Yellowstone Snowmobiles: Has Apathy Arrived?
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?