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July 31, 2023
Mr. Patrick Suddath, Superintendent
Bandelier National Monument
15 Entrance RD
Los Alamos, NM 87544
Subject:  Bandelier National Monument Proposed Air Tour Management Plan and Environmental Assessment
Dear Superintendent Suddath: 
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 Bandelier National Monument (Bandelier or Park), as described at:
1. First, we commend the agencies for reconsidering their 2021 proposed ATMP for Bandelier NM and for issuing a revised proposal and environmental assessment (EA) now –When the Coalition submitted comments on the proposed ATMP in 2021, we were quite concerned that it did not consider a range of alternatives or provide an analysis of the potential impacts of the proposed action as required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). We greatly appreciate having the opportunity to comment on the revised proposal and EA now. 
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 recently issued planning documents barely mention the Organic Act or its relevance – We suggest that the proposed ATMP and EA include more robust discussion and references to the NPS Organic Act of 1916, since that law established the NPS “conservation mandate” and provides critical legal context for the management of parks. It is a concern that the Organic Act is not mentioned in the ATMP and is barely mentioned in the EA, even though the National Parks Air Tour Management Act (NPATMA) of 2000 clearly refers to it. Specifically, Section 802 (Findings) of the 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 described in subsection # 3 of the NPATMA above derives directly from the NPS Organic Act of 1916 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)
As described in the EA, p. 8: “The primary purpose of the Park is to protect and preserve the outstanding features of the Pajarito Plateau, including both natural and cultural resources found there… Consistent with this purpose, tribal sacred sites, eligible TCPs, and ancestral sites listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places (National Register) are the most significant cultural and natural resources of the Park.” The 1916 Presidential Proclamation that established Bandelier National Monument was solely focused on protecting aboriginal ruins by “reserving these relics of a vanished people.” In addition, the Park’s 2015 Foundation Document identifies cultural significance as interwoven throughout the Park’s resources.
Given that both the proposed ATMP and the EA are focused on evaluating potential impacts of commercial air tours on the Park’s archaeological sites and natural features that remain an integral component of pueblo culture, we would expect the NPS Organic Act’s “conservation mandate” to serve as a key basis for evaluating those impacts. We therefore recommend that the agencies add a new second paragraph to Section 1.0 (Introduction) of the ATMP (i.e., insert between the current first and second paragraphs) that states in effect: “The fundamental purpose of the national park system, established by the National Park Service Organic Act of 1916 and reaffirmed by the General Authorities Act of 1970, as amended, begins with a mandate to conserve park resources and values. 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.” We also recommend that you add a section to the EA (e.g., in Chapter 1 or as an appendix) summarizing applicable laws relevant to the proposed action, including the NPS Organic Act.
3. The EA appropriately considers the 2015 Foundation Document for Bandelier National Monument, which provides important context for the planning process regarding the park’s significance and fundamental resources and values that could be adversely affected by commercial air tours –Relevant sections of the Foundation Document include the following:
(p. 6) Park Significance: “Bandelier National Monument preserves a high density and variety of archaeological resources from the Ancestral Pueblo period, including cavates carved into cliffs of volcanic tuff. Bandelier is one of the few places in the world where these types of resources are found… Archaeological sites and natural features of Bandelier National Monument remain an integral component of pueblo culture and provide a context for continuing traditional practices. The monument plays an important role for the traditionally associated pueblos, providing a direct cultural connection to resources, stories, and oral histories.”
(pp. 7-8) Fundamental Resources and Values: “Fundamental resources and values help focus planning and management efforts on what is truly significant about the park. One of the most important responsibilities of NPS managers is to ensure the conservation and public enjoyment of those qualities that are essential (fundamental) to achieving the purpose of the park and maintaining its significance. (Emphasis added) If fundamental resources and values are allowed to deteriorate, the park purpose and/or significance could be jeopardized. Among the resources and values that have been identified as “fundamental” for Bandelier are the following: 
Archaeological Resources – One of the primary reasons the monument was established was to protect and preserve more than 3,000 archaeological sites, including Archaic and Ancestral Pueblo sites—one of the largest such concentrations in the American Southwest. These sites are still highly valued and are important for the modern pueblo people. 
Continuing Cultural Connections – Affiliated pueblo Indian groups still have strong traditional associations and ties to Bandelier National Monument’s landscape.
