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NPS' Washington Headquarters Supports Snowmobiles in Yellowstone

Yellowstone Snowmobiles, March 2000; Photo, Jim Peaco NPS

Snowmobiles & exhaust at West entrance in the winter on Presidents Day weekend. NPS photo, Jim Peaco, March 2000.

The decision by Yellowstone National Park officials that up to 540 snowmobiles a day should be allowed in the park come winter is supported by the National Park Service's Washington headquarters, which more than likely means another round of court battles is in the offing.

Dan Wenk, the Park Service's deputy director, during an interview with the Traveler, said the headquarters office was consulted by Yellowstone officials before they released their preferred alternative in the Final Environmental Impact Statement late last month.

"We were fully briefed before that went out," said Mr. Wenk, who was in Park City, Utah, to appear before the annual Ranger Rendezvous of the Association of National Park Rangers. "We were briefed and we're in support."

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This coming winter Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks will operate under temporary winter-use rules that allow up to 720 snowmobiles a day into Yellowstone. However, during the past three years actual snowmobile use in the park has ranged between 250 and 300 machines daily. During that span of time, scientific research conducted in the park documented in detail that increasing the number of snowmobiles above 250 per day would add significantly to noise and air pollution problems that already exceed park thresholds and would carry additional impacts on the park's wildlife.

Plus, according to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency analysis of the research, allowing more than 250 snowmobiles per day into Yellowstone could compromise human health. Here's what the EPA told Yellowstone planners this past June: "Today, vehicle numbers are reduced by two-thirds compared to historic use, resulting in improved air quality and soundscapes as well as reduced wildlife disturbance."

Beyond the scientific data, which provide enough ammunition for park officials to ban recreational snowmobiling in Yellowstone, there's been huge public backlash against snowmobiles in the park.

Seven of the eight surviving former directors of the NPS wrote to Secretary Kempthorne in March, 2007, saying that allowing snowmobile use to increase from significantly reduced levels "would radically contravene both the spirit and letter of the 2006 Management Policies" and "would undercut the park's resurgent natural conditions."

The park's decision also once again ignores the vast number of people who took the time to comment on the draft plan. Seventy-three percent of those commenting on the two parks' proposed winter-use plan favored ending snowmobile use in Yellowstone. Ninety-four percent agreed that snowmobiling damages the natural soundscape of the park.

Notwithstanding the prospect of additional legal wrangling over this issue, the departure of the Bush administration could very likely lead to another change in policy, particularly if the Democrats take the White House.

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