June 13, 2023
Ms. Natalie Gates, Superintendent
Haleakalā National Park
PO Box 369
Makawao, HI 96768
Subject: Air Tour Management Plan and Environmental Assessment for Haleakalā National Park
Dear Superintendent Gates:
I am writing on behalf of over 2,400 members of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks (Coalition), all of whom have worked or volunteered for the National Park Service (NPS) and who collectively represent more than 45,000 years of national park management experience. The Coalition studies, educates, speaks, and acts for the preservation of America’s National Park System. Among our members are former NPS directors, regional directors, superintendents, resource specialists, rangers, maintenance and administrative staff, and a full array of other former employees, volunteers, and supporters.
We offer the following comments for your consideration regarding the proposed Air Tour Management Plan (ATMP) and Environmental Assessment (EA) for Haleakalā National Park (Park or HALE).
1. First, we commend the agencies for preparing a proper environmental assessment (EA) for the proposed ATMP that considers a range of alternatives and evaluates the potential impacts of those alternatives –When considering a proposed agency action, such as a new ATMP, NPS must comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and related guidance, including the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) NEPA implementing regulations (40 CFR Parts 1500-1508) and with the agency’s own NEPA guidance found in the NPS NEPA Handbook 2015. We have been deeply concerned that NPS has failed to comply with basic NEPA guidance by issuing numerous previous “proposed ATMPs” for other parks without considering a reasonable range of alternatives and without preparing any sort of NEPA analysis for public review. We applaud you and the planning team for following the appropriate NEPA process requirements that the HALE proposal deserves.
2. Compliance with the NPS Organic Act (54 USC §100101) is integral to compliance with the National Parks Air Tour Management Act (49 USC §40128), yet the EA barely mentions the Organic Act or its relevance – Section 802 (Findings) of the National Parks Air Tour Management Act (NPATMA) states, in part: “Congress finds that—
(1) the Federal Aviation Administration has sole authority to control airspace over the United States;
(2) the Federal Aviation Administration has the authority to preserve, protect, and enhance the environment by minimizing, mitigating, or preventing the adverse effects of aircraft overflights on public and tribal lands;
(3) the National Park Service has the responsibility of conserving the scenery and natural and historic objects and wildlife in national parks and of providing for the enjoyment of the national parks in ways that leave the national parks unimpaired for future generations” (Emphasis added)
The NPS “responsibility for conserving” park resources and values mentioned in NPATMA §802(3) above derives directly from the NPS Organic Act and is often referred to as the NPS “conservation mandate.” As described in NPS Management Policies 2006, Section 1.4.1: “The most important statutory directive for the National Park Service is provided by interrelated provisions of the NPS Organic Act of 1916 and the NPS General Authorities Act of 1970, including amendments to the latter law enacted in 1978.” As further stated in Management Policies Section 1.4.3:
The fundamental purpose of the national park system, established by the Organic Act and reaffirmed by the General Authorities Act, as amended, begins with a mandate to conserve park resources and values. This mandate is independent of the separate prohibition on impairment and applies all the time with respect to all park resources and values, even when there is no risk that any park resources or values may be impaired… Congress, recognizing that the enjoyment by future generations of the national parks can be ensured only if the superb quality of park resources and values is left unimpaired, has provided that when there is a conflict between conserving resources and values and providing for enjoyment of them, conservation is to be predominant. This is how courts have consistently interpreted the Organic Act. (Emphasis added)
Given that both the proposed ATMP and EA are or should be focused on evaluating potential impacts of commercial air tours on the park’s natural and cultural resources, and visitor experiences, we would expect the NPS conservation mandate to serve as a key basis for evaluating those impacts. However, we are quite concerned that the EA barely mentions the Organic Act (e.g., it is mentioned in regard to cultural resources on EA p. 69). In our view, the NPS conservation mandate is so important to the management of air tours in national parks that Congress chose to embed a key portion of the Organic Act in Section 802(3) of the NPATMA. To address this concern, we recommend that a section summarizing applicable laws relevant to the proposed action, including the NPS Organic Act, be added to Chapter 1 or as an appendix.
3. The EA appropriately considers the 2015 Foundation Document for Haleakalā National Park, which provides important context for the planning process regarding the park’s significance and fundamental resources that could be adversely affected by commercial air tours – As described in the document: “Haleakalā National Park is a sacred place to kānaka maoli (Native Hawaiians) and is fundamentally linked to their traditional and contemporary beliefs, practices, and way of life… From ancient times to the present, Native Hawaiians have used particular areas, sites, and features within the current park boundaries for a broad range of activities, cultural practices, and protocols including ceremonies, spiritual training, practices related to birth and burial, resource collection, and travel across East Maui.”
