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Community & CulturePolicies & Politics

Court Rules Against Bush Plan to Allow Snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park

A sign saying snowmobiles aren't permittedA federal judge has banned snowmobiles from Yellowstone National Park. He said that a plan approved by the Bush Administration to allow 500 snowmobiles to travel daily through Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in the winter months would cause damaging noise pollution, air pollution, and would also stress wildlife.

Emmit Sullivan, the judge who presided over the case said, “According to the National Park Service’s own data, the (plan) will increase air pollution, exceed the use levels recommended by NPS biologists to protect wildlife, and cause major adverse impacts to the natural soundscape in Yellowstone.” Snowmobiles have been allowed in the park during the past few years, although data from 2006 suggests that the park averaged about 290 per day in the winter months of that year. [social_buttons]

The decision is no doubt going to be controversial, and Wyoming’s Senators have already denounced it. They claim that national parks exist for the enjoyment of Americans, a semi-accurate claim, because the National Park Service mission also states that parks should not be impaired. Finding the balance is often a challenge, as these two goals can often be at odds with one another– as has been the case in Yellowstone for some time.

As someone who has worked for the National Park Service in many capacities over the past ten years in many parks, and as someone who has a lot of friends who work or who have worked at Yellowstone, I know that the issue is not simple. In graduate school I even heard of a study about how cross-country skiers in Yellowstone might be more likely candidates than snowmobiles to stress out large animals like bison. The reason: animals can hear the snowmobiles from far away, and move. But with people moving quietly on skis, animals can be approached quickly and without warning, adding a higher potential for stress when caught off-guard. I have not personally read the study, so I cannot comment upon its accuracy or methodology.

Here’s my personal opinion about the case of Yellowstone and snowmobiles. Can’t we have at least SOMEWHERE in the United States that is afforded the highest level of ecological protection? Isn’t it most appropriate that it is Yellowstone: our most famous park, our first national park, and one of the most splendidly diverse in its grandeur? There seem to be plenty of other places to enjoy snowmobiles that are in beautiful locations. Just my opinion of course, but come on. If you give a little wiggle room on everything, what will ever truly be protected?

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Photo Credit: ezioman on Flickr under a Creative Commons license




18 comments
  1. Bungoman

    So sorry, Charlie, no sleds for you.

    No ATV/MX in the park during summer? No sleds during winter. Case closed, deal with it.

    Oh yea, and basically all ATVs and most MX have been 4 stroke for years.

    Argue that cars cause more pollution in summer? Specious and you know it. Try again.

    Whine about how “woe is me, poor sled man, can’t ride nowheres nomore”, I say WAAAAAAAA! Grow the F up, lose a few pounds, grab a pair of snowshoes, and go see all the stuff that anyone on a sled never could.

    Now that I’ve put you man-children in your place, I will say this: when fully electric sleds are perfected, allowing them into places like Yellowstone should be fine. And yes, they already exist and are pretty bad ass for alpha-tests. In a few years, and with a bit more energy density from batteries, you’ll be able to tour your fat, beer drinking ass in clean silence, all over God’s green earth.

  2. cchiovitti

    Outrageous gas prices, carbon monoxide emission, an economy in the crapper and the planet losing more and more pristene wilderness daily, and these morons just HAVE to hop their lazy butts on a snowmobile and go blasting through a national park. Stupid.

  3. Alex

    Maybe a compromise would be a better solution? The park service could loan out (charging only for the cost of fuel and maintenance) their own fleet of snowmobiles that run on CNG, are equipped with better mufflers, don’t have carbide studs, are governed to run no faster than 35 mph, and could even have a GPS recorder to ensure the users stay on approved trails? It seems to me that this would allow responsible people to snowmobile in the park while addressing many of the concerns regarding protecting the wild aspect of the place.

  4. Dave

    “I have not personally read the study, so I cannot comment upon its accuracy or methodology.”

    Then why are you talking about it?

    I don’t snowmobile, but I can see how it is a convenient way to move through the Park, or any Park of that size.

  5. E_TRAIN

    It seems to me that a large majority of the people that side in favor of banning snowmobiles from our National Park are elitist, I’ll explain. What of the people that would like to enjoy the park but are not capable. Not assuming that everyone that rides a snowmobile in Yellowstone is handicapped. But who are these people to say that if you can’t walk it you can’t enjoy it. If you ski the park you won’t make it even a quarter way through in a day, it’s freaking huge! I have been through the park in the summertime and enjoyed every minute. Experiencing Yellowstone on a snowmobile is something that is on my agenda this winter. There are speed limits in the park, you are supervised during the ride and it’s a great income for the local economy that depends on tourism at this point.
    Making laws that limit access to parks for certain people based on elitist views of the world is disgusting.

  6. Time Tracker

    @CHUCK – Some things should just remain protected. If that means not allowing machinery near one of the very few places of natural beauty left in the US, I don’t see why it should be a huge problem. You’re telling me there aren’t enough places to ride a noisy, air and noise polluting vehicle?

