Rangers Catch Snowmobilers Riding Illegally in Yellowstone National Park's Backcountry

Four Indiana visitors to Yellowstone National Park have been invited to return to Mammoth Hot Springs late next month...to face charges of snowmobiling illegally in the park's backcountry.

Rangers caught the four, who had rented snowmobiles, more than a mile inside the park boundary near West Yellowstone. They'll have to return to the park in late February to appear before the federal magistrate in U.S. District Court.

Park officials were not immediately available to say whether the four also faced charges of snowmobiling in the park without a guide, as the current snowmobile regulations require.

While limited, managed snowmobile and snowcoach travel over groomed, snow-packed park roads is permitted in Yellowstone, the use of snowmobiles in the backcountry, on trails, and off road has always been prohibited.

Violators face a fine of up to $5,000 and up to six months in jail as well as forfeiture of their snowmobiles. Additional charges of damage to park resources can result in another $5,000 fine and an additional six months imprisonment.

In recent weeks, rangers have observed off-road snowmobile tracks up to two-and-a-half miles inside Yellowstone’s backcountry. Rangers regularly patrol the boundary and have the option to ticket, arrest, and confiscate the snowmobiles of violators, who can expect to face aggressive prosecution.


I'm glad to hear that Yellowstone NP authorities caught these snowmobile riders in the act, and that appropriate actions are being enforced. I spent last summer working in YNP while living in Cooke City, MT. The snowmobile riders that I encountered up there were some of the most disrespectful visitors to the backcountry up there.

I am so glad that the Rangers caught these people riding their snowmobiles illegally. I hope that they get the book thrown at them and are invited not to visit this beautiful park again.

Hmmmmm.... I wonder if they were carrying firearms....

When I was out skiing with Buffalo Field Campaign, they pointed to an area outside the park where snowmobiles were illegal and signs clearly posted. There were snowmobile tracks everywhere, which made it scary to ski in the area. The worry of snowmobiles in areas where only skiing is allowed was a particular concern from people who ski there every day. I think this might be a common problem, especially on the west side of the park and would appreciate reports on what the truth is.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

It was indeed indicated in the story that this is pretty common, and that catching them is relatively rare. One would hope that the magistrate in Mammoth will "throw the book" at these guys as an example to others. As a general statement, I have found that the easier it is for someone to access the back country the less respect they have for it. That is that hikers tend to have the most respect, snowmobilers and ATVers the least. I know there are exceptions. As I said, this is a general statement.
Whatever you think about the "snowmobiles in the park" issue, acts like this should be universally condemned. It is not hard to recognize that if you go east from West Yellowstone, you are entering the park.

It's also not hard to understand because the boundary is very clearly marked both by the Western Boundary trail, as well as a gazillion signs.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

These illegal snowmobilers have no resprect for laws, nature or wildlife ! I would like to see more effort put into catching the ones who disrepect what so many of us care for.
Hopefully, the justice system will throw the book at them and make them an example for all.

Jim, you have reason to be concerned. A dog musher near the village of Kotzebue, Alaska was recently killed when he was rammed from behind by a speeding snowmobile. The impact severed his leg. A snowmobile traveling at high speed and with reduced visibility can easily exceed his stopping ability and become a deadly missile. Where drivers illegally invade lands off limits to snowmobiles the chances are that they will not be safe drivers.

I haven't followed the story. What's the impact of snowmobiles on a snow field? Are there other areas where people can ride their snowmobiles nearby?

Snowmobiles impact snow fields in a number of ways. The passage of the machine compacts the snow increasing its density and reducing its insulation value. Depending on a number of variables, the compacted snow tends to conduct cold more efficiently and can create barriers for creatures that depend on snow cover to exist. Wildlife will often use snowmobile trails artificially concentrating their use patterns. Trappers take advantage of this tendency by setting traps along a snowmobile trail. Vegetation beneath the snow cover can be damaged resulting in a change in natural cover and even increased erosion. In heavily impacted meadows it is often possible to see the path of snowmobile travel after the snow has melted. Snowmobiles can have substantial negative impacts to overwintering wildlife. Traffic can disturb wildlife when they are most vulnerable and need to conserve energy. It can scatter wildlife, separating calves and cows exposing them to increased predation and environmental stress. Even the noise of snowmobile travel can impact wildlife. Insofar as other areas where people may ride their snowmobiles, most national forests and BLM managed lands are open to snowmobile use as are some state managed public lands.

Ray, thanks for the information. In that case, I can certainly understand the need for strict enforcement.

I don't know what's worse, Ray, who is completely misinformed, prone to exaggerating and completely biased, or you, who is naive enough to buy into that crap. Who's to say a snowmobiler doesn't appreciate nature? Why would he be there if he doesn't appreciate nature? Do cross country skiers not impact wildlife behavior? Do Cars, highways, other wildlife, etc. Of course they do. It is a far reach to claim that some hibernating squirrel, 12 inches burrowed into the soil under 8 feet of snow is going to be impacted by a 450 pound machine skimming across the snow 7 feet above him. What amazes me is how these so-called environmentalists support spending millions of tax payers dollars to introduce wolves to go around tearing the birthing calves of bison out of the mother's giving birth, but direct all their hate towards the man out recreating on his snowmachine. I could respect their opinion if they didn't all jump into their Subaru's, fire up the gas emitting engine and cruise home guilt free and unaware of the plume of toxic carbon monoxide oozing out their tailpipes. Poor bunnies. Run for your lives.

