Friends of Big Bend National Park
Big Bend Conservancy

Over-estimating your experience or under-estimating the terrain in a place like Big Bend can result in serious injury or death. Use the information and advice found here wisely. Climb/Hike/Camp/Drive at your own risk.

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Fly Big Bend

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Offline Roger, Roger

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Fly Big Bend
« on: December 01, 2006, 07:19:40 AM »
http://www.flybigbend.com/Home.html

I would love to take one of the scenic tours.  Check out the picture of Capote Falls on the "Scenic Flights" tab.

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Offline Casa Grande

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« Reply #1 on: December 01, 2006, 08:05:46 AM »
wonderful...can't wait to see that buzzing around the next time I'm "zoning on the rim"  :x

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Offline okiehiker

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Overflight regulations...
« Reply #2 on: December 01, 2006, 08:36:15 AM »
What does the park have in the way of overflight regulations?

Grand Canyon has a number of large "No Flight" zones.  

There is nothing worse than being someplace in the remote wilderness and having someone buzz your mountaintop, canyon or valley.  

The fact that we have the technology and money is really cool, but out of place in the wilderness.  

The park needs to craft regulations that will ensure no flights are close to the high Chisos or other areas where the 99% of visitors who will never take a flight over the park are experiencing its solitude.
Funny... I have a story about that...

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Offline Al

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« Reply #3 on: December 01, 2006, 09:17:25 AM »
I doubt it would apply to the surveillance planes.  I've seen more of those "disturbing" our remote BiBe experience than private planes.

Al

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SHANEA

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Re: Overflight regulations...
« Reply #4 on: December 01, 2006, 09:30:11 AM »
Quote from: "okiehiker"
What does the park have in the way of overflight regulations?


I'm almost darned sure there are some FAA restrictions in place as I've had discussion on this, but I don't believe they apply to military aircraft.

Perhaps some private pilot out there - Undertaker? - can navigate the mass of data at http://www.faa.gov and find the maps, rules, etc.  and inform us landlubbers...

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Offline presidio

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Re: Overflight regulations...
« Reply #5 on: December 01, 2006, 11:11:53 AM »
Quote from: "okiehiker"
What does the park have in the way of overflight regulations?


None. The NPS does not regulate aircraft in flight....the FAA does. The only place the NPS has any control is via regulations that prohibit landing in parks. Also the Wilderness Act prohibits aircraft landing in (but not flying over) wilderness areas but, as I've pointed out previously, BIBE does not have any congressionally designated wilderness.

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Grand Canyon has a number of large "No Flight" zones.  


That is because there is a huge commercial air tour interest in the Grand Canyon and it is a MAJOR safety issue. In fact, the current FAA air traffic control system that gets you safely where you are going today is a result of two commercial airliners having a midair collision over the Grand Canyon on June 30, 1956. United Airlines and TWA planes had diverted over the canyon to give passengers a view of the spectacular scenery...for the same reason people want to do it today. However, back then, there was no cross-country traffic control and commercial pilots then did what pilots everywhere flying by visual rules still must do....see and avoid.

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There is nothing worse than being someplace in the remote wilderness and having someone buzz your mountaintop, canyon or valley.


'Buzzing' is a complicated issue. Basically, it is illegal as aircraft are required to maintain various separations from people and infrastructure depending on whether it is urban or rural. However, there is no particular requirement when in open, unpopulated country other than being safe. If you have ever tried finding a person by flying over an area you already know how extraordinarily difficult it can be, especially if there is no vehicle associated with them, so in some instances a plane certainly could be nearer a person than either the pilot or camper would like. While every endeavor has devotees both competent and incompetent, incompetent pilots get weeded out by Darwin pretty early on. And, while some might engage in low level flight, most pilots are acutely aware of the noise footprint and the complaints that may result.

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The fact that we have the technology and money is really cool, but out of place in the wilderness.


I think you would find folks who disagree with you on that point. Everything is a compromise and while you may not like what someone else is doing, they also may object to your interests and activities. It's a dangerous place to go when everyone's pet peeve results in regulations that eventually prohibit everything. Thank goodness that kind of response is impractical.

For there to be true wilderness you would have to eliminate from view the high-altitude contrails from commercial aircraft. Also, if you object to aircraft then you should also object to carrying anything of modern technology into a 'wilderness' area, and having to look down on the Basin infrastructure while on Emory Peak. This would include cameras, GPS units, cooking stoves, etc. It's just not possible to recreate something that really has not existed in several hundred years (by our definition today).