The purpose statement for the park is: “For the inspiration of current and future generations, Haleakalā National Park protects a wild volcanic landscape with a wide array of fragile and diverse native ecosystems, including plant and animal species found nowhere else on earth. Our stewardship perpetuates the unique and continuing connections between Hawaiian culture and this sacred and evolving land.”
The document identifies “fundamental resources and values” that help focus planning and management efforts on what is truly significant about the park. Fundamental resources and values are “those qualities that are essential (fundamental) to achieving the purpose of the park and maintaining its significance.” (Emphasis added) HALE’s fundamental resources and values identified in the Foundation Document, which are potentially impacted by air tours, include:
• Natural Sounds, Viewsheds, and Dark Night Skies – Natural sounds, panoramic views, and dark night skies greatly contribute to Haleakalā’s unique sense of place. Ambient sound levels in the Haleakalā Crater are so low that they approach the threshold of human hearing, and the crater and summit offer world-renowned stargazing opportunities. .. The preservation of natural sounds, viewsheds, and dark night skies is also critical to effective wilderness management.
• Kīpahulu Moku District (including ‘Ohe‘o Gulch and Palikea Stream) – Handed down over the centuries through oral tradition and practice, the ‘Aha Moku system is the traditional Hawaiian system of natural resource division and management for ocean and land resources.
• Wilderness – Approximately 24,000 acres of Haleakalā National Park is federally designated wilderness.
• Ongoing Connections to Living Hawaiian Culture – Haleakalā National Park has cultural and spiritual value for Native Hawaiians who have used particular places, sites, and resources in the park for a broad range of activities from ancient times to the present. Among these traditional cultural activities are ritual ceremonies, spiritual training, and practices related to birth and burial.
The cultural and spiritual importance of the Haleakalā landscape to Native Hawaiians cannot be overstated. Haleakalā National Park is a sacred place to kānaka maoli (Native Hawaiians) and is fundamentally linked to their traditional and contemporary beliefs, practices, and way of life. The concept of kuleana (responsibility) is central to these beliefs, passed on from the kūpuna (ancestors) to future generations to ensure stewardship and respect for all things spiritual and physical. Closely connected to kuleana is the concept of mālama ‘āina, caring for and nurturing the land so it continues to provide the essential means and resources necessary to sustain life for present and future generations. For Native Hawaiians, the summit of Haleakalā is the Wao Akua (“Place of the Gods”) where the demigod Maui snared the sun. From ancient times to the present, Native Hawaiians have used particular areas, sites, and features within the current park boundaries for a broad range of activities, cultural practices, and protocols including ceremonies, spiritual training, practices related to birth and burial, resource collection, and travel across East Maui. As a result, the sacred nature of the Park’s landscape to Native Hawaiians provides one of the, if not the most, compelling reasons to eliminate air tours at HAVO.
4. Consistent with NPS Management Policies Section 1.5, the EA should include an “appropriate use analysis” for the proposed action – Management Policies Section 1.5 states, in part: “An ‘appropriate use’ is a use that is suitable, proper, or fitting for a particular park, or to a particular location within a park. Not all uses are appropriate or allowable in units of the national park system, and what is appropriate may vary from one park to another and from one location to another within a park…When proposed park uses and the protection of park resources and values come into conflict, the protection of resources and values must be predominant. A new form of park use may be allowed within a park only after a determination has been made in the professional judgment of the superintendent that it will not result in unacceptable impacts.” (Emphasis added)
The NPATMA established procedural requirements for allowing air tours over parks; however, the Act does NOT mandate that commercial air tours are appropriate and must be allowed. In fact, section (b)(3)(A) of the Act provides that the agencies “may prohibit commercial air tour operations over a national park in whole or in part.” Under the Act, air tours are essentially a discretionary activity subject to agency approval. To our knowledge, NPS has never formally considered or determined whether commercial air tours are an appropriate use of (or over) HALE. As a result, we strongly recommend that the EA be amended (e.g., through errata or as an appendix) to include an appropriate use analysis as described in Management Policies Section 1.5.
5. The eventual decision document for the ATMP should include an “impairment determination” for the proposed action – NPS Management Policies Section 1.4.7, states, in part: “Before approving a proposed action that could lead to an impairment of park resources and values, an NPS decision-maker must consider the impacts of the proposed action and determine, in writing, that the activity will not lead to an impairment of park resources and values. If there would be an impairment, the action must not be approved.” (Emphasis added) Furthermore, “[t]he impact threshold at which impairment occurs is not always readily apparent. Therefore, the Service will apply a standard that offers greater assurance that impairment will not occur. The Service will do this by avoiding impacts that it determines to be unacceptable. These are impacts that fall short of impairment, but are still not acceptable within a particular park’s environment.” (Emphasis added) As a result, we strongly recommend that the eventual decision document, presumably a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), includes an impairment determination as described in Management Policies Section 1.4.7.
