concedes hydrogeological risks but suggests work-arounds such as re-routing cables, digging shallower trenches, and otherwise avoiding thermal features “to the maximum extent possible.” The efficacy of these tactics remains unclear, yet the park seeks to make a “Finding of No Significant Impact” – the same finding it has made in approving previous telecommunication expansions, such as installation of a wi-fi network in historic buildings, a giant cellular bunker atop Mt. Washburn (its most popular hiking destination), and a web of new cell towers.

One supposed benefit of the plan is that it would allow removal of five passive reflectors located in park backcountry. Ironically, these reflectors were illegally authorized by the park, an error which it compounded by chain-sawing trees in areas recommended as wilderness to improve their signal strength. In addition, there is no guarantee of the structures’ removal as who would pay for the reflectors’ removal and over what time period is left unspecified.

“Yellowstone has yet to say ‘no’ to any telecom proposal and, unfortunately, the park appears to be greasing the skids for this one, as well,” added Ruch. “While this plan may have some surface appeal, there are so many unanswered questions and unknown impacts in so many locations, this proposal should be withdrawn or subjected to far more extensive study.”


Read PEER comments

View Yellowstone’s EA

Examine Yellowstone hydrogeology report

See Yellowstone’s new Wi-Fi network and passive reflector fiasco

Look at transformation of Mt. Washburn 

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