Natural Landscape – Although this area has been occupied by people for centuries, the canyons and mesas of Bandelier are still relatively natural, supporting diverse vegetative communities, a variety of wildlife species, several watersheds, and volcanic tuff—all of which have enabled people to find shelter, food, and water. 
Wilderness – Some 70% of Bandelier is designated wilderness.
In brief, protecting the above mentioned fundamental resources and values of Bandelier is closely related to and dependent upon preserving the “natural setting” of the Park. And protecting the “natural setting” from visual and noise intrusions of low-flying air tours is fundamental to conserving the resources and values described above.
4. Consistent with NPS Management Policies Section 1.5, the EA should include an “appropriate use analysis” for the proposed action – We recommend that the EA be amended (e.g., through errata or as an appendix) to include an “appropriate use analysis” as described in Section 1.5 of the NPS 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)
To our knowledge, NPS has never formally considered or determined whether commercial air tours are an appropriate use of (or over) Bandelier. While the Preferred Alternative in the EA is based upon the premise that air tours would adversely impact the Park’s fundamental resources and values, it is not the same as making a formal determination that air tours are NOT an appropriate use in light of those impacts. We therefore suggest that the EA include a deliberate appropriate use determination statement. 
5. The eventual decision document for the ATMP should include an “impairment determination” for the proposed action – We recommend that the eventual decision document, presumably a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), includes an impairment determination as described in Section 1.4.7 of 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) 
6.  Section 8.0 (“Amendment”) of the ATMP itself should be revised – This section of the ATMP is not discussed in the EA. The boilerplate language used in Section 8 (ATMP p. 8) 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 final ATMP decision and/or resumption of air tours at BADL could happen on relatively short-notice (i.e., “at any time”). Such wording suggests there is little certainty that elimination of air tours at Bandelier, as proposed, 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, or 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 leave room for uncertainty. Toward that end, we recommend that the agencies revise the wording of Section 8.0 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 infinite possibility of amending the ATMP.
Chapter 1
1.  Section 1.4 Purpose and Need – As explained in General Comment # 2 above, compliance with the NPS Organic Act (54 USC §100101) is an integral component of the National Parks Air Tour Management Act (49 USC §40128), yet the Organic Act or its relevance to the air tour issue is not mentioned in the ATMP and barely mentioned in the EA. As stated in EA section 1.4, “The purpose of the ATMP is to comply with the Act and other applicable laws…” (Emphasis added) This would seem to be the perfect opportunity to identify the “other applicable” laws, such as the NPS Organic Act, that the agencies may have considered during the development of the ATMP. This could be addressed by providing a brief summary of “other applicable laws” in Chapter 1 or as an appendix to the EA.
2. Section 1.5 Environmental Impact Categories Not Analyzed in Detail – As described in this section, 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. 
Chapter 2
1. Section 2.1 Alternatives Development – We appreciate the detailed description of how the ATMP preliminary alternatives were developed by an NPS inter-disciplinary team and then reviewed by the FAA. We also appreciate that the planning team fully considered the purpose and significance for which the Park was established as it went about developing alternatives for further consideration. In general, we believe that the agencies have developed and considered an appropriate range of alternatives. It also is very appropriate that the alternatives of “Air Tours Above Existing Levels or Air Tours at Existing Levels with Current Operating Parameters” and “Air Tours on Routes Presented in the 2021 Draft ATMP” were eliminated from further study for the reasons stated in Sections 2.2.1 and 2.2.2 respectively.
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 evident from the impact analysis of the No Action Alternative in Chapter 3 that the existing air tour situation at Bandelier is causing unacceptable impacts to park resources and values that the NPS is mandated to conserve unimpaired under the Organic Act. 
3. Section 2.5 Alternative 2 (Preferred Alternative) – As described, Alternative 2 would prohibit commercial air tours within the ATMP planning area no later than 180 days after the ATMP is signed by all required signatories from both agencies. We strongly support the selection of Alternative 2 as the Preferred Alternative for the reasons described in the EA, which include: “Alternative 2 would provide the greatest level of protection for the purposes, resources, and values of the Park because it would not authorize [any] air tours within the ATMP planning area, which includes the Tsankawi Unit of the Park and the area within ½-mile of its boundary. Alternative 2 would eliminate air tour presence over the sacred sites, National Register listed or eligible TCPs, ancestral sites, and cultural landscapes within the ATMP planning area; maintain confidentiality of sacred sites (Executive Order (EO) 13007, Indian Sacred Sites, dated May 24, 1996); [and] respect the spiritual significance of the Park to tribal people.”  