6. Section 9.0 (“Amendment”) of the ATMP itself should be revised – We have a significant concern about Section 9.0 in the proposed ATMP. This section of the ATMP is not described in the EA. The very first sentence in Section 9.0 (ATMP p. 16) states that “the ATMP may be amended at any time” (emphasis added) if either NPS or the FAA notifies the other agency. We imagine that the Amendment clause is intended to convey the concept that the ATMP could be updated and revised if/when the agencies determine it is needed and appropriate; and we fully understand that all management plans are subject to future change.
However, the use of the words “at any time” creates the distinct impression that reversal of the ATMP decision and/or resumption of air tours at HALE could happen on short-notice (i.e., “at any time”). This wording also suggests there is little certainty that the significant reduction of air tours proposed at HALE would be a durable decision (since it could be changed “at any time”). In our view, creating such uncertainty in the ATMP unnecessarily invites industry appeals and/or political intervention on behalf of air tour operators. Our observation has been that many NPS management decisions that curtail or eliminate controversial recreational and commercial activities in parks, such as off-road vehicle (ORV) use, hunting, and in this case commercial air tours, are often subject to industry lobbying and/or political reversal, especially if/when there is a change in administration.
Over 20 years after the passage of the NPATMA, litigation was needed to force the agencies to finally prepare the required ATMPs. Moving forward, it is critical that the new ATMPs are widely viewed as providing for consistent long-term air tour management at the individual parks involved, rather than creating the distinct impression of uncertainty about longevity. Toward that end, we recommend that the agencies revise the wording of Section 9.0 of the ATMP itself to state the following:
(add new first sentence) This ATMP will remain in effect until amended or terminated by mutual agreement of the agencies. This ATMP may be amended at any time (i.e., delete: “at any time”): if the NPS, by notification to the FAA and the operator(s), determines that the ATMP is not adequately protecting Park resources and/or visitor enjoyment; if the FAA, by notification to the NPS and the operator(s), determines that the ATMP is adversely affecting aviation safety and/or the national aviation system; or, if the agencies determine that appropriate changes to this ATMP are necessary to address new information or changed circumstances.
These minor revisions would affirm the intended stability and longevity of the ATMP; and refocus the Amendment provision on the limited circumstances that could justify reconsideration of the ATMP, rather than on the potential timing or abruptness of amending the ATMP.
SECTION-BY-SECTION COMMENTS ABOUT THE EA
1. Section 1.1 Introduction – The third paragraph of this section describes the “objective” of ATMP under the NPATMA, as follows: “The objective of the ATMP, under the Act, is to develop acceptable and effective measures to mitigate or prevent significant adverse impacts, if any, of commercial air tour operations on the Park’s natural and cultural resources, Native Hawaiian sacred sites and ceremonial areas, Wilderness character, and visitor experience.” (Emphasis added) Of concern (again), the NPS Organic Act’s “fundamental purpose of parks” statement (54 U.S.C §100101(a)) provides the legal basis for conserving the above mentioned park resources and values, yet there is no mention of the Organic Act in this section of the EA or in the ATMP itself. As described in General Comment # 2 above, compliance with the NPS conservation mandate under the Organic Act is integral to compliance with §802(3) of the NPATMA. To address this concern, we recommend that a new section summarizing applicable laws relevant to the proposed action, including the NPS Organic Act and the HALE enabling legislation be added to Chapter 1 or as an appendix. Or, at the very least, this section could include a sentence stating that “Conservation of park resources and values is a fundamental purpose of units of the National Park System as described in the NPS Organic Act (54 U.S.C §100101(a)).”
2. Section 1.4 Purpose and Need – A stated in this section, “The purpose of the ATMP is to comply with the Act and other applicable laws…” (Emphasis added) Similar to our previous comment, this would seem to be the perfect opportunity to identify the “other applicable” laws, such as the NPS Organic Act, that the agencies considered or should have considered during the development of the ATMP. By not identifying any other “applicable laws,” it leaves the impression that the agencies have not consciously considered the proposed action within the context of the Organic Act’s conservation mandate. This should be addressed by providing a brief summary of “other applicable laws” in Chapter 1 or as an appendix to the EA.