Big Bend certainly is no wilderness in the purest sense of the word as a concept/ideal. It was heavily used by inhabitants before the park came into being. While the Chisos are relatively pristine, there is probably no area of the park that was not grazed at one time or another. Also timber was cut and ore was mined. The point is that the park area was not and is not an untrammeled area. However, it is (or is becoming) a wilderness in the practical definition inasmuch as the evidence of past uses is slowly receding into the landscape with time.

In most cases, activities and attitudes get branded as 'wrong' not because they are inherently deleterious, but because very narrow interests make them so. This is why creating designated wilderness areas is so hard to do in the political arena. Wilderness purists want nothing to detract from their experience (but will still take their cameras and GPSs) and wilderness opponents don't want anything designated that will 'change' how an area is used even though sometimes nothing really does change except the words on the paper.

I have personal knowledge of one wilderness area that was opposed by ranching interests because, of course, vehicles were to be excluded by law (even though it would not apply to him...see below). However, this particular piece of ground was so rough that the rancher had never used vehicles to manage his herd, only saddle stock and he admitted such. It was a knee-jerk reaction to a change of status rather than a change in actual conditions. Furthermore, in that area and every other designated wilderness area, pre-existing uses always are grandfathered. Thus, if there are mines, grazing improvements, communication sites, etc., the holders of those permits are allowed vehicular access to use/maintain those facilities. They cannot go in willy-nilly but they CAN and do drive in official wilderness areas while you and I cannot. This is one of those compromises that is both necessary and practical from a political perspective to get the designation. While wilderness purists probably are not happy about these kinds of exclusions, without them they would have many fewer areas.

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The park needs to craft regulations that will ensure no flights are close to the high Chisos or other areas where the 99% of visitors who will never take a flight over the park are experiencing its solitude.


As noted earlier, the NPS does not have that authority and it is a good thing it does not. If the NPS could regulate aircraft in flight, then so could any other governmental entity from city councils on up. There would be chaos in the air and reduced safety. This is not an idle musing. Several cities, in the post 9-11 'we fear anything in the air' mode, actually have attempted to do just that. The FAA has made it abundantly clear that they alone make flight rules. Were it otherwise there would be chaos in the air and reduced safety.

Every national park and designated wilderness area in the US is shown on aeronautical charts and show a 'voluntary' exclusion of 2,000 feet above ground of airspace over those areas. Being voluntary, pilots do not have to abide by them, but you will find the vast majority do. The voluntary avoidance is there to lessen the noise footprint and disturbance. And it greatly does, sometimes to the point that unless you see the aircraft you won't know it is there.

However, even without the voluntary exclusion most pilots are not going to be flying low over parks or most other areas simply because it is not as safe as being higher. Flying low and near even small ridges puts you in some dangerous territory with respect to winds. That breeze you feel while hiking is usually much stronger 50 feet and higher above the ground and surface undulations/cliffs produce wind eddies that a smart pilot does not want to be around. Lastly, when you want to sight-see from the air, you can see a whole lot more when higher up as your relative ground motion is so much less. You really can't enjoy anything even at 500 feet because to fly slow enough to make it worthwhile puts you on the edge of flight controllability in that dangerous region near the ground.

This last is what causes me to wonder about the day I saw the park airplane buzzing through Santa Elena Canyon, only about 50 feet off the river. I'm sure the flight was couched in terms of official use, but it clearly was a joyride. At that altitude and speed no meaningful observation could have been done and had they seen something of interest there was no way to maneuver to look at it again without climbing out of the canyon and circling back for another pass. Was it an exciting flight? Almost assuredly. Was it smart? Not very likely. Was my solitude disturbed by the NPS? Absolutely. And far more than it would have been if over the mountains or desert. You cannot believe how loud an unmuffled aircraft exhaust is when in the confined space of a narrow canyon.
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Offline presidio

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Re: Overflight regulations...
« Reply #6 on: December 01, 2006, 11:13:05 AM »
Quote from: "SHANEA"
Perhaps some private pilot out there - Undertaker? - can navigate the mass of data at http://www.faa.gov and find the maps, rules, etc.  and inform us landlubbers...


Just did that, see previous post.
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Offline Roger, Roger

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Re: Overflight regulations...
« Reply #7 on: December 01, 2006, 01:19:49 PM »
Quote from: "presidio"

Lastly, when you want to sight-see from the air, you can see a whole lot more when higher up as your relative ground motion is so much less. You really can't enjoy anything even at 500 feet because to fly slow enough to make it worthwhile puts you on the edge of flight controllability in that dangerous region near the ground.