  7. CHUCK

    I think it has nothing to do with noise. Park rangers just like most government employes would like to sit around all winter getting paid. I snowmobiled there for over five years and I can tell you first hand they did no harm. This is just another example lost freedom. What’s next?

  8. A Snowmobiler

    Whoever posted this link on Digg, and linked it to President Bush, way to distort the story. And let me set the record straight, I am republican and I hate Mr. Bush.

    To the relevant topic at hand, allow me to offer my opinions. I’m 26 years old, from Michigan, and have grown up snowmobiling. I remember being 10 years old and ice fishing on Lake St. George….riding my Arctic Cat 440 Jag out to the Shanty.

    Today I proudly ride a 2002′ Polaris 700 xcsp. Today, I also face an awful danger as a snowmobiler. You people.

    To the poster named “Rabblerouser”, consider your argument. You offer the argument that nature comes as top priority, human interaction and/or enjoyment is secondary. I am assuming you have operated a snowmobile or motorbike (dirtbike). You would be correct to assume they are less than efficient, in terms of emissions, by today’s standards. Of course, the unfair comparison always comes when those vehicles are compared to a 2,000 pound automobile (being conservative, i know automobiles weigh more.)

    So, for you, I am going to break down the quote issued, in my opinion erroneously, by the ruling judge.

    “According to the National Park Service’s own data, the (plan) will increase air pollution…”

    To that I rebute, do you drive your RV, automobile, or any other vehicle with an internal combustible engine nearby or upwind of Yellowstone? Based on your response, i’m assuming you value the park’s natural preservation (as do I), and visit the park, so i’m assuming you do. With that said, you have just helped contribute to Yellowstone’s air pollution.

    “exceed the use levels recommended by NPS biologists to protect wildlife…”

    My point again. We have a natural homeostasis in our ecology and environment. Any internal combustible engine operating upwind up Yellow stone, within a relatively close vicinity with issue CO2 gases into the troposphere in Yellowstone.

    Also, and this is VERY IMPORTANT! Yellowstone has not allowed any snowmobiles to run within its boundaries for years that are not equipped with a 4 stroke engine. Unsure of what that is? I won’t go into mechanical details but let me spell it out to you this way:

    A typical 4 stroke snowmobile engine is very quiet (less than the standard 88dB avg req) and can run almost 400 miles to a 10-12 gallon tank. That is almost 40 miles/gallon. That Ford Taurus you brought your family to Yellowstone in? Doesn’t come close.

    “and cause major adverse impacts to the natural soundscape in Yellowstone”

    Again, for years Yellowstone has only allowed 4 stroke engines. I encourage you to pry your arms off the tree you are hugging, go test ride a 4 stroke snowmobile, and then come back and complain.

    I’ve been raised to respect the outdoors. Always leave it better than I have found it. Just as I always find litter or trash on the trail, sadly enough, I seem to find quite a bit more “garbage” about the trail….from people who have never been on it.

    Randy
    Grosse Ile, Michigan

  9. rabblerouser

    To anyone who would argue that it is ok to allow snowmobiles in the park consider this – would you be okay if people rode motorbikes through the park in summer? – snowmobiles are much the same thing.

    A national park reserve is precious – it is a place where nature should always come first and humans come second, and certainly not somewhere to go riding your smowmobile (or motorbike for that matter).

  10. Paul

    “Can’t we have at least SOMEWHERE in the United States that is afforded the highest level of ecological protection?”

    Of course we can have areas with the highest protection. They are called wilderness areas. There are now 704 separate wilderness areas, encompassing 107,514,938 acres and snowmobiles can’t go into any of them. In case you are counting, we have 48 times more acres of wilderness than the whole size of Yellowstone.

    Yellowstone on the other hand is a park that has been designed for tourists. In the summer the park is clogged with them. In the winter an average of 290 per day (2006) have been visiting via snowmobile, and are restricted to stay on designated trails only. They aren’t harming the environment compared to the three million summer visitors each year.

  11. Outdoors

    “Can’t we have at least SOMEWHERE in the United States that is afforded the highest level of ecological protection?” — we have that “somewhere” many times over in the form of our ever growing wilderness areas.

  12. Dave K

    I guess I disagree. What’s the point of having everything so “protected” that only a biologist gets to see it? How does that benefit me as a taxpayer? Anyone that believes 290 snowmobiles a month causes noise and air pollution has never been to the upper peninsula of Michigan or Northern Wisconsin or Minnesota in the winter. I’ve been to both, with FAR more snowmobiles than that. I don’t understand how sharing this and controlling it, (charge for the cleaning of the air and any damage in fees so those using the park causing damage, can through fees, set it right). I understand keeping things pristine. However, I can see where the cost of this could be a nice place to benefit the entire area, much like duck stamps in the midwest have helped in the recovery of wetlands.

  13. gnomic

    Don’t most snowmobilers carry guns? Then this is a 2nd amendment issues as the government is infringing upon our tights to arm bears. God gave us this country so we could kill off the red man, enslave the black man, and rape the environment on snowmobiles. Its says so in the bible!

    (warning – ignore the blinking sarcasm light at your own peril)

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