3. Section 1.5 Environmental Impact Categories Not Analyzed in Detail – As described in this section of the EA, the agencies have appropriately identified a number of impact categories that were considered but not analyzed in detail. In our view, the dismissed categories are generally not relevant or significant to the analysis; and the impact categories that have been carried forward for detailed analysis in the EA include the most relevant or significant impact topics for the analysis that follows in Chapter 3 of the EA.
1. Section 2.1 Alternatives Development – We greatly appreciate the detailed description of how the ATMP preliminary alternatives were developed primarily by an NPS inter-disciplinary team and then reviewed by the FAA. We also appreciate the detailed references to the Park’s Foundation Document purposes and management objectives, which helped inform development of the alternatives. In general, we believe that the agencies have developed and considered an appropriate range of alternatives. It also is very appropriate that the alternative of “Air Tours Above Existing Levels or Air Tours at Existing Levels with Current Operating Parameters” has been eliminated from further study for the reasons stated in Section 2.2.1.
2. Section 2.4 Alternative 1 (No Action Alternative) – As described in this section, “[t]he No Action Alternative represents a continuation of what is currently flown under existing conditions…” We strongly agree with the statement that “[t]he No Action Alternative provides a basis for comparison but is not a selectable alternative because it does not meet the purpose and need for the ATMP (refer to Section 1.4, Purpose and Need).” (Emphasis added) It is highly evident from the impact analysis of the No Action Alternative in Chapter 3 that the existing air tour situation at HALE is causing unacceptable impacts to the Park’s resources and values that are supposed to be conserved unimpaired under the NPS Organic Act.
3. Section 2.5 Alternative 2 (Elimination of Air Tours) – As described, “Alternative 2 provides the greatest level of protection for the purposes, resources, and values of the Park because it would not authorize air tours in the ATMP planning area. This includes the summit of Haleakalā (meaning rim and crater), a TCP which holds spiritual and cultural significance to Native Hawaiians; threatened and endangered species and other wildlife sensitive to noise; Congressionally designated Wilderness and visitor opportunities for solitude; visitor experience; Native Hawaiian traditional cultural practices; scenic qualities, and natural sounds… Air tours outside of the ATMP planning area (i.e., at or above 5,000 ft. AGL or more than ½-mile outside the Park boundary) are not subject to the Act and are therefore not regulated under the ATMP. ” (Emphasis added)
Alternative 2 would clearly provide “the greatest level of protection for the purposes, resources, and values of the Park.” Given the cultural, biological and Wilderness significance of HALE, we believe that elimination of air tours should have been identified as the Preferred Alternative for this ATMP. It is the alternative that is most consistent with NPS Management Policies Section 1.4.3, which states: “[W]hen there is a conflict between conserving resources and values and providing for enjoyment of them, conservation is to be predominant.”
4. Section 2.6 Alternative 3 (Preferred Alternative) – As described in the EA, Alternative 3 would authorize 2,412 commercial air tours per year within the ATMP planning area. Thus, it would authorize 50% of the existing number of flights to travel within the ATMP planning area based on the three-year average of reporting data from 2017-2019.
Alternative 3 would authorize a single one-way, west to east, flight path with a minimum altitude requirement of 2,000 ft. AGL over land and 3,000 ft. AGL over the ocean as described below:
1. The first segment of the route would enter the ATMP planning area at the southern boundary of the State Kahikinui Forest Reserve at a minimum altitude of 2,000 ft. AGL. Aircraft would maintain a minimum altitude of 2,000 ft. AGL across the Nuʻu area until they exit the ATMP planning area.
2. The second segment of the route would re-enter the ATMP planning area within ½ mile from the northern edge of the Park’s Denman parcel in Kaupō at a minimum altitude of 2,000 ft. AGL. Aircraft would maintain a minimum altitude of 2,000 ft. AGL until they exit the ATMP planning area.
3. The third segment of the route would re-enter the ATMP planning area ½ mile from the Park’s Kaʻāpahu area at a minimum altitude of 2,000 ft. AGL. Aircraft would maintain a minimum altitude of 2,000 ft. AGL until they exit the ATMP planning area.
4. The fourth segment of the route would re-enter the ATMP planning area offshore from Kīpahulu at a minimum altitude of 3,000 ft. AGL. Aircraft would maintain a minimum altitude of 3,000 ft. AGL until they exit the ATMP planning area.
In comparison to the No Action Alternative, Alternative 3 would significantly reduce how much of the park would be impacted by air tour noise by restricting flights to a single designated route (with 4 route segments) and by limiting the number of flights per day. Nevertheless, reduced impacts is not no impacts and there will continue to be unacceptable impacts to park resources under Alternative 3 in the number of days per year and flights per day, and in the spatial extent of flights. Sixteen (16) flights per day between 11 am and 4 pm translates to more than 3 flights per hour during high visitation hours of the day. Although air tours would be restricted to altitudes above 3,000 feet AGL, it means that visitors to the Park could still experience noise and visual disturbance while hiking trails or staying at campsites at higher elevations.
