The fate of the snowmobile issue in Yellowstone National Park likely will turn on how the science conducted the past three winters in the park is interpreted. Those who support a snowmobile ban in Yellowstone say the science clearly points to snow coaches as the most environmentally conscious mode of transportation, while snowmobile supporters say it shows snowmobiles can roam the park without harm.
Today, Park Service Director Mary Bomar came down on the side of those who believe the science supports snowmobile use in Yellowstone.
"I support the superintendent (Suzanne Lewis). I wanted to be supported as a superintendent. I feel that she’s been in the field, she's an expert in that area," Director Bomar told National Parks Traveler while in Austin, Texas, attending the National Park Foundation's Leadership Summit. "She feels that the science supports her decision. In fact, very strongly supports her decision.
"... I’ve said this many times in front of Congress, I will absolutely honor and obey the Management Policies. I am committed to make sure ... that we enforce the Management Policies," the director said.
Director Bomar speaks with the 'Traveler' (1:03)
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Not everyone agrees with that, however.
Last week Don Barry, an assistant Interior secretary for fish and wildlife and parks under the Clinton administration that banned snowmobile use in the park only to have the Bush administration overturn that decision, told the Association of National Park Rangers that Yellowstone managers had to tweak their standards for protecting the park's resources to justify their preferred alternative. That alternative calls for up to 540 snowmobiles per day in Yellowstone beginning with the winter of 2008-09. That's up from the three-year average of roughly 250 snowmobiles, but down from the previous ceiling of 720 snowmobiles per day.
"The park just came out with a final EIS authorizing 540 snowmobiles a day. The average for the last three years has been 250. Two-hundred-and-fifty," Mr. Barry, now with The Wilderness Society, told the group during its gathering in Park City, Utah. "But the park feels obligated to come in at 540. Now what's appalling about this decision is the only way they could get to 540, was to water down the park protection standards that go along with this. And the worst offense of all, they watered down the ones for wildlife harassment, for air protection, and noise. And the worst of all was what they did with the noise protection standards. They redefined in that EIS what a major impact on the soundscape was for Yellowstone National PArk because of snowmoibling.
"And they defined the new standard of what a major impact was to require that the noise be heard over 20 percent of the entire park. Now you could have an atomic fart and you would not hear it, you would not hear it over 20 percent of the national park. But that's what they had to do in order to justify and to authorize 540 snowmoibles a day.
Don Barry addresses the ANPR (2:15)
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Also, letters and petitions are circulating this week to urge Director Bomar to overrule Superintendent Lewis, and today the New York Times called on Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and Director Bomar to rein-in snowmobile use in Yellowstone. Additionally, four members of Congress -- Reps. Rush Holt, D-N.J., Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., Tim Johnson, R-Ill., and Chris Shays, R-Conn. -- are calling on their colleagues to sign a letter to Director Bomar asking her to phase snowmobiles out of the park. At least 26 other members of Congress had signed on by Tuesday afternoon.
Over at the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, Bill Wade condemned Director Bomar's position.
"We believe that it is inexcusable for Superintendent Lewis and Regional Director (Mike) Snyder to propose an alternative that fails to meet the NPS Management Policies and heed scientific findings relative to air quality, noise and wildlife disturbance in Yellowstone. And we are extremely disappointed in Director Bomar’s apparent failure to address the magnitude of the contradiction that exists between the decision proposed for Yellowstone and the pledges she made to Congress and the American people that NPS will act on scientific findings and uphold the agency’s mission to give top priority to conservation of the national parks," he said.
"As director, she is in a position to ensure a Record of Decision that does in fact place conservation first in Yellowstone. Failure to do that goes against her pledges and sets a very bad precedent for the conservation mandate throughout the National Park System. The 'byword' in the NPS used to be, 'If you err, err on the side of conservation.' It seems that it has moved to, 'Erring on the side of use and motorized access.”
At the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, the group's national parks program director, Amy McNamara, said Superintendent Lewis's support of 540 snowmobiles per day in Yellowstone defies the scientific conclusions.
"Doubling the number of snowmobiles that have been in the park the last four winters remains inconsistent with noise data, recommendations from wildlife mangers, and concerns from the EPA. The American public should be incredibly discouraged that the National Park Service is failing to make science-based decisions in Yellowstone," says. Ms. McNamara. "All of the living former NPS Directors [except Fran Mainella] have raised serious concerns about the decision NPS is about to make on behalf of Yellowstone.
"This has to be a sad day for all of the NPS employees who believe in their agency's conservation mandate and who were led to believe that conservation would be paramount in the parks when the NPS Management Policies were finalized in 2006."