JACKSON, Wyo. — The Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution on April 20, calling for a permanent ban of helicopter and air tours over Grand Teton National Park (GTNP).
Last spring, the Jackson Hole Airport granted a permit to Wind River Air, LLC to operate commercial helicopter tours out of the airport. Executive Director of Jackson Hole Airport, Jim Elwood explained that the permit was granted due to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules. “The airport operates under the jurisdiction of the FAA and the federal government,” said Elwood.
The Board of County Commissioners does not have the jurisdiction to ban helicopter tours in GTNP, but the resolution “seeks Congressional relief through legislation.”
“Ultimately the FAA has control over air space and they determine the use of that airspace,” said Elwood
Multiple community members and former National Park Service employees commented during the meeting, endorsing the ban. No public comment was in support of commercial scenic helicopter tours in GTNP.
Mary Jo Dornan, a 50-year resident of the valley said that the helicopter tours fly over her house, “the flights are very low, I can read anything that is written on the bottom of the helicopters that go over.”
She said, “It is one person’s enjoyment at the detriment of all of us. When someone goes hiking, it’s nice quiet, leaves no impact, minimal experience.”
She discussed how the helicopters disrupt wildlife and spook horses in the area. She also said, “as I listened earlier to wanting to use electric vehicles and I am looking at this big giant iron bird and it runs counter to everything that we seem to be about here.”
Sharon Mader, Senior Program Director for National Parks Conservation Association spoke during public comment as well.
“Although Wind River Air has only been operating for one year we are already seeing negative impacts over the park forest and wilderness areas as a result of this activity, my comments today are not specifically directed at this one operator although there have been numerous reported deviations from Wind River Airs approved flight plans over the park,” said Mader.
According to the Board of County Commissioners staff report, since the permit for Wind River Air was approved, there have been at least six violations reported over the park and additional noise and height violation complaints from county residential areas, a number of the violations have been video recorded.
Grand Teton National Park does not have the jurisdiction to issue fines to Helicopter operations because the FAA is the regulator.
“Helicopter tours cater to a small high-end portion of the tourism market yet the impacts affect us all as we experience repetitive flight plans around our public lands, persistent noise, and visual impacts,” said Mader.
The Board spent some time discussing language changes in the resolution, Commissioner Propst suggested that the resolution should include vague language surrounding where the helicopter tours operate from. He suggested that the resolution should not specify Jackson Hole Airport, because it could open the door for other tours to operate out of a different airport and still conduct tours over GTNP.
About The Author
Buckrail @ Lindsay
Lindsay Vallen is a Community News Reporter covering a little bit of everything; with an interest in politics, wildlife, and amplifying community voices. Originally from the east coast, Lindsay has called Wilson, Wyoming home since 2017. In her free time, she enjoys snowboarding, hiking, cooking, and completing the Jackson Hole Daily crosswords.
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