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Avalanche Hazard Reduction Decision Announced

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Date: November 3, 2008
Contact: Amy Vanderbilt, 406 888-5838
Contact: Mary Riddle, 406 888-7898

WEST GLACIER, MONT. – Officials at Glacier National Park announced today that the National Park Service (NPS) has adopted a Record of Decision on the Avalanche Hazard Reduction by Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway in Glacier National Park and Flathead National Forest Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

After an extensive analysis by the NPS that began in 2005, the Record of Decision (ROD) was signed by Intermountain Regional Director Mike Snyder on September 12, 2008. As part of the compliance process, a Notice of Availability must first appear in the Federal Register before the ROD can be released to the public. The Notice of Availability is posted in the November 3rd Federal Register.

The EIS process began in response to a request from BNSF to conduct ongoing avalanche hazard reduction using explosives in Glacier National Park. Flathead National Forest (FNF) and Montana Department of Transportation (MDOT) were cooperating agencies on the EIS. After public review of the draft EIS, BNSF withdrew their proposal and asked that the EIS process be suspended. The NPS decided to complete the process in the event of future requests.

The decision permits BNSF to install a weather station and snow depth sensor on park lands and for BNSF to conduct nonexplosive snow stability testing. If the railroad wishes to install avalanche detection devices within the park, this will also be permitted after review and approval. While some detection devices were analyzed in the EIS, research and development continues in this field.

Permanent structures in the park may include avalanche detection systems, a weather station, a snow depth sensor and possibly small portions of snow sheds (if constructed) depending on design and location. Explosive use will not be permitted except under extenuating emergency circumstances in the event that human lives or resources are at risk and after all other options have been exercised by the railroad, including delays.

Glacier National Park officials continue to recommend that BNSF construct additional snow sheds and to add on to existing ones in high-risk avalanche paths. However, this recommendation is an action that the NPS, FNF and MDOT do not have jurisdiction or authority to require BNSF to follow.

"The decision was based on the park’s special status as an internationally recognized natural area, the unique wildlife and other natural resources in the area and NPS values," explained Park Superintendent Chas Cartwright. Glacier National Park, together with Waterton Lakes National Park in southern Alberta, comprise the world’s first international peace park and are also designated an international biosphere reserve and a world heritage site.

Cartwright further noted, "The area of the park that was the subject of this EIS has federally listed threatened and endangered species present, is within the park’s recommended wilderness, provides winter recreation for park visitors and is important winter range for deer, elk and other ungulate species. The potential impacts of explosives on threatened and endangered species, wildlife, natural avalanche processes, recommended wilderness and natural sound were determined to be unacceptable."

Park managers will soon begin meeting with BNSF to discuss a special use permit allowing avalanche forecasting and nonexplosive stability testing in the park for the 2008-2009 winter season.

The ROD will be mailed to individuals on the EIS mailing list. Copies of the ROD can also be obtained at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/glac , by calling 406-888-7898 or by writing Glacier National Park, Attn: 2008 Record of Decision, P.O. Box 128 West Glacier, Montana 59936.

 

- NPS -

Did You Know?

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Did you know that over 35 Hollywood films were set in Glacier National Park? In honor of film being an American tradition, the Glacier Centennial Program hosted a film festival throughout 2010.