May 10, 2016, Port Angeles, WA. The recently released 2015 National Park visitation statistics are bad news for Olympic National Park and the Olympic Peninsula’s most important tourism industry. With almost perfect weather during the 2015 visitor season, and with a booming Puget Sound economy, there can be little doubt of what contributed to these dismal figures. Most probably they can be traced to the adverse impact of the Navy’s present and planned use of the Park’s airspace for electronic warfare training with the noisiest jet in its fleet, the EA-18G Growler.
Olympic dropped from being the sixth most visited National Park in 2014 to being the seventh most visited National Park in 2015. Its visitor count increased by only 19,889, or 0.6 percent, from 3,243,872 to 3,263,761. (Click here to see the comparisons.) In both absolute numbers and percentages, these were the worst statistics among the top ten most visited National Parks from 2014. Percentage wise, Rocky Mountain National Park’s 21 percent increase was best. Number wise, Grand Canyon National Park’s increase of 763,965 visitors (16%) was best.
In this interconnected world, the news that Olympic is the site of electronic warfare training with the loudest jets in the military emitting harmful electromagnetic radiation has spread far and wide. Web sites dedicated to hikers, backpackers, birdwatchers, and nature lovers have warned their readers of what’s happening to Olympic. Gordon Hempton of One Square Inch of Silence fame, and Mountain Man Mick Dodge have justifiably warned their followers of the grave danger the Navy’s activities pose to the wilderness experience that Olympic National Park should be. The United Nations has expressed concern that the United States is not living up to its obligations under the World Heritage Convention to protect the Park as a World Heritage Site.
That both sound and electromagnetic radiation can impair the attractiveness of National Parks is well known. The National Park Service’s Directors Order #47, Soundscape Preservation and Noise Management, states:
Intrusive sounds are also a matter of concern to park visitors. As was reported to the U.S. Congress in the "Report on the Effects of Aircraft Overflights on the National Park System," a system-wide survey of park visitors revealed that nearly as many visitors come to national parks to enjoy the natural soundscape (91 percent) as come to view the scenery (93 percent).
The public’s fear of electromagnetic radiation, whether it be from x-ray machines, power lines, smart meters, cell phones, or whatever source, whether real or imagined, is so well known as to be a matter of common knowledge.
It is time to recognize the early warning signs that these visitation figures provide. With the Olympic Peninsula’s economy so dependent on the National Park, it is past the time for our elected representatives, on the basis of economics alone, to demand an end to the Navy’s misuse of the Olympic Peninsula for its electronic warfare training purposes.