Agree, and when I think of a flight tour over the Big Bend region, in my mind it was from at least 1,500 feet up...otherwise, like you say, you can't see as much and it ain't safe.  My dad had a Bonanza when I was a kid and we lived in Alpine, and I have vague memories of flying around West Texas with him pointing out the landmark mountains and towns.  Personally, I wouldn't even bother going over Big Bend...why fly over something when you can hike all over it?  I would rather see some more isolated non-public areas like the Chinatis, Davis Mountains, etc.  It's an opportunity to see places that can't be seen any other way.    

Maybe I'm in the minority here, but to me if someone wants to fly around up in the air and look at stuff (as long as they're not low enough to cause serious noise disturbance for people, wildlife, or livestock), they should be allowed to do so.  I have way more problem with the Air Force flying bombing practice runs over populated areas while 300 feet off the ground (as I have seen on my own property) than I do with some dude in a 152 puttering around at 60 knots, 3,000 feet up in the air.

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Offline Casa Grande

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Re: Overflight regulations...
« Reply #8 on: December 01, 2006, 03:04:32 PM »
Quote from: "presidio"
...This would include cameras, GPS units, cooking stoves, etc. It's just not possible to recreate something that really has not existed in several hundred years (by our definition today).
.....


are you kidding me? I hardly think a silent handheld GPS or camera can be equated to an engine blazing over your head in the solitude of the high Chisos, or high desert.  Let's not be ridiculous.

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Offline okiehiker

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The purpose of a national park...
« Reply #9 on: December 01, 2006, 03:49:52 PM »
http://www.nps.gov/archive/grca/overflights/documents/fedreg/4apr00_two.pdf

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DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
Federal Aviation Administration
14 CFR Parts 91, 93, 121, and 135
[Docket No. FAA–99–5926; Amendment No. 93–80]
RIN 2120–AG74
Modification of the Dimensions of the Grand Canyon National Park Special Flight Rules Area and Flight Free Zones
AGENCY: Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), DOT.
ACTION: Final rule.
SUMMARY: This action amends special operating rules and airspace for those persons operating aircraft in the area designated as the Grand Canyon National Park Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA). Specifically, this action modifies the eastern portion of the SFRA and the Desert View Flight-free Zone (FFZ); establishes a corridor through the Bright Angel FFZ for future noise efficient/quiet technology aircraft; and modifies the Sanup FFZ to provide for a commercial route over the northwestern section of the Grand Canyon National Park (GCNP). In addition, this action makes editorial corrections to several previously issued special operating rules for this affected area. The FAA is taking this action to assist the National Park Service in fulfilling the statutory mandate of substantially restoring the natural quiet and experience in GCNP.
EFFECTIVE DATE: This final rule is effective on December 1, 2000.

The National Park Service and local park administrations have a mandate to maintain first and foremost the experience of the natural environments of our parks.  That is why we have them.  It is usually the case that our parks are places where there are many attractive venues for a variety of recreational experiences as well.  Thus the need for regulation to maintain the natural experience.

Rock climbing and hiking are fairly unintrusive uses, yet parts of the park require that you not hike or climb during certain seasons, that you stay on trails in certain areas, and options for camping are closely regulated.  

Motorized means of transportation would do no physical harm to sandy creek bottoms, but clearly disrupt the natural setting due principally to noise so we limit them to roads.  

Chainsaws and firearms are off-limits.  There is the occasional park regulation with which I disagree, but they are so rare that I cannot think of one offhand.  

Aircraft can be among the most intrusive of human activities in a wilderness setting and thus require careful consideration in regulating.

I love to fly and have flown gliders as well as powered aircraft.  I love campfires in the evening when I am in the backcountry.  Neither of these loves gives me the right to choose where and when I enjoy them in a national park.  The overall visitor experience is the primary concern of park management.  

People will do absolutely anything that the law permits.  That is one sad truth about humankind.  All must behave in a fashion that prevents the least responsible person holding a match, operating a raft, taking a hike or flying an airplane, from endangering themselves, the park or the experience of other visitors.  

Grand Canyon and the FAA let a situation get out of hand before having to back-pedal and angering a lot of people on both sides.  

BIBE has the opportunity to be proactive and establish guidelines before a problem develops.  Eric has nothing else to do today  :D  we'll let him start on that project.
Funny... I have a story about that...