4. Section 2.6 Alternative 3 – Alternative 3 would authorize 101 commercial air tours per year within the ATMP planning area, which is consistent with the average number of flights reported on an annual basis from 2017-2019. Compared to existing conditions, Alternative 3 would reduce the number of flight routes from seven to two eastbound routes that directly cross over the Park and avoid looping over Wilderness and following Park canyons. It would also establish a minimum altitude of 10,000 ft. MSL which results in altitudes of at least 2,600 ft. AGL. However, in comparison to the Preferred Alternative (elimination of air tours), Alternative 3 would cause more adverse impacts across a range of impact topics. See EA Table 14 on pp. 119-123. Of the selectable alternatives, we strongly support the selection of Alternative 2 (Preferred Alternative) and oppose Alternative 3.
Chapter 3
Chapter 3 includes comparative analyses of the respective alternatives on various impact categories (i.e., resources or uses that would be affected by air tours) at Bandelier NM. Nearly every analysis indicates that Alternative 2, the elimination of air tours at Bandelier, 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 implementing Alternative 2.
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 Bandelier is considered a noise sensitive area under the FAA order and should be protected accordingly. 
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 Bandelier that has been adversely impacted by air tour noise. 
Section 3.1’s comparative analysis of the noise levels likely to be caused by the respective alternatives strongly supports Alternative 2 (the NPS Preferred Alternative) as the alternative with the greatest likelihood of restoring the natural soundscape at Bandelier, consistent with FAA Order 1050.1F and NPS Management Polices Section 4.9. In contrast, the other alternatives would perpetuate noticeable levels of air tour noise disturbance.
2. Section 3.3 Biological Resources – As described in the EA, p. 52, the Preferred Alternative would have no effect on federally listed threatened or endangered species. Appendix H, Section 7 No Effect Memo, provides additional information on this determination. In comparison, under Alternative 3 wildlife would continue to be exposed to noise, although direct effects would not be widespread throughout the ATMP planning area. The level of noise exposure would be similar to or something less than noise exposure under current conditions because the number of authorized flights under the ATMP would be the same as the average number of flights from 2017- 2019 but flown on fewer routes and greater altitudes. See EA, p. 53. In essence, Alternative 2 (elimination of air tours) would provide the greatest level of protection to Bandelier’s biological resources. For this reason, we fully support selection and implementation of Alternative 2.
3. Section 3.4 Cultural Resources – This section of the EA includes a good summary of applicable laws and policies related to cultural/historic resource protection, as well as a comprehensive description of tribal concerns about air tour-related adverse impacts to a variety of cultural resources in the Park. Because the preservation of the area’s diverse cultural resources is a primary purpose for the establishment of Bandelier NM, we fully support selection and implementation of Alternative 2 (elimination of air tours). It would provide the greatest level of protection for the diverse cultural resources and sites within the APE and is the most appropriate alternative to implement under applicable NHPA, FAA, and NPS cultural resource guidelines and policies. 
4. Section 3.5 Wilderness – Elimination of air tours at Bandelier NM would provide the greatest protection of the designated Wilderness at the Park. The Wilderness Act of 1964 is the primary federal legislation regulating the management of designated Wilderness areas. Congress designated 23,267 acres of the Park as Wilderness in 1976. The Bandelier Wilderness covers 70% of the Park, which leaves views within the Park largely unimpaired and forms the backdrop to the Park’s steep-walled canyons, mesas, and archeological sites. While Wilderness is not an impact category FAA traditionally examines, as a land management agency, the NPS is required to preserve Wilderness character. 
NPS Management Policies (2006) Section 6.1 states: “The purpose of Wilderness in the national parks includes the preservation of Wilderness character and Wilderness resources in an unimpaired condition.” As described in NPS Director’s Order # 41, Section  6.2, Wilderness character is the combination of biophysical, experiential, and symbolic ideals that distinguishes wilderness from other lands. The five qualities of wilderness character are (1) untrammeled, (2) undeveloped, (3) natural, (4) offers outstanding opportunities for solitude or primitive and unconfined recreation, and (5) other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value. 
As described in the EA, air tours would have no direct effect on the “untrammeled” and undeveloped” qualities of the Bandelier Wilderness; 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. The analysis indicates that Alternative 2 (elimination of air tours) would provide the lowest level of air tour noise intrusion into the Bandelier Wilderness and thus provide the greatest level of protection to Wilderness character. As a result, we fully support Alternative 2 as the most appropriate alternative to implement under applicable NPS wilderness stewardship policies.
