Environmental Groups Sue to Block Helicopter Tours in Grand Teton National Park

Petitioners Say Flights Would Destroy Natural Quiet and Harm Wildlife

WASHINGTON (May 23, 2001) - Environmental groups sued the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today to block tourist helicopter flights over Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) and The Wilderness Society asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to grant an emergency order to stop the flights because they would cause irreparable harm to the natural quiet and wildlife in the park and surrounding areas. Barring a court order, the flights are expected to start on or around June 1.

"Noisy helicopter flights don't belong in our national parks," said Johanna Wald, director of NRDC's land program. "The natural quiet is an essential part of what makes Grand Teton one of the crown jewels of the national park system. Allowing these flights to go forward would destroy the region's wilderness qualities, harm wildlife and detract from the visitor experience."

The environmental groups claim the FAA improperly interpreted a new federal law when it authorized Vortex Aviation Services LLC, based in El Cajon, California, to conduct sightseeing helicopter tours out of the Jackson Hole, Wyoming Airport. Congress passed the National Parks Air Tour Management Act last year to reduce or prevent the adverse of effects of low-level commercial sightseeing flights over national parks. The Jackson Hole airport is the only airport in the country located entirely within a national park.

"We believe the FAA has clearly misinterpreted both the letter and the spirit of the law," said Leslie Jones, a public lands attorney with The Wilderness Society.

Grand Teton National Park is home to elk, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, moose, red-tailed hawks, and sand hill cranes, as well as endangered or threatened bald eagles, wolves, grizzly bears, and other wildlife. Adjacent natural areas include Yellowstone National Park, the Teton Wilderness Area, the Jedediah Smith Wilderness Area, the National Elk Refuge, the Winegar Hole Wilderness Area, the Gros Ventre Wilderness Area, the Bridger-Teton National Forest and the Targhee National Forest.

The New York City law firm of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett is providing pro bono legal representation in the suit for NRDC and The Wilderness Society.