Park Service Yellowstone Decision Riles Conservation Groups

The National Park Service (NPS) has issued its decision on snowmobile use in Yellowstone National Park and environmental groups immediately said they would take the decision to court.

The organizations include the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, the National Parks Conservation Association, The Wilderness Society, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Winter Wildlands Alliance and the Sierra Club.

The NPS Record of Decision will maintain the status quo in Yellowstone this winter (2007-08), then reduce the number of snowmobiles allowed into the park beginning in 2008-09. However, even this reduced number is still double the recent number of snowmobiles entering the park.

While up to 720 commercially guided snowmobiles are allowed to enter the park under current standards, the average between 2003 and 2006 was 258 per day. The Park Service decision requires both snowmobiles and larger snowcoaches to use the best available technology (BAT) for reducing emissions and noise. In addition, the Record of Decision requires that all snowmobiles and snowcoaches be commercially guided.

Environmental groups say the Record of Decision will essentially double the number of machines in the park, which flies in the face of the NPS environmental impact studies.

“The past four seasons have shown that Yellowstone’s winter visitors are increasingly embracing modern snowcoaches and the health of the park has improved because of it,” said Amy McNamara of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. “The National Park Service decision makes a U-turn on that progress and will lead to unacceptable impacts in our first national park.”

NPS scientists have conducted three environmental impact statements and an environmental assessment. The Environmental Protection Agency independently reviewed each. According to a release from the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, the EPA commented on Yellowstone’s improving health in the past four winters.

According to the EPA, the “vehicle numbers are reduced by two-thirds compared to historic use, resulting in improved air quality and soundscapes as well as reduced wildlife disturbance.” The coalition of retirees cited an EPA comment that the NPS plan to reverse the trend of reduced winter traffic “appears to lack adequate controls…to ensure the protection of air quality, human health, natural soundscapes and wildlife.”

The environmental groups cite the NPS data that demonstrates:

  • The area affected by snowmobile noise will triple to 63 square miles. This reflects the portion of the park where a visitor can expect to hear snowmobile noise during more than half of the day.

  • Reduced vehicular traffic in recent years is more protective of winter-stressed wildlife

  • Yellowstone’s winter air quality has improved, but the new plan would result in 13 times more hydrocarbon emissions than a full transition from snowmobiles to snowcoaches would produce.

In addition, the snowmobile noise is concentrated around travel corridors and popular park attractions, increasing the potential impact on most visitors.

“After a three-year study, the park’s own scientists recommended capping traffic at its much-reduced level to protect winter-stressed animals from being disturbed and harassed by too many vehicles,” said Chris Mehl of The Wilderness Society. “Instead, the Park Service has elected to double snowmobile use from those levels.”

In its press release, the conservation community said an NPS study “found that all of these unhealthy gasses in oversnow vehicle exhaust could be dramatically reduced from recent levels if the National Park Service chose instead to emphasize snowcoach access and further reduce snowmobile use or phase it out completely.”

The Park Service decision also covers Grand Teton National Park and the John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Memorial Parkway, which connects the Tetons and Yellowstone. The decision will allow 140 snowmobiles a day In Grand Teton and the Parkway.

Press releases and other information about the NPS decision are at www.npsretirees.org. The NPS Record of Decision and environmental impact statements are at http://parkplanning.nps.gov.