Conservation Groups Will Head to Court Over Yellowstone Snowmobile Decision

A day after the Park Service announced its decision on snowmobiles in Yellowstone, six conservation groups said they would challenge the decision in court. NPS Photo by Jim Peaco.

Six conservation groups are condemning the National Park Service's decision regarding snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park, saying it goes against the core values of the national park system. To right that wrong, the groups said they would seek judicial relief.

In a joint press release, The Wilderness Society, National Parks Conservation Association, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Natural Resources Defense Council, Winter Wildlands Alliance, and the Sierra Club said the decision to allow as many as 540 snowmobiles a day into Yellowstone goes against the Park Service's own scientific studies and recommendations and will lead to "noise, dirtier air and frequent disturbance of wildlife."

"That choice ignores the National Park Service’s overarching mandate to give highest priority to conservation of national park resources," the organizations said, adding that they hoped Congress would exercise its oversight authority over the Park Service.

“The past four seasons have shown that Yellowstone’s winter visitors are increasingly embracing modern snow coaches and the health of the park has improved because of it,” said Amy McNamara of the Greater
Yellowstone Coalition. “The National Park Service’s decision makes a U-turn on that progress and will lead to unacceptable impacts in our first national park.”

In their release the groups noted that the Park Service disclosed in a study accompanying its decision that allowing 540 snowmobiles into Yellowstone each day will dramatically expand-to 63 square miles-the portion of the park where visitors can expect to hear snowmobile noise during more than half of the visiting day. That would be a three-fold increase from the current portion of the park where noise intrudes on the visitor’s experience during at least half the day.

The groups also noted that in its Final Environmental Impact Study accompanying its decision, the Park Service notes that Congress established the National Park Service in 1916 in part due to a recognition that the American people “wanted places to go that were undisturbed and natural and which offered a retreat from the rigors and stresses of everyday life.”

“National Parks are supposed to receive the highest level of resource protection for the benefit of wildlife and future generations of visitors. The Park Service’s plan undermines this conservation commitment to the American public in its National Park System. This decision would set a dangerous and unacceptable precedent for the entire National Park System and that is why we will continue to work for a better decision,” said the NPCA's Tim Stevens.


Yada, yada, yada.
Guess the NPS will just have to raise fees even more to cover court costs...go ahead, shoot yourself in the foot!

Time to go sleddin'!!
Here's mine:
BTW, snowmobiling DOES allow me to go places to go that are "undisturbed and natural and which offer a retreat from the rigors and stresses of everyday life.”...I AM HANDICAPPED...I have few opportunities to enjoy the wilderness.
So stop trying to lock up the parks for only the able-bodied. Frickin' selfish wackos....

Every winter I am in the north eastern cascades on my sled exploring some great wild country.
I do meet folks out there doing the same, though it does not happen often.
The picture above in Kurt's post does not look like folks wanting to explore some undisturbed and natural back country.
(For your viewing pleasure)

NICE sled Random Walker!!
BTW, that picture was taken where all the sleds are bunched up after entering the park, they are more spread out than that, usually. Especially further into the park.

Why is it that the idea of snowcoaches isn't being mentioned? It is my understanding that they provide much the same benefits of snowmobiles, but without the problems...
"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared towhat lies within us." - Emerson
President, CHS SPEAK (CHS Students Promoting Environmental Action & Knowledge)
Founder and President, CHS Campus Greens
Come be a part of the ridiculously awesome youth movement for clean energy!

Y'all need to chill and live happy. Snowmobiles are fun, cross country skiing is fun, snowcoaches are fun. Live and let live and de-stress, people! The sun will come up in the east in the morning, life is too short.

Do y'all ever enjoy the parks, or just worry yourselves to death over 'em?
Jus think of how many years are taken off your life with worry. Do ya really think the bison give a rat's a$$ over snowmobiles? They're just worried about their next meal. They're probably pretty used to the noise. In the meantime, let's LIVE and just LIVE! RIDE those snowmobiles (looks like a LOT of FUN), SWISH them skis, let's party dude!!

Ziggy, I don't think considering the impact our actions have necessarily qualifies as "worry". There's a lot more to life than fun and parties. We must be mindful the consequences of our actions. "Live and let live and de-stress, people!" Your type of fun is incompatible with wilderness values and ethics; I escape the city not to hear sounds I can hear in the city. I get enough stress from engine noise in the city; I don't need it in the wilderness. Speaking of consequences, a main reason snowmobiles shouldn't be allowed in wilderness is because of the hazardous chemicals they carry and leak, especially gasoline. You should check out the Material Safety Data Sheet for unleaded gasoline. It shows at least fifteen hazardous chemicals occurring in various amounts. These include benzene (up to 5% by volume), toluene (up to 35% by volume), naphthalene (up to 1% by volume), trimethylbenzene (up to 7% by volume), MTBE (up to 18% by volume) and about 10 others. So your fun has an impact on other humans and lifeforms. I believe that you have enough spaces to have your fun. Let's save some spots so that others can have a quieter type of fun. Thank you.