Even with Alternative 3’s flight restrictions, sections of Wilderness, especially in the Kīpahulu Biological Reserve, would still be exposed to noise above 35 dBA when flights occur. As reported in the EA, the majority of the Reserve would experience noise above 35 dBA for less than 30 min per day in southern areas near the coast. The Kīpahulu Biological Reserve, though, is one of the most sensitive biological areas in the National Park System where some of the most endangered birds in the world are facing extinction. The Reserve also provides an exceptional Wilderness experience for visitors to hear rare birds and silence.
While the operating parameters in Alternative 3 may be intended to protect cultural resources and related cultural landscapes and ethnographic resources throughout the Park, the EA does not take into full account the concerns of Native Hawaiians who consider the entire park as sacred from the mountain to the sea. For example, only 6 days per year are identified as no-fly days to reduce conflicts with Native Hawaiian ceremonial practices; however, these areas, which include sacred sites and fishing grounds, are accessed and used for cultural purposes on many days throughout the year.
As noted in Table 13, under the Alternative 3, there would still be 15-45 min per day of sound above 35 dBA in parts of the Park. The Kīpahulu District in particular protects multiple intact ahupua’a, which are traditional Native Hawaiian land divisions that protect all resources from sea to summit. For this reason, the coastal leg of the flight route will continue to impact important native Hawaiian resources, practices, and rituals.
In brief, while Alternative 3 represents a significant improvement in resource protection over the No Action Alternative, it would still result in significantly more adverse impacts than Alternative 2. For this reason, we strongly support the selection of Alternative 2, the elimination of air tours at HALE.
5. Section 2.7 Summary of ATMP Alternatives – Table 2 provides a side-by-side comparison of various Alternative Attributes for Alternatives 1-3. We call your attention to the “Monitoring and Enforcement” attribute on p. 28 of the EA. As described in the table, monitoring associated with Alternative 3would focus primarily on documenting flight numbers and locations. There is no mention of resource monitoring to document ongoing impacts to natural and cultural resources that would undoubtedly continue to be adversely affected by air tour noise disturbance along the designated route corridors.
The lack of a resource monitoring plan is an obvious and significant flaw in the proposed action. If NPS decides to allow air tours to continue at HALE, we strongly recommend that NPS develop and include a monitoring plan that would systematically and periodically assesses the impacts of air tour noise on wildlife, Wilderness character, sites/locations used for Native Hawaiian cultural practices, and recreational activities in general. Such information will be essential for evaluating the effectiveness of the ATMP over time and for informing future amendments of it.
Chapter 3 includes comparative analyses of the respective alternatives on various impact categories (i.e., resources or uses affected by air tours) at HALE. Nearly every analysis indicates that Alternative 2, the elimination of air tours at HALE, would provide the greatest level of protection and/or restoration of resources at the park. Our comments below are focused on the impact categories that we believe would receive the most significant benefits of significantly reducing or eliminating air tours at the Park.
1. Section 3.1 Noise and Noise-Compatible Land Use – This section includes appropriate references to relevant FAA and NPS policies. Specifically, FAA Order 1050.1F, paragraph 11-5.b(10) defines a noise sensitive area as “[a]n area where noise interferes with normal activities associated with its use. Normally, noise sensitive areas include residential, educational, health, religious structures and sites, parks, recreational areas, areas with Wilderness characteristics, wildlife refuges, and cultural and historical sites.” (Emphasis added) In other words, the entirety of HALE is a noise sensitive area.
NPS Management Policies (2006) Section 4.9, Soundscape Management, directs the NPS to preserve soundscapes and the acoustic environment to the greatest extent possible and to restore these resources to their natural condition wherever they have become degraded by noise and unwanted sounds. In other words, NPS management polices direct NPS to restore the natural soundscape at HALE that has been adversely impacted by air tour noise.
In addition, the HALE Foundation Document identifies natural sounds as a fundamental resource and value of the Park. The natural soundscape is a highly desired value for park visitors as well as for Native Hawaiians who consider the Park to be a sacred place; and low ambient sounds plays a vital role in the health of HALE’s natural ecosystems.
Section 3.1’s comparative analysis of the noise levels likely to be caused by the respective alternatives strongly supports Alternative 2 as the alternative with the greatest likelihood of restoring the natural soundscape at HALE, consistent with FAA Order 1050.1F and NPS Management Polices Section 4.9.
