Former Park Service Chiefs Fear Snowmobile Increase in Yellowstone

WASHINGTON, DC, March 27, 2007 (ENS) - The Bush administration today announced its proposal to continue allowing snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park, ignoring the protests of former National Park Service directors who say the plan will "undercut the park's resurgent natural conditions."

The proposal, open for public comment through May 31, in effect extends a temporary rule that has governed snowmobiling in Yellowstone since 2004.

It allows up to 720 snowmobiles daily into the park, calling for the use of four-stroke models that are cleaner and quieter than older two-stroke models.

The plan also requires snowmobilers travel with commercial guides and stay on park roads in order to protect wildlife.

But critics contend the plan will escalate snowmobile use in the park from its current daily average of 250 snowmobiles and do little to quell the long-running controversy over the issue. guided

The Bush plan calls for a daily limit of 1,190 snowmobiles in the two parks and the road that connects them - snowmobiles granted park access must by run by commercial operators and users must travel with guides. (Photo courtesy National Park Service)
The Clinton administration enacted a rule in 2000 designed to phaseout snowmobile use in Yellowstone by 2004, but that plan was derailed by a legal battle and reversed by the Bush administration.

In a letter sent Monday to U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, seven of the eight living former National Park Service directors said the proposal is ill-conceived.

The proposal would "radically contravene both the spirit and letter" of the agency's management policies that emphasize conservation of park resources, according to the letter.

The seven former Park Service chiefs, spanning every Democratic and Republican presidential administration from Lyndon Johnson to Bill Clinton, said the proposal ignores scientific evidence - much of it gathered by the National Park Service - that the park is better off without the machines.

"The proposal is to escalate snowmobile use as much as three-fold over current average numbers even though scientific studies have demonstrated conclusively that a two-thirds reduction in average snowmobile numbers during the past four winters is principally responsible for significantly improving the health of the park for visitors, employees and wildlife," the letter said.

The latest National Park Service study shows allowing 720 snowmobiles in the park would bring noise back to areas where "visitors are currently able to enjoy natural sounds and quiet," the letter said, " [and] exhaust would increase in Yellowstone's air."

The proposal "sidesteps" the recommendation by scientists that snowmobile traffic should be kept at or below current levels to minimize disturbance to the park's wildlife, the directors said. yellowstone

Conservationists worry about the impact of continued snowmobile use on the Yellowstone's natural resources and wildlife. (Photo courtesy NPCA)
"The study also provides clear evidence that reducing snowmobile numbers still further - from 250 per day to zero - while expanding public access on modern snowcoaches, would further improve the park's health," according to the letter.

The Park Service has spent $10 million on four studies of snowmobile impacts in Yellowstone since 1998 - each one has confirmed the machines adversely impact the park's wildlife and air quality, as well as visitor experience.

In addition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has on three occasions agreed that providing access by modern snowcoach and phasing out the use of snowmobiles will provide Yellowstone's visitors, employees and wildlife with healthier conditions.

But the Bush administration has consistently sided with snowmobile advocates, arguing that the machines should be allowed in the park and noting that newer snowmobiles are cleaner and quieter than older models.

The letter notes that the four-stroke models have brought reductions in air and noise emissions compared to traditional two-stroke models, but points out emissions from the newer machines "remain significantly greater than those of modern automobiles."

The details of the plan can be found here.