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Yellowstone Snowmobiles: Has Apathy Arrived?

Yellowstone National Park; 'oh_candy' photo via Flickr.

Yellowstone National Park; photo via Flickr

Run a breathtaking, and alarming, video of brown bears about to be slaughtered and there's an outpouring of emotion, angst, and vitriol against the National Park Service for allowing such a hunt.

Mention that the National Park Service is fully behind snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park, where science has demonstrated they're a blight on the landscape, and there's a collective shrug of the shoulders. Has apathy settled in on this issue?

For sure, the snowmobile issue had been hanging over Yellowstone for far too long, well into seven years since President Bush reversed the Clinton administration's ban on recreational use of the snowmobiles in the park. We've endured roughly $10 million worth of environmental impact statements, and one environmental assessment, on the place of snowmobiles in Yellowstone, and all have pointed out the park's wildlife, air, soundscapes, visitors, and even employees would be better off without them.

Now, unable to produce scientific studies that say the snowmobiles are not harming the park's resources, the administration has decided that it will allow them just the same, even employing some statistical slight of hand to make it appear as if it really is reducing snowmobiles' impacts on Yellowstone.

If you've been keeping note these past seven years, you know that the current temporary winter-use plan allows for up to 720 snowmobiles a day in the park, and that during the past three years the average was closer to 250. But that didn't prevent the Park Service from describing its preferred alternative, the one that allows up to 540 snowmobiles a day in the park, as being a reduction in snowmobile use in the park.

But there seemingly has been no outrage over this numbers game. Indeed, mainstream media seems to have largely ignored the snowmobile issue this fall, as neither the New York Times nor the Los Angeles Times, which in the past have closely covered this topic and even editorialized against snowmobiles in the park, seem to have noticed the Park Service's latest preferred alternative.

Is Yellowstone, the world's first and grandest national park, any less sacrosanct than the brown bears in Katmai National Preserve?

Why is it that the Yellowstone Superintendent Suzanne Lewis overlooked the collective wisdom of seven of the last eight Park Service directors who have urged that recreational snowmobiling be phased out of Yellowstone because it runs contrary to a number of sections of the Park Service's very own 2006 Management Policies:

* ... the Service will seek to perpetuate the best possible air quality in parks...
* The National Park Service will preserve, to the greatest extent possible, the natural soundscapes of parks.
* Where such use is necessary and appropriate, the least impacting equipment, vehicles, and transportation systems should be used.
* NPS managers must also seek ways to avoid, or to minimize to the greatest degree practicable, adverse impacts on park resources and values.

"I can't understand how the superintendent can make a decision that seems to me is injurious to the park resources. If I were the park superintendent of Yellowstone, I'd rather be sued by the snowmobile industry than by NPCA," says Rick Smith of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees. "You can't run a park by litigation. That's just not an appropriate way.

"If you have to litigate, let's be on the side of conservation, let's be on the side of resources, let's be on the side of natural quiet, let's be on the side of unimpaired wildlife, let's be on the side of minimizing air pollution, and not on the other side," he adds. "And that seems to me where Yellowstone is going at the present time."

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Will Park Service Director Mary Bomar also turn her head at both these former directors as well as the Management Policies? Will she ignore the findings of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency staff that allowing more than 250 snowmobiles per day into Yellowstone could compromise human health? Will she overlook Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne's pledge to President Bush, in his cover letter to the Centennial Initiative Report, that "stewardship and science will guide decisions"?

"Science and the results of scientific research can be manipulated. And it seems to me in this case they've been stretched and manipulated," says Mr. Smith. "It seems to me there is a question about the integrity of Yellowstone's interpretation of the research results, which by the way their own scientistits are doing. We're not talking about contract scientists.

"Moreover, when an agency like the Environmental Protection Agency -- which in the Bush administration I don't think you can claim is a cutting-age environmental agency -- when it raises questions about Yellowstone's interpretation of the research results, I think there are some real things to think about in terms of how Yellowstone is interpreting those research results and whether Secretary Kempthorne's pledge that science would prevail is actually being carried out in this case."

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What, or who, is driving the Park Service to endorse recreational snowmobile use in Yellowstone? Former Interior Secretary Gale Norton, a huge proponent of snowmobiles, no longer works for the government. Paul Hoffman, an assistant Interior Department secretary who favored snowmobiles, no longer holds sway in the agency. Former Park Service Director Fran Mainella, who also backed snowmobiles, is in the private sector.

Why is the Park Service allowed to overlook hundreds of thousands of public comment letters that endorsed a ban on snowmobiles in the Park, some of which Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash claimed lacked substance because they were form letters?