Under Alternative 1 (No Action), more than half (53%) of the ATMP planning area would experience audible air tour noise for more than 120 minutes a day (non-contiguous); and 100% of the ATMP planning area would continue to experience audible air tour noise. Alternative 2 would provide 365 days per year that are free of noise from air tours within the ATMP planning area and would reduce noise in the most noise sensitive regions of the Park resulting in direct beneficial effects compared to the No Action Alternative and Alternative 3. Alternative 3 (Preferred Alternative) would provide 112 days per year free of noise from air tours within the ATMP planning area and a reduction in the overall noise footprint (average sound level over a 12-hour day) compared to current conditions. Because Alternative 2 would clearly result in the greatest reduction of air tour noise, we support the elimination of air tours at HALE.
2. Section 3.3 Biological Resources – The Park protects a unique diversity of native wildlife species, over 90% of which are endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. Several native mammal and bird species occurring within the ATMP planning area are federally and state listed threatened or endangered species. The biological resources analyzed in this section include both listed and non-listed wildlife most likely to be affected by the alternatives.
As described in the analysis, protected mammal and bird species are adversely impacted by existing levels of aircraft noise. Alternative 2 (elimination of air tours) would provide the greatest level of protection to the park’s biological resources and would likely “have no effect on federally listed threatened or endangered species.” In contrast, the Preferred Alternative (Alternative 3) “may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect” 16 federally listed threatened or endangered species. See Appendix H, Table 2. Because elimination of air tours would provide the greatest positive benefits to Park wildlife, including several federally listed species, we fully support selection and implementation of Alternative 2.
3. Section 3.4 3.4 Cultural Resources – The National Historic Preservation ACT (NHPA), 54 U.S.C. §§ 300101 et seq., is comprehensive federal preservation legislation intended to protect cultural resources. Section 106 of the NHPA (54 U.S.C. § 306108), as implemented in 36 CFR Part 800, requires federal agencies to consider the effects of undertakings on historic properties, should any such properties exist. In addition to Section 106 of the NHPA, the NPS’s Organic Act* and Section 110 of the NHPA apply to and provide for the preservation of historic, ethnographic and cultural resources on parkland. (*EA p. 69 is a rare instance in which the EA actually mentions the NPS Organic Act.)
The EA, Table 10, identifies 32 cultural resources within the Area of Potential Effect (APE), including historic, architectural, archeological, and cultural resources, inclusive of ethnographic resources, traditional cultural properties (TCPs), sacred sites, cultural landscapes, historic districts, prehistoric sites, and historic buildings and structures. It is noteworthy that the Haleakalā Summit is considered a TCP because of its associations with the cultural practices, traditions, beliefs, lifeways, arts, crafts, or social institutions of the Native Hawaiian community. Commercial air tours, by their nature, have the potential to impact resources for which feeling and setting are contributing elements.
Under Alternative 1 (the No Action Alternative), cultural resources within the APE would continue to be adversely affected by air tours, as noise and visual effects would impact the feeling and setting of those resources.
Under Alternative 2, the elimination of commercial air tours from the ATMP planning area would significantly reduce the noise and visual intrusions from directly impacting the feeling and setting of cultural resources within the APE and result in the greatest beneficial impacts to ethnographic resources and sacred sites, TCPs, archeological resources, cultural landscapes, historic districts, prehistoric sites, and historic buildings and structures compared to current conditions. Indirect noise impacts may still occur due to air tours displaced to outside the ATMP planning area.
The authorized flight path under Alternative 3 would not fly directly over many of the Park’s sacred sites and ethnographic resources, including many significant features of the Haleakalā Summit TCP, and the Park’s National Register listed and eligible resources, including the Crater Historic District, Kīpahulu Historic District, Hanā Belt Road, Nuʻu Archeological Sites, Kaʻāpahu Archeological Sites, and Naholoku Archeological Sites. However, some points in the Kīpahulu Historic District, Puhilele Archeological Sites, Kaʻāpahu Archeological Sites and near the Keakalauae Heiau, Lonoaea Heiau, Lonoʻoʻaiʻa Heiau, Mound, Pictograph and Rock Shelter, Puʻumakaʻa Heiau, Terraces, and four Wall sites may actually experience an increase in noise intensity from existing conditions as more flights may fly this path than currently fly over those areas.
Because the elimination of air tours would provide the greatest level of protection for the diverse cultural resources within the APE, we fully support the selection and implementation of Alternative 2. It would be the most appropriate alternative to implement under applicable NHPA, FAA, and NPS cultural resource guidelines and policies.