5. Section 3.6 Visitor Use and Experience and Other Recreational Opportunities –This section examines impacts to park visitors as well as to air tour customers. In general, the visual and noise intrusions of air tour overflights inevitably have impacts, mostly negative, on the experience of the many park visitors on the ground, while a relatively limited number of airplane passengers per flight may benefit from the air tour experience. This contrast should be made more transparent in the EA.
As described in Section 3.6.1 Trends in Visitation and Visitor Demographics, p. 84, “Between 2017 and 2019, the Park averaged 202,774 visitors; however, visitation was approximately 270,000 in 2021. Scenery, recreation, and wildlife draw large numbers of visitors to the Park each year…Within the Park, Frijoles Canyon is the most popular visitor use area, drawing 98% of the Park’s overall visitors to the archaeological sites, trails, and visitor services within it.” Several pages later (i.e., p. 86) under “Other Recreational Opportunities,” the EA indicates that: Based on reported air tours from 2017-2019 (101), multiplied by an estimated 5 passenger seats per aircraft, “an average of 505 air tour customers per year are currently able to experience the Park from another viewpoint.” (Emphasis added) Doing the math, air tour customers comprised approximately 0.2% of the total number of park visitors during 2017-2019.
Since the above information is presented separately in the EA, the mathematical relationship between the numbers of park visitors whose experiences may be negatively impacted by air tours versus the number who may benefit from an air tour experience is completely lost. To ensure this information is readily visible to the public, we suggest that NPS include the air tour customer numbers (from p. 86) in the “Trends in Visitation and Visitor Demographics” section on p. 84 immediately after the park visitation information. Or, if NPS chooses to leave the information separated as it is on p. 86 in the EA, then we suggest that NPS add a simple a simple mathematical statement to the “Other Recreational Opportunities” that states in effect that: “Based on the numbers for 2017-2019, air tour customers comprised approximately 0.2% of total park visitation during the same period.” 
In our view, it is not acceptable for the possibly positive experiences of 0.2 % of all park visitors on air tours to negatively impact the experiences of up to 99.8% of other park visitors on the ground. For this reason, we fully support the “elimination of air tours” as the most appropriate alternative to implement at Bandelier. We believe that many members of the general public who are interested in Bandelier would feel the same way if this information were more transparent in the EA.
6. Section 3.8 Visual Effects – “Conservation of the scenery” in parks is a fundamental mandate of the NPS Organic Act. As described in this section of the EA, “[t]he Park is characterized by deep canyons that reach from the edge of Valles Caldera to the Rio Grande, offering visitors distinct experiences of the Park’s visual resources and a major attraction for visiting the Park is to experience Bandelier’s scenery and landscape.” 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). 
Under existing conditions, commercial air tours are primarily flown over or near ATMP planning area viewsheds in the central and eastern areas of the Park. Air tours are most visible to people on the ground from popular, higher elevation viewpoints that offer 360-degree views of the Pajarito Plateau, the Jemez Mountains, the Rio Grande Valley, native vegetation, masonry pueblos, and cavates. Because the comparative impact analysis clearly indicates that Alternative 2 (elimination of air tours) would provide the greatest level of protection to the park’s visual resources, it is most appropriate for the agencies to select and implement Alternative 2.
7. Section 3.10 Summary of Environmental Consequences – Table 14 provides a side-by-side comparison of the environmental consequences for each of the alternatives considered across each environmental impact category. This comparison provides compelling evidence that Alternative 2, elimination of air tours, would provide the greatest level of protection to or within the various impact categories analyzed in the EA. For these reasons, we strongly support selection and implementation of Alternative 2, which would eliminate air tours at Bandelier.
In closing, we greatly appreciate that the agencies have reconsidered their 2021 proposed ATMP for Bandelier National Monument and have now prepared a revised ATMP and an EA that evaluates the impacts of a range of air tour alternatives at the Park. In keeping with the NPS Organic Act’s conservation mandate, the EA’s information and analysis provide compelling evidence that Alternative 2, elimination of air tours, is the most appropriate alternative to implement at the park. We appreciate the opportunity to comment on this important issue.
Michael Murray signature
Michael B. Murray, Chair
Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks  
2 Massachusetts Ave NE, Unit 77436
Washington, DC 20013
Kate Hammond, Director of Regions 6, 7, and 8, 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