With the politics that swirl around this issue and even trump science and when the public time and again gives its voice and opinion to the Park Service when asked to only to be seemingly ignored, is it any wonder apathy has come to roost over the topic of Yellowstone snowmobiles?


For the record, I'm against having anything greater than 0 snowmobiles in the parks.

However: Kurt, I don't understand your reasoning that bringing the max allowed from 720 to 540 is really an increase, since only an average of 250/day go in now. If the max now is 720 but there's only an average of 250, do you think lowering the max to 540 will increase the average? I would think it would do nothing to how many actually go into the park. To me, it's just your normal government two-step, where it looks like they're doing something, but in reality they're doing nothing at all.

Yellowstone Snowmobiles: Has Apathy Arrived?

Judging by the responses to this article, I'd answer yes it has.

Why is the Park Service allowed to overlook hundreds of thousands of public comment letters that endorsed a ban on snowmobiles in the Park...?

Very good question, Kurt. I'm interested in your answer, but I'll assume I'll never hear it.

My take is that the NPS is an oligarchy heavily influenced, if not controlled, by interest groups.

Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men, generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil.

"Yellowstone Snowmobiles: Has Apathy Arrived?"
With Yellowstone's continuous build up to 6 Hotels, 8 restaurants, 7 gas stations, a multitude of gift shops, 17 ATM's and many many miles of paved trails and roads I would say my apathetic view of the National Park Service has been around for quite a while.
My return trip to Grand Canyon National Park a few years ago was so disheartening that I fear a return to Yellowstone after a 30 year absence.
I will still write the appropriate letter now and then, I suppose.

I'm not sure if it qualifies as apathy, or a momentarily disgusted expression of disbelief, culminating in the old expression most parents utter to their children at one time or another, "Just what the hell do I have to do to get through that thick skull of yours?". Indeed, how best DO we penetrate the thick skulls of the NPS when their measured response to the issue is already picking who they prefer to defend themselves against in court?

Why is the Park Service allowed to overlook hundreds of thousands of public comment letters that endorsed a ban on snowmobiles in the Park, some of which Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash claimed lacked substance because they were form letters?
I guess by this logic, we are all quite within our rights to ignore the tax code, as well as the call to arms, as they are also the product of form letters, right Al? WHAT A BONEHEADED THING TO SAY!!!
Oops, sorry, government employee, what else can we expect?

Mookie: the point is that reducing the max. from 720 to 540 is NOT a reduction when the average is only 250. A reduction would be to make the max 240, or 200. Random: how right you are. Now they are talking about a hotel, employee housing and a wrecker station at Tower Junction! What happened to "left unimpaired for future generations"? If it really were, all such developtments would be outside the border of the park.
The Park Service repeats the same ol' thing every time, "Well, the public comments were never intended to be a vote!" Why have them then?
Kurt, I think people just get burned out. They comment, they write to Congresspeople, they write to the Park Service, they write to Interior......and it does no good.
It's time to comment in the voting booth.

Apathy? No, it is just realizing that just as in bear hunts to manage same, snowmobiles in Yellowstone is just one more issue that illustrates that there is way too much junk science with a heaping portion of too much emotion out there being spewed by environmental extremists.
The bison couldn't care less about a bunch of snowmobiles...just as automobiles, they have gotten used to them...and as far as pollution, ya ever notice those steaming, frothing things out there called fumaroles and geysers?? Collectively, they most likely emit (I would love to see a study on this by a motivated grad student) more in ONE MINUTE of the basic constituents of what comes out of the tailpipe of 500 snowmobiles in a ONE MONTH...or maybe an entire year!
So, let's calm down and enjoy life, people!!

I would just like to follow up....
I do see way too much unfounded fear, raw emotion and junk science out there in many of the posts in this blog...did you all stop to really THINK about some of these issues before writing a post?
Nature is SO resilient...just look at how fast nature takes back an abandoned logging road...or an empty field, for example.
The sky is NOT let's all take a deep breath and de-stress. We live in a beautiful country on a beautiful planet that is quite healthy. I know that Al Gore has so many people in a tizzy over global warming, but just remember, it was only back in the 1970s that scientists were worried about global cooling...just realize that where there is money to be made....(just how much is Gore making on his movie, and how much jet fuel is he burning?)
If you all want to worry yourselves into an early grave, go for it; I am going to go backpacking and enjoy life!


You're the man. Thanks for saying what I've been thinking for a loooong time.

The so-called "apathy" is that there are "thousands of people" who realize the practicality of what Gerald just stated. 250 snowmobiles a day are not the "blight" the 10 million dollar enivronmental impact statements claim them to be.

The other things that 10 million dollars could have been spent on...that's the real travesty.

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