One of the major concerns in establishing "no-fly" zones in certain regions of the Grand Canyon was "to preserve a wilderness experience for visitors by reducing noice pollution in areas of major tourist activity", so that those wishing to experience the canyon's environment could do so without the feeling of standing at the end of an airport tarmack. That, and to relieve the congestion that was a growing safety concern, with too many flights and too many underskilled pilots contributing to the degredation of air safety in the most populace regions of the canyon. I doubt whether a serious arguement can be made that in so doing, the NTSB and FAA have made a drastic negative impact on those wishing to take part in an aerial tour of the Abyss, whether via helicopter or light aircraft.

Preserving the "wilderness experience" is, or at the very least, should be a primary directive of the NPS as it pertains to all their units. That is, after all, why the parks were established in the first place, not as playgrounds for any mode of vehicular traffic that we manage to invent. There are currently countless thousands of acreage set aside for winter sport usage, with miles and miles of established trails developed specifically for these purposes. I don't see the point for the wanton disregard for environmental impact and other studies to be blatantly ignored for the convenience a puny minority who wish to partake in these activities. Certainly the increase in revenues aren't justification, which one would think the NPS might take into account. This is quite a similar situation to the "smoke free" zones being enacted by many State legislatures. Your personal freedoms end when they begin to have a negative impact on the health of others, "for the good of all", was how our local referendum was phrased. Second-hand smoke is NOWHERE near as dangerous in a dispersed environment as fuel leaks and other operational impacts of ATV's, snowmobiles, ORV's and other environmentally unfriendly vehicles. If people make the choice to take their version of "enjoying the parks" as a quite-time experience, as it was intended to be, that original statute in Teddy Roosevelt's founding doctrine should be all that is needed to limit or ban these types of intrusions from the wilderness experience.

For the record, I enjoy ocassional snowmobile and ATV excursions. But I see no need to intrude where the traffic is neither welcomed or harmful. The country is still large enough to find your niche, no?

Man, FRank...that's heavy man!
You are so gonna live a short life worryin about all that toulene, benzene, napthalene...your worryin about all that stuff is probably more hazardous to your health than all that stuff!
I say just live it up man, cause life is wayyyy too short! Even if ya live to be 80, it's still too short! Besides all that stuff ya mentioned is natural anyway, since it does come from the earth!
Now I'll go have a beer and watch some football.

At a time when it seems like we are trying too fill every available piece of land with another strip mall or garbage sub-division.Can there not be places where we are not intruding with our noisy engines,noxious fumes and pollution.

Hey Anon...yes there are places...millions of acres of designated wilderness when the sleds can't go.

Besides all that stuff ya mentioned is natural anyway, since it does come from the earth

Extremely incorrect sir. Toulene, benzene, napthalene, trimethylbenzene and MTBE are all products of organic chemistry, not compounds that occur naturally in the earth. Toulene (the active ingredient in model airplane glues of the 70's) is so user friendly that it was forced from the marketplace due to it's unnerving ability to rearrange your central nervous system. All too many teenagers died from inhalation ("huffing") and countless hundred suffered irreversible brain, nervous system and kidney damage. It also plays hell with your DNA, initializing what are known as frame-shift mutations, which to keep this on a user-friendly level, causes some proteins to be made incorrectly, others not at all, which leads to a whole host of issues. Benzene, TMB and MTBE are known carcinogens. Not hypothetical or theoretical, but KNOWN, PROVEN carcinogens. Even worse, these substances can be absorped through both soft tissues (e.g. eyes, nose and mouth) OR directly through the most protective barrier you possess, your skin. Not the type of stuff I'd care to leave laying around the environment for just any passers-by to contact.

Enjoy your ethanol cocktail with the ballgame.

In case you're interested......

Lone Hiker
Ph.D. Biotechnology, Biochemistry / Cellular Biology

Lone Hiker, your absolutely right it's called dermal exposure: skin, eyes, nose and mouth. Maybe in time, Yellowstone will qualify as a toxic dump after the snowmobile fiasco is over.

Excuse my not completing the story. Other issues needed more immediate attention.

As for napthalene, you might be more familiar with this compound as the active ingredient in moth balls. It's what makes moth balls smell like moth balls. The simple explanation as to why it is an effective moth barrier is that moths recognize a toxic substance when they smell one. We obviously aren't as intellectually evolved as the common moth. Most people aren't even bright enough to handle this stuff with gloves, or even wash their hands after handling the product. It too is easily ingested straight through your skin, and God forbid you itch your eyes, pick your nose or suck your thumb prior to washing your hands after contact with this junk.

