Lawsuit Filed to Protect Parks from Jet Skis

Lawsuit Filed to Protect Parks from Jet Skis

Danielle Fugere, Friends of the Earth 415-544-0790 x 15
Kristen Brengel, The Wilderness Society, 202-429-2694

Protecting National Parks and Visitors from Damaging Jet Skis
Environmental groups seek to reinstate agency decisions to remove jet skis from Pictured Rocks and Gulf Islands

Washington DC — Friends of the Earth and The Wilderness Society today filed a lawsuit to protect and preserve National Park System units by reinstating the agency’s previous decisions to discontinue jet ski use at Gulf Islands (FL and MS) and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (MI).

In 2000, the National Park Service concluded that jet ski use, a “controversial, recreational” activity, was inappropriate in most areas of the National Park System. The agency said jet skis (also known as personal watercraft) are “high performance vessels designed for speed and maneuverability and are often used to perform stunt-like maneuvers.” The agency focused on harm to the environment, conflicts with other visitors, and general safety issues when it decided to largely ban the use throughout the Park System.

Based on these negative impacts, many units moved to eliminate jet ski use, including Gulf Islands and Pictured Rocks, where jet ski use was discontinued from 2002 to 2006. Starting in 2006, the agency reversed itself and began finalizing new regulations allowing jet ski use back in these park units. These reversals violate both the recently adopted Park Service Management Policies and a settlement agreement reached by the Park Service and Bluewater Network in 2001. (The Bluewater Network is a division of Friends of the Earth).

“The decisions to re-open Gulf Islands and Pictured Rocks to jet skis appear to be based on politics, not sound science,” said Danielle Fugere of Friends of the Earth. “Eight years ago, the Park Service concluded that jet skis are dangerous and cause environmental harm, yet, without any new evidence, the Park Service changed course to allow jet skis back into these sensitive parks.

For example, in 2001, the Park Service decided that jet ski use is inappropriate at Gulf Islands National Seashore—a 160 mile stretch of barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico, off the shores of Florida and Mississippi. To support this decision, the agency explained that “PWC use poses considerable threats to estuarine flora and fauna, pollutes waters essential to estuarine and marine health, poses unacceptable risks of injury to operators and bystanders, and conflicts with the majority of other longstanding uses of the Seashore.” Nonetheless, in May 2006 the Park Service reopened Gulf Islands to jet skis.

“The National Park Service has lost sight of its mission,” said Kristen Brengel of The Wilderness Society. “The agency should have upheld its mission the conserve park resources and restored the protections for Pictured Rocks and Gulf Islands by reinstating the prohibitions on jet skis. We need to make sure the Interior Department and National Park Service serves the American public by ensuring these places are safe and protected.”

In 2006, Secretary Kempthorne endorsed the National Park Service management policies. Among other direction, the policies state:

* “…when there is a conflict between conserving resources and values and providing for enjoyment of them, conservation is to be predominant.”

* “The National Park Service will preserve, to the greatest extent possible, the natural soundscapes of parks.”

Friends of the Earth and The Wilderness Society filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. and are represented by Howard Crystal of Meyer, Glitzenstein, and Crystal. The organizations are asking the court to uphold Park Service laws and an existing settlement agreement by discontinuing jet ski use at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Gulf Islands National Seashore.