There was a collective sigh throughout the conservation community last month when the National Park Service released the final version of its updated Management Policies, the guidelines that park superintendents use for on-the-ground decisions. The teeth put into the document in 2001 to truly conserve the parks' landscape above all else had been restored.
But, if you oppose snowmobiles in Yellowstone, Grand Teton or any other park, don't view the revised MPs as a panacea that will banish the noisy and polluting machines from the parks.
In fact, in the wake of the MP revisions, NPS Deputy Director Steve Martin sent a memo out to the field specifically stating that "snowmobiling will continue in the 47 parks where it is now occurring, providing it is not causing impairment of park resources. The draft Management Policies will not in any way affect the supplemental Winter Use EIS that is currently under way at Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park because the purpose of the EIS is to ensure that use is not impairing park resources."
What's sad about all this -- and I know Martin's hands are tied by the decisions of higher ups -- is that two previous environmental impact statements and an environmental assessment have concluded that snowmobiles are detrimental to Yellowstone's wildlife, landscape, air, park employees and even visitors.
Some of the studies being compiled for the current EIS also have pointed to problems related to noise and problems specific to wildlife.
Now, what will be interesting is how officials react when the latest ongoing EIS reaches the same conclusion as the three previous studies. Will they finally recognize the science and phase-out snowmobile use in the parks in favor of less-polluting snowcoach traffic, or will they concoct some bizarre rationale to keep the stink machines in the parks?