And for what it's worth, I believe the proper spelling is toluene (phonetically pronounced towel-u-ene), but it's not worth nit-picking over. Either way you spell it, it comes out S-C-R-E-W-E-D. It's too damn bad that certain people develop a liking for the odors of certain organic by-products like gasoline, kerosine, toluene, lighter fluids, carbochlor (dry cleaning solution) and their ilk. They're all HIGHLY corrosive to your internal organs via a process known as oxidation. You may have heard about it. It's currently all the rage in the home cleaning industry, claiming the ability to remove any stain from any material. Which for the most part, it can. But highly oxidative substances such as these organics will remove more than you bargained for when mishandled.

I wonder how our grandparents lived so long (into their 90s) without the EPA and FDA around to cry that the sky is falling? They smoked, drank, ate lotsa fatty food....
...and were around a LOT of chemicals! I think Ziggy is right, you huggies WORRY yourselves to death.

Anon - I hate to tell you this, but only one of my four grandparents lived that long. The one grandfather who smoked (none of the rest smoked or drank) died in his early 60's.

You know why my other grandpa lived so long? Because his body was in much better shape. He did farm work most of his life, spent much time outdoors and got PLENTY of exercise - as a way of life (he called it work, not exercise). Ironically, he had a much harder life than me, relatively speaking, but was much healthier than me overall, because he wasn't exposed to some of the things I've been exposed to.

Worry? No. I don't worry daily about the chemicals that people have mentioned. Frankly, I think - to some extent - they are unavoidable, because Americans rage against changing their so-called cushy lifestyles. But I do try to watch how I live. And I agree with Lone Hiker.


First, I ain't no "huggie".

Second, I don't worry about perosnla contact with these chemicals due to my extensive education and training in the proper methodology of handling corrosive, toxic, and otherwise harmful subtance. You don't do my type of work if your a careless intellectual midget.

Finally, genetics and personal biochemistry play a larger role in longevity and resistance to disease than you can possibly imagine. What are perceived to be "small, insignificant" exposure levels to one group are measured as toxic levels to others. Some people have aren't effected by a "normal" dose of Tylenol and eat them by the handful. Others pass out after taking a dose of Vick's Ni-Quil. That specific cause / effect ratio is one of the pet projects in my lab. Sequencing and understanding a mammalian genome is a walk in the park relative to decoding personal biochemistry and the related immunological factors that they influence. That your relatives enjoyed extended lifespans is enviable. But it's hardly worth betting your own life on a similar time frame unless you're willing to copy their lifestyle as well as their genes. Fatty foods and alcohol can to some degree be countered with exercise and an otherwise active lifestyle. They weren't exposed to the barrage of organic waste, microwaves, and other radiation, along with food "preservatives" and additives, including high levels of salt in most all the crap you ingest made outside your own kitchens, that we are forced to endure as part of our highly "advanced" society.

For what it's worth, I'm not even worried about you. You control your own destiny, not me brother. So live fast or slow, party hard or hardly, eat whatever you want, and you'll die anyway. The only choice you have is a slow, painful death or a relatively quick one. But in either case I'm not concerned. Why worry about things you can't control, like lifespans? (Insert refernece to Jim Fixx and Ule Gibbons here.) But it's possible that some education into the cause and effect scenarios might be useful to you in planning your next big whatever you do.

It would seem that the conservationists are not going to be happy untill all human activity outside of the city limits is eliminated and you even have to wonder about there. The parks were established to be used. Yes we have to take care of over use and/or abuse but it was not intended to be reserved for any particular group including the granola crunchers.

I'd be curious to know how this lawsuit is proceeding. I think the environmental groups would have a fairly hard time with this case for two reasons:
- it will be hard to establish that snowmobile use in Yellowstone is leaving Yellowstone impaired for future generations
- any argument that did establish that snowmobile use in Yellowstone is leaving Yellowstone impaired for future generations would probably also not look favorably upon the number of automobiles that can be found on the Great Circle Road on any given day, and I think that there are very few people who are currently willing to attack automobile visitation to Yellowstone

Alas; "unimpaired for future generations" is a mighty limp criterion. It's not much of a stretch to say that lots of sustainable yield activities (including hunting, fishing, trapping, selective logging, and many kinds of gathering, just to name a few) would leave a park unimpaired for future generations.

What I believe to be *the* central problem with this issue is it's become a political football and so, as the scientists themselves admit, science is not the guiding light on this matter.

As for whether it can be demonstrated that snowmobiles are impairing the park for future generations, as opposed to simply impacting it today, good point. But the science certainly is clear on the impacts that currently are occurring.

Regarding impacts of snowmobiles vs those of summer auto traffic, I believe the current research has proved that snowmobile traffic, at its current level, far exceeds in emissions what the summer traffic does.

I also think it's accepted and understood that parks are to be enjoyed, and so no one is about to talk about banning all traffic from Yellowstone. Rather, the idea is to minimize as much as possible the impacts from existing traffic. In the case of winter use, that can be done by phasing out recreational snowmobile access in favor of snowcoach traffic, which has fewer impacts.

There also are options for reducing summer traffic loads -- namely public transportation in some form -- but the political gumption currently appears to be lacking for such a move.