NPS Director Bomar Not Inclined to Overturn Yellowstone's Snowmobile Backing

NPS Director Mary Bomar; NPS Photo

National Park Service Director, Mary Bomar. NPS Photo.

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."

Comments

I will absolutely honor and obey the Management Policies.

Commandment #11: Honor and obey thy Management Policies.

Let's all bow down to the sacred Management Policies and not question their validity or purpose. To question would be blasphemous. We must honor them absolutely.

No wonder the NPS is so ineffectual: dogma, the established belief or doctrine held by a religion, ideology or any kind of organization, thought to be authoritative and not to be disputed or doubted.

The fact that she has the chutzpah to keep a straight face after having just spent $10 million on a snowmobile "study" is reason enough to dismiss whatever lock-step she is keeping with her fellow bureaucrats in support of the insupportable. In fact, I think this is an extremely useful illustration of the folly that is inherent in the continued support of this agency to manage wilderness much less picnic tables or rest rooms.

As for Mary's adoration of the Magi......er.....I mean Management Policies (the sacred capitalization emanating from her official statement, not mine) should come as no surprise. This is the modus operandi of an unresponsive bureaucracy: wantonly spend $10 million of the taxpayers money on a "study" and then blatantly ignore their input before stonewalling when confronted with a reasoned response. I couldn't make a better argument for wholesale change in the NPS if I spent of a month of Sundays on it.

Thanks for the vivid display of bureaucratic arrogance Mary. You're making my point about the bankruptcy of your agency way better than I ever could!

"...to compromise the scenery and the natural and historic objects and to harrass the wildlife therein and to impede the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them forever impaired solely for the eternal amusement of a handful of knuckleheads in annoying fart machines."

I'm sure the motorized winter recreation industry and its powerful market forces had something to do with this decision rather than science. Nice leadership on this one, NPS.

"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," No, the American public has come to expect the worst, and thereby rarely are we disappointed, when it comes to environmental policy rendered by the bureaucracy and ignornance that is our federal government and it's related branches. Tell me, is this the same EPA who issued the national Clean Water Act, in response to the infamous ignition of the Cuyahoga River, mandating that all the nation's waterways be swimable (without fear of potentially fatal contact with fecal coliform bacteria and toxic waste discharge from manufacturing plants) and fishable (as in actually being able to eat the fish, not just catch and release) by the year 1985? Their concerns are truly touching. Ineffective, but touching.

"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." Ah, but they never did commit publically to specifically what they were conserving, did they? Such as retirement benefits, grade levels, the right to remain silent and slowly pass the buck around in circles so as to defeat the enemy via the ole' red-tape and eventual stagnation maneuver.

And a sad day for ex-NPS employees who once were filled with the corporate mantra involving high ideals and long-term conservation plans, only to see the real world come crashing down around and amidst them.

I had an interesting experience this winter in Yellowstone. I took a walk from Mammoth Hot Springs to Swan Lake Flats along the road. The snow was packed down from all the snowmobile and snowcoach traffic, so I didn't even need skies or snowshoes. I was passed by skiers, snowmobiles, and coaches. The first thing that I noticed about the snowmobiles was that they were quieter than I had remembered when I used to ride them years ago, yet for some reason I could hear them...that annoying hum...a good five minutes before they appeared. For some reason they seem to sound the same, whether you are right next to them or a mile away! The older coaches were nearly as bad, I could hear them coming for what seemed forever. But the newer, yellow coaches I hardly knew were coming until I saw them, and could no longer hear them before they were out of sight....even though they SEEMED loader than the snowmobiles when they were right next to me!
The real telling thing, though, was when a group of four or five snowmobiles went by, I literally could not breathe for ten minutes after they passed. I have been stuck in traffic jams in July in LA, with hundreds of cars bumper to bumper, and can guarantee you that it wasn't THAT bad. The older snowcoaches made breathing difficult for only a couple of minutes, and the NEWER snowcoaches stunk for only the few seconds that they were right next to me!! In other words, when the newer coaches were gone, THEY WERE GONE! No smell, no noise! Almost like magic.
I have been fighting against snowmobiles in the Park for some time, but now I have a real life experience to back up my argument.