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Park Leadership-Thoughts from Montana


    By Amy McNamara

    When every living National Park Service director who served Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H. W. Bush and Clinton speaks with one voice – as they did this week – it’s time to stop and listen. 
    In a letter to Secretary of Interior Dirk Kempthorne, the former Park Service leaders said that “allowing Yellowstone’s current average of 250 snowmobiles per day to increase — to as many as 720 snowmobiles — would undercut the park’s resurgent natural conditions.” 
Yellbison_copy     If you look back on the history of our parks, the beauty has always been that no matter what party was in office our parks rose above the fray. National parks, after all, are national parks.
    Some of these former directors were running the National Park Service before I was born. For much of the past four decades, this group of individuals collectively occupied the director’s “corner office,”  making difficult decisions day-in and day-out about how best to uphold the legacy of our parks and make good on their commitment to ensure that parks continue to be unimpaired visitor destinations for generations to come.
    While George B. Hartzog, Jr. wasn’t thinking about me - per se - as he was director between 1964 and 1972, I know he was thinking about individuals like me who would be visiting parks in the 1980s, '90s, and into the new millennium. 
    To this day, even in retirement, he continues to think about the kids who have yet to be born and what our national parks will mean to them.  If he didn’t, he wouldn’t have sent a letter with ten of his distinguished colleagues about the need to pull our parks out of the fray and put them back on track.

    Yesterday, the New York Times ran a story about the directors’ letter.  When asked by the Times about the letter, the management assistant at Yellowstone said “we thought it painted a simplified, broad-brush picture of a complex topic.” 
    Indeed, the science that went into the park’s fourth study is complex.  But, at the end of the day, the modeling comes to a clear conclusion.  It is the same conclusion the Park Service and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have independently reached three times before: The best way to protect Yellowstone and ensure visitors can enjoy the natural, clean air and quiet that are intrinsic qualities of Yellowstone’s winter is through modern snowcoaches.
    I am grateful that former park leaders such as Hartzog continue to speak on behalf of our parks and the kids who will hike on their trails 30 and 100 years from now.

    Amy McNamara is National Parks Program Director for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. She grew up camping and fishing in national parks.  She now lives in Bozeman, Montana – fewer than 100 miles from her home park of Yellowstone.


"The best way to protect Yellowstone and ensure visitors can enjoy the natural, clean air and quiet that are intrinsic qualities of Yellowstone’s winter is through modern snowcoaches." I am not a scientist, but down the pipe, , it looks like research will be showing that snowcoaches are also not clean for the air. Always, this is a question of values. I don't think we move the issue at all by calling out someone's more partisan values versus someone else's nonpartisan values. Something isn't right or wrong simply by virtue of it being more or less extreme. I relish the day when people aren't afraid to consider their value judgments seriously. I think it's right to call out the Park Service for the inconsistencies of their draft with the science; I don't think it's right to assume that that is the final word on the values side of the issue, or that because the science shows one course of action makes little sense that it necessarily entails that it shows that another course does.

Without a doubt, science will indeed reflect that snowcoaches aren't as clean as no snowcoaches. Heck, the science already demonstrates that. Currently, the underlying question is how can we reasonably keep the parks open in winter for public enjoyment while having the least possible impact upon them? And the science indicates snowcoaches are that option, although the best option for the environment is no over-the-snow vehicles at all. In this context -- if we're to have winter travel/recreation in Yellowstone, what's best for the park's environment as well as for wildlife, NPS employees and visitors -- the science unquestionably points to snowcoaches over snowmobiles. As for moving the issue forward, what I've long wondered on these pages is why the snowmobile industry doesn't move towards (and the NPS require) electric 'biles, which are quieter and for all intents and purposes non-polluting? The technology exists.

Let's not limit this to over the snow vehicles. How about all personnal vehicles. What does more damage in Yellowstone over the period of a year....private autos or snowmobiles?

To answer your question parkaholic, NEITHER do damage...all you whacko tree-huggin' types need to get your heads examined...exhaust just floats away in the air...and those bison couldn't give a hoot about a little noise...heck, it probably breaks their boredom!! I'd say that the body odor of all the leftist hippies who visit the park contribute a helluva a lot more air pollution...some of those yungins are RIPE!!! Take a dang bath!!! Granma Sally- 86 years old and still kickin'!

Sorry Sally, I guess the sarcasm was not evident enough in my previous post. I was trying to make a point....I am actually a confirmed conservative. Has Gore flown in in his private jet to trash the snowmobilers yet? If the Snowmobilers bought carbon credits would it be OK for them to ride? If I pay my fines ahead of I allowed to speed down the highway? Not to worry about the Hippies though....they are mostly hangin out in El Portal, just outside Yosemite...seems there is a fight abrewin there

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