4. Section 3.5 Wilderness – The Wilderness Act of 1964 is the primary federal legislation regulating the management of designated Wilderness areas. While Wilderness is not an impact category the FAA traditionally examines, the NPS has agency wide (see NPS Management Policies (2006), Chapter 6, and Director’s Order 41, 2013) and park specific guidelines (NPS, 2015) for managing designated Wilderness areas within the National Park System. Approximately 24,719 acres, or 74 percent, of the Park is federally designated Wilderness. The Wilderness area includes the majority of the Haleakalā Crater, Manawainui, and the Kīpahulu Biological Reserve, which protects one of the most intact rainforest ecosystems in the Hawaiian Islands.
The NPS manages the Wilderness for the following qualities of Wilderness character:
• Untrammeled: Unhindered and free from the actions of modern human control or manipulation. Natural: Ecological systems are substantially free from the effects of modern civilization.
• Undeveloped: Retaining primeval character and influence without permanent improvements or modern human occupation.
• Solitude or Primitive and Unconfined Recreation: Ability to provide outstanding opportunities for solitude or primitive and unconfined type of recreation.
• Other features of value: Wilderness preserves other features of value that are of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value.
Air tours would have no direct effect on the “untrammeled” and undeveloped” qualities of the four Wilderness units at HALE; while potential impacts to “other features” (e.g., cultural resources) are evaluated elsewhere in the EA. As a result, the EA analysis focuses on potential impacts to the “natural” and “solitude” qualities of Wilderness character. Because natural sound is such an integral part of Wilderness character, the NPS considers noise above 35 dBA to negatively impact Wilderness character.
Under Alternative 2, commercial air tour aircraft would not fly within the ATMP planning area, which would offer the greatest protection to Wilderness character.
Alternative 3 would not allow air tours to be conducted over the Haleakalā Wilderness and would authorize a route that is farther from Wilderness (approximately 1.5 miles) as compared to those flown under existing conditions. However, noise from air tours over other portions of the ATMP planning area could still affect the Haleakalā Wilderness under this alternative. The Noise Technical Analysis (Appendix F, Figure 13) shows that on days when air tours occur, noise above 35 dBA would occur for less than 30 minutes a day in the Haleakalā Wilderness, including in the Kīpahulu Biological Reserve. These impacts detract from the natural quality of Wilderness in some discrete locations where air tour noise would reach native forest bird habitat, although it would represent a reduction in impacts compared to current conditions. However, the maximum time that air tours could be audible within the Haleakalā Wilderness exceeds 105 minutes a day (non-contiguous), and 100% of the Wilderness would experience audible air tour noise. This noise detracts from the opportunity for solitude as it introduces sounds of human activity and therefore detracts from this quality of Wilderness character, although it would be less than current conditions.
Based on the noise impact analysis in the EA, Alternative 2 would provide the greatest level of protection to Wilderness character at HALE and is therefore the most appropriate alternative to implement under applicable NPS Wilderness stewardship policies.
5. Section 3.6 Visitor Use and Experience and Other Recreational Opportunities – While visitor experience is not an impact category the FAA traditionally examines, the NPS has agency wide (NPS Management Policies § 8.2, 2006) for managing visitors within the National Park System. This section also examines impacts to air tour customers.
As described in the EA, between 2017 and 2019, the Park averaged 1.05 million visitors annually. During the same period, an estimated 24,120 people (or 2% of park visitors) took commercial air tours of the Park. This estimate is based on reported air tours from 2017-2019 (4,824), multiplied by an estimated 5 passenger seats per aircraft. Within the Park, the Summit District (which includes the lands west of the Kīpahulu Biological Reserve) sees approximately 3-4 times as much visitation as the Kīpahulu District. The Kīpahulu District is located in a remote area of Maui and offers opportunities to learn about Native Hawaiian culture and experience the lush landscape of the wet forest community.
Natural quiet is a foundational resource for the Park and a primary reason for visitation, and air tours disrupt natural quiet throughout the Park which affects the visitor experience for activities such as hiking, bird watching, and the ability to hear natural sounds such as bird song which value natural quiet. The primary effect of commercial air tours is the introduction of noise into the acoustic environment of the Park.
Under existing conditions, air tours are concentrated over the Park’s Kīpahulu District and near the Haleakalā Summit, which would likely continue under Alternative 1, the No Action Alternative. Under Alternative 2, commercial air tours would not fly within the ATMP planning area which would eliminate this source of noise from the ATMP planning area for up to 1.05 million park visitors each year.
