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What are National Park “Viewsheds?”

Proponents of national park status find themselves in a conundrum for a number of reasons, and this is one of them.

Viewsheds: Views and vistas outside of national parks which can be seen from within the boundaries are designated “viewsheds.”

However, viewshed criteria are specific and restrictive when it comes to what is suitable for national park status. The existing Colorado National Monument is literally surrounded by semi-rural developments, construction sites, heavy equipment operators, and other forms of human activity that are usually not found directly adjacent to other national parks in Western states. The proponents’ conundrum is this: If viewshed criteria cannot be met because of existing development in the area of the CNM, will they drop the push for national park status, or will they seek to assert control over some human activities that cause things such as haze, light pollution, dust, traffic, and other things targeted by the NPS and NPCA? Read on…

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), National Park Service (NPS), and others, are using the concept of viewsheds to assert that certain human activities have a negative “visual impact” because they can be viewed from within a national park. Things most targeted by the EPA, NPS, and NPCA,  according to an 2013 report by the NPCA  are:

  • Energy development-related heavy equipment and traffic
  • Road and residential construction that can be seen from within the park
  • Nighttime lighting from cell towers, buildings and traffic
  • Rigs, roads, pipelines, and well heads
  • Haze produced by smoke, dust, seasonal inversions

Read the entire NPCA report here: http://www.npca.org/assets/pdf/Fracking_Report.pdf

  • The NPCA protested a 2012 proposal for drilling near Dinosaur National Park asserting that “it will come at the peril of the night skies in the area, create air pollution concerns and be contrary to the visitor experience at the park…”
  • Viewshed visual impacts could be defined to include seasonal burning by agricultural operations, wood smoke from home fireplaces, charcoal grills, residential leaf and weed burning, livestock pens, commercial and residential lighting, lights from nighttime sports venues, commercial signage, commercial traffic, residential traffic, industrial parks, construction sites, excavations, landfills, rock quarries, and countless other scenes that might be considered “unsightly.”
  • In a document titled “Visual Resource Analysis” the NPS lists what factors it will consider when formulating viewsheds. These factors include, but are not limited to:
  • determining which characteristics of an external viewshed, such as its scenic quality and the nature of any developments visible within the viewshed, most affect the NPS visitor experience;
  • determining which factors (e.g., land ownership) are most relevant to scenic conservation for a viewshed; and
  • identifying pressures that will be associated with likely future development. (emphasis added) Read the full document here: http://visualimpact.anl.gov/evpp/

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