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Offline TheWildWestGuy

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« Reply #10 on: December 01, 2006, 07:04:08 PM »
I had always assumed that the Park was a no-fly zone for private aircraft or that at least they couldn't fly low enough to disturb anyone.  It's not unusual for me to hear/see small aircraft 2000-5000' overhead for brief periods of time but these always seem to be NPS or Border Patrol aircraft at least for the most part.

I would hate for my backcountry silence and solitude to be broken by tourist-flights buzzing around the South Rim/Chisos but unfortunately the only way the FAA might restrict it (other than "voluntary") is if bad accidents happen first.   Which is probably fairly likely given the wind conditions and terrain if these tourist flights take off.

Fortunately I doubt this will be anything more than a marginal economic success in Big Bend and is likely to be a big financial sinkhole just like Lajitas.   Costly, lots of liability and unpredictability, season, and not enough people with enough money to make it... TWWG

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Offline presidio

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Re: Overflight regulations...
« Reply #11 on: December 03, 2006, 05:00:02 PM »
Quote from: "Casa Grande"
are you kidding me? I hardly think a silent handheld GPS or camera can be equated to an engine blazing over your head in the solitude of the high Chisos, or high desert.  Let's not be ridiculous.


No, I am not kidding or being ridiculous. It was not about the noise it was about the concept of wilderness and what people find acceptable to carry into one or what they don't want others to do.

It was illustrative of the fact that everyone has their own definition of what is acceptable/unacceptable. Motorized/mechanized equipment is prohibited in wilderness areas and while a GPS is not mechanized (and it was, admittedly a poor example from a noise standpoint), many cameras are (and the act does not make a distinction about what mechanized 'equipment' is). But how much fun would it be to leave the camera home and only be able to write about what you saw?

The point is that wildernesses are supposed to be primitive areas and experiences. Taking every kind of technological gewgaw through some sleight of hand whereby it is deemed okay or under the guise of safety is a dilution of that principle. Just a further example that compromise affects everything and nothing, especially, wilderness exists in pure form.

Note that I did not say I don't do it....I take all my stuff with me.....because it does not bother me in the least to use technology to the fullest extent regardless of what designation the ground may carry.

I get a lot of entertainment out of watching celebrities protesting oil extraction while wearing their polar fleece and goretex made from same,  and driving their gas-guzzling vehicles to the event. I guess the irony is lost on them.
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--No Country for Old Men (2007)

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Offline presidio

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Re: The purpose of a national park...
« Reply #12 on: December 03, 2006, 06:19:33 PM »
Quote from: "okiehiker"
The FAA is taking this action to assist the National Park Service in fulfilling the statutory mandate of substantially restoring the natural quiet and experience in GCNP.


Yes, and it was the FAA, not the NPS that made the rule. I had forgotten about the noise issue as it related to the restrictions...my oversight; but it actually was more about safety.

'On March 26, 1987, the FAA issued SFAR No. 50 (subsequently amended
on June 15, 1987; 52 FR 22734) establishing flight regulations in the
vicinity of the Grand Canyon. The purpose of the SFAR was to reduce the
risk of midair collision, reduce the risk of terrain contact accidents
below the rim level, and reduce the impact of aircraft noise on the
park environment.'

You will note that noise was the last item and that safety was the predominant topic. http://www.epa.gov/fedrgstr/EPA-GENERAL/1995/June/Day-15/pr-23928.html

'For the purpose of this rule, the FAA updated the DOI's December
1987 data as follows: (1) There are still 40 to 45 air tour operators;
(2) the estimated revenue generated by the industry is now over $100
million each year' (same website as above).

It would appear the majority of the noise was from the commercial interests, but because of their political clout, fee generation to the NPS and likely other factors, they were merely 'inconvenienced' a bit under the guise of noise reduction. Now, while it was not until 1993 that the NPS obtained authority to require air tour companies get an operating permit (over 3 parks only), the NPS was not going to cut its throat on substantial revenues produced by those permits. As always, follow the money to see why individuals are regulated more harshly than commercial interests.

The sad part is that while private aircraft cannot fly over much of the canyon, commercial air tour companies do (though they are similarly affected by noise restrictions). So, like the river rafting situation, it is possible for companies to do things in pursuit of profit, with the cooperation of the NPS, that are either denied or severely restricted to the average person. I can go on an air tour tomorrow...I cannot fly myself those same places in GRCA. I can go on a commercial raft but if I want to wait MANY years I MIGHT get a private permit. Something is wrong here. As I read the NPS charter I don't see anything there about giving commercial interests preferential treatment. But then, they are cash cows in the revenue department. Last time I checked parks are supposedly for the people not the bottom line of commercial interests. Then again, I may have misinterpreted the NPS mandate.