Alternative 3 would permit air tours to be conducted along a designated route and altitudes. The authorized route avoids flying directly over or close to areas of primary importance for visitor use and experience, including the Haleakalā Crater and Summit District, Waimoku Falls, Kīpahulu District, and Kīpahulu Visitor Center, which would limit the noise effects of commercial air tours in these visitor use areas. When compared to current conditions, Alternative 3 would result in fewer negative impacts to visitor experience in most areas of the Park. However, Alternative 3 would result in more time above 52 dBA at the Kīpahulu Visitor Center than the No Action Alternative, which would correspond with more impacts to interpretive programs in this location.
The visual and noise intrusions of helicopter overflights inevitably have impacts, mostly negative, on the experience of many park visitors. As a result, any alternative that would allow continued helicopter tours at HALE at any level would adversely impact the experiences of a high number of park visitors on the ground, while providing an air tour experience to a comparatively limited number of air tour customers annually. How is it acceptable for the possibly positive experiences of several people on a helicopter tour to negatively impact dozens or hundreds of other park visitors on the ground?
It is clear from the Noise Technical Analysis that Alternative 2 would provide the greatest level of protection from (i.e., the greatest level of reduction of ) air tour noise that significantly impacts visitor use and experience at the current level of air tours at HALE. While Alternative 3 would provide significant improvement (i.e., reduction in air tour noise) over existing conditions, it would still allow for more cumulative noise impacts than Alternative 2. For this reason, we support the selection and implementation of Alternative 2.
6. Section 3.8 Visual Effects – As described in this section, visual resources include buildings, sites, TCPs, and other natural or manmade landscape features that are visually important or have unique characteristics. In addition, visual resources can include the cohesive collection of various individual visual resources that can be viewed at once or in concert from the area surrounding the site of the alternatives. Visual character refers to the overall visual makeup of the existing environment where the alternatives would be located. NPS Management Policies (2006) Section 1.4.6 provides that scenic views and vistas are Park resources that are subject to protection under the NPS Organic Act.
As 74% of the Park is Congressionally designated Wilderness, the natural areas and features provide an aesthetic and visual character unique to the Park. Viewsheds are a fundamental resource and value of the Park and panoramic views within the Park greatly contribute to the unique sense of place of Haleakalā. Within the Park, visual resources include the Haleakalā Crater, Haleakalā Summit, sunrise and sunset vistas, waterfalls, forest canopy, the ocean, and the nighttime sky.
Studies indicate that aircraft noise in national parks can impact human perceptions of aesthetic quality of viewsheds (Weinzimmer et al., 2014; Benfield et al., 2018). Visitors may notice aircraft overflights because of the accompanying noise. Aircraft are particularly noticeable in the natural, Wilderness character of the Haleakalā backcountry and from the high elevation crater overlooks.
Under Alternative 1, reporting data from 2017-2019 indicates that visitors have the potential, on average, to see commercial air tour aircraft approximately 14 times per day, with existing air tours occurring between 7 AM and 5 PM. Aircraft are visible to visitors including those in the crater, at the Haleakalā Visitor Center, and at points of interest in the Kīpahulu District such as Waimoku Falls.
Under Alternative 2, commercial air tour aircraft would not fly within the ATMP planning area so commercial air tours in this area would not detract from visual resources in the visual effects study area. Visual character would improve significantly compared to current conditions; and Alternative 2 would provide the greatest protection to Park viewsheds across the three alternatives.
Under Alternative 3, some Park viewsheds could experience temporary impacts when commercial air tours are flying within the ATMP planning area, and those instances would be limited to viewsheds where aircraft could be seen along the designated route and altitudes. Visitors would have the potential to see commercial air tour aircraft up to 16 times per day and no more than 2,412 times per year. Because Alternative 2 would provide the greatest level of protection to the park’s visual resources, we strongly support the selection and implementation of Alternative 2 at HALE.
7. Section 3.11 Summary of Environmental Consequences – Table 13 provides a side-by-side comparison of the environmental consequences for each of the alternatives considered across each environmental impact category. This comparison provides overwhelming evidence that Alternative 2, the elimination of air tours, would provide the greatest level of protection to or within the various impact categories analyzed in the EA. For this reason, we strongly support selection and implementation of Alternative 2, the elimination of air tours at HALE.
In closing, we commend the agencies for preparing a proper EA that evaluates the potential impacts of a range of air tour alternatives at Haleakalā National Park. The information and analyses described in the EA provide overwhelming evidence that Alternative 2, elimination of air tours, is the most appropriate alternative to implement. We greatly appreciate the opportunity to comment on this important issue.
Michael B. Murray, Chair
Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks
2 Massachusetts Ave NE, Unit 77436
Washington, DC 20013
William Schott, Acting Director of Regions 9, 10 and 12, National Park Service
Ray Sauvajot, Associate Director for Natural Resource Stewardship and Science, NPS
Karen Trevino, Chief, Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division, National Park Service