A GAO report from May 2006 shows that the NPS has a total number of authorized air tours per year at 298,173 and this excludes 55,934 of the 68,814 authorized air tours over Lake Mead National Recreation Area as being directly related to GRCA rather than LAME. That means there actually were well over 300,000 air tour operations permitted by the NPS. That's a lot of opportunity to achieve quiet that they let go. That same report also shows 'Since the Park Service began collecting air tour fees 12 years ago, it has collected more than $16 million at Grand Canyon'. Follow the money. http://www.gao.gov/htext/d06468.html

It is all well and good to be passionate about things, but to use the GRCA situation as an analogue for what should occur at BIBE is not really the place you want to go. The NPS itself is the greatest threat to noise pollution in the parks....and it is because they follow the money.

In contrast, there are only about 219,780 general aviation aircraft (private planes, essentially) registered in the US as of 2005. http://www.aopa.org/whatsnew/factcard.pdf

So, the NPS permits more commercial activity than the entire number of private aircraft. I cannot find any statistics on general aviation overflights of NPS areas. Not surprising since they aren't regulated (except at GRCA) or tracked, but I doubt anyone would be so bold as to suggest that even 10% of the private fleet frequents NPS areas on anything other than a very occasional basis; otherwise their presence would be quite noticeable.

Quote from: "okiehiker"
BIBE has the opportunity to be proactive and establish guidelines before a problem develops.  Eric has nothing else to do today  :D  we'll let him start on that project.


I fail to see exactly where there is a great problem with aircraft at BIBE other than the 'official' flights some have mentioned as being the majority of the traffic. FAA regulations do not affect border surveillance and security air operations. I really wonder how many people on this site have ever seen a private aircraft over BIBE. I have spent a LOT of time in the park over 30 years and I've never seen one (and I haven't flown over the park, either). Sounds to me like a proposed solution to a problem that doesn't exist. Now, all those Class A motorhome generators running in the campgrounds.....tha t's another story.
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Wendell (Garret Dillahunt): It's a mess, ain't it, sheriff?
Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones): If it ain't, it'll do till the mess gets here.
--No Country for Old Men (2007)

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Offline presidio

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« Reply #13 on: December 03, 2006, 06:21:47 PM »
Quote from: "TheWildWestGuy"
Costly, lots of liability and unpredictability, season, and not enough people with enough money to make it... TWWG


There you go. One website and a 2-seat aircraft with a lawnmower engine do not equal a commercial air tour company.
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<  presidio  >
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Wendell (Garret Dillahunt): It's a mess, ain't it, sheriff?
Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones): If it ain't, it'll do till the mess gets here.
--No Country for Old Men (2007)

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Offline presidio

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Re: Overflight regulations...
« Reply #14 on: December 03, 2006, 06:55:02 PM »
Quote from: "Roger, Roger"
Maybe I'm in the minority here, but to me if someone wants to fly around up in the air and look at stuff (as long as they're not low enough to cause serious noise disturbance for people, wildlife, or livestock), they should be allowed to do so.  I have way more problem with the Air Force flying bombing practice runs over populated areas while 300 feet off the ground (as I have seen on my own property) than I do with some dude in a 152 puttering around at 60 knots, 3,000 feet up in the air.


Yep, you are in the minority. Selective filtering gets applied to a whole host of activities based on whether special interests and/or the NPS finds them okay or not.

There are a lot of uncomfortable contrasts in park management. Here's a few.

It's okay to pick and eat edible plants while in the park, but you cannot collect a flower or take edible parts from the park.

It's okay to fish but not hunt....fish aren't cute, have no constituency and basically you can't see them before you bag them. But, fishing is the same as hunting....taking wildlife in a park setting.

It''s okay to wear garish pants and rockclimb, setting bolts and anchors along the way, but it's not okay to parachute off a cliff with a garish canopy and harming nothing in the process.

It's okay to have a commercial lodge but not okay to sleep one night in your car in the parking lot because the campground was full when you arrived.

It's okay to have a commercial golf course, but not okay to....well, I can't think of an opposite here.

The point is that there are a lot of things occurring in parks that are incompatible with their stated purpose.

For the record, I take no position for or against any item mentioned above (except the flying part).
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Wendell (Garret Dillahunt): It's a mess, ain't it, sheriff?
Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones): If it ain't, it'll do till the mess gets here.
--No Country for Old Men (2007)

 


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