Don't think too hard Jim. It's not they were unaware, its when idiots post arbitrary idiotic laws, reasonable people tend to lose respect for the law. What's wrong with you people? I certainly would never advocate riding snowmachines around the herds, scaring them up and running them around. Most snowmachiners enjoy all types of outdoor activities including skiing, hiking, camping, etc. I've seen country on the back of my machine that you will never see because it's 30 miles from any road. I can see where that might elicit a sense of jealousy from you, but to associate me with evil because I've found a more efficient mode of transportation is a little petty, isn't it?

I don't know what's worse...having people on NPT write extremist statements that paint people with broad brushes and display their obvious hate for others, or the fact that I actually wasted my time reading those people's attacks of each other.

Haha, when reading this I thought, "Well at least this is one post that all should agree on!" Little did I know that some people consider even THESE rules to be "arbitrary [and] idiotic."

You ever get the feeling that some people simply defend the most extreme points-of-view as an intellectual exercise? ...Well that certainly isn't the case here, because surely no one doing this as an exercise would cite a hibernating squirrel as proof that snowmobiles have minimal wildlife impact. Or believe that wolves eating other animals is a horrible thing. Or paint all those in favor of wolf reintroduction as ignorant Subaru (??) drivers. Or claim that anyone who holds an opposing view to simply be jealous. Or accuse another of pettiness because of one's own made-up claim of being associated with "evil."

Nope, certainly not an intellectual exercise here. Just a simple man trying to stand up for the truth in the face of "completely misinformed," "prone to exaggerating," "completely biased," and "naive" "bunnies" who are "direct[ing] all their hate" toward "reasonable people." When will society ever stop oppressing the righteous and blaming the blameless?

Personally I do not see how snowmobiles damage the park when riding on snow. Ray explanation at least gave me some of the reasons for the ban. Whether they are accurate or really sensible I do not know. I am not super knowlwdgable about snowmobiles and the damage they so. Most places (non NPS) that have snowmobile trails are fine and the use does not damage the environment and support multiuse of natural areas.

I know that some snowmobiles do misuse them by chasing wildlife bit that is the few and not a majority.

I have wondered if the animus against snowmobile in NPS is that they disturb the pristine blanket of snow for the natural vitas. I can understand the snowmobiler that is using an efficent means of transportation on the snow to access more wild areas then they can any other way. Do they parks restrict people hiking across the snow fields or using skis or snowshoes?

The restriction has seem to be a matter of not allowing snowmobiles to enjoy the NPS when others without snwmobiles can't and the human urge to prevent others doing what oneself can not.

At least Ray stated some of the reasons for the restrictions which I appreciated.

Are you kidding me. The amount of snow in that park is so massive and the depth. A snowmobile's only damage to the area is to the people that protect it from the industrial age.

I have rode a snowmobile for 10 years now. Always obeying the laws and I am just in awe to natures beauty as everyone else. I just prefer to ride and look as to hike, dog sled or any of the other means of transportation others use.

I do not question that you obey the rules when riding your snowmobile, or that you are sensitive regarding resource impacts. However, snowmobile use does result in environmental impacts. They vary based on the type and weight of the machine, speed, driving patterns, snow depth, affected wildlife, vegetation, etc. It should be noted that snow depth varies considerably and can range from several feet to just a few inches within a short distance depending on terrain, vegetation and wind patterns. The noise and visual disturbance of a machine can and does affect sensitive wildlife. I am not implying that other human uses also result in impacts, although they are usually significantly less. A snowmobile driver skimming over a stretch of virgin snow may not see the resulting impacts, but they do occur. I also have used snowmobiles and understand their attraction. However, it is legitimate for parks to closely manage or restrict their use in response to resource concerns and purposes of affected parks.

Snowmobile impact on wildlife and wilderness environments has not been studied much. To say that they should be banned from national parks and especially Yellowstone based on this limited research is crazy. A human compresses the snow more than a sled due to less weight distribution. I have also heard non motorized users spook wildlife to a greater degree. This is because the animals have no warning of the approach. With sleds they can hear the motors and take appropriate measures long before the sled gets to them. I don’t think people should be riding where there not supposed to be. When you start closing parks down to certain user groups its not long before they become large museums…stay on the outside and just look. What ever happened to the concept of multiple use, I own just as much of that park as you.?

amen they shouldnt allow snowmobling in any national parks

snowmobiling backcountry is no big deal. It is for people who want to have fun. See things you dontgetr to riding trail. as long as you dont make deep holes and rut up the ground the no harm no foul. under 8 feet of snow nothing is going to get hurt. especially on a mountain.

just let the snowmobile operators enjoy the land that they own to ride on... oh you mean they don't own any of their own land for their "recreation".... thought so

Hey anonymous,

I also own the land. And I'm perfectly happy that there are restrictions on its use--as there are with any piece of land anywhere.

Well you did it again Kurt.
One point in common keeps popping up.
There seems to be two user types in every contraversial situation that develops in our National Parks. There are the ones that want no noise, no tracks, no change to anything, no movement that will be noticed by another, not even wildlife, and some would even prefer no people at all. Then you have user #2, those that find it necessary to incorperate one or more of the above factors into the activity which they are interested in participating.
There is a lot of places and a lot of spaces. Enough for everyone to enjoy doing their thing. There will always be the bad guys that need to be controlled and dealt with. To say, just eliminate all that participate in a certain activity, for the acts of a few, is simply ignorant. To say that certain activities just can't be allowed without real attempt to work out a way, that to is ignorant. I think people are smart so maybe it is not ignorance but rather a smoke screen for something worse.
The most significant difference in the two users is that user #1 is always seeking to eliminate user #2 from the parks, unless user #2 conforms to user #1's Philosophy as to appropriate use. Not once have I heard anyone in the user #1 group ask if there is any thing they can do to help accomodate user #2. I have yet to hear anyone from user #2 group say in any way that they prefer to eliminate user #1 from their use of the park. Now, granted , it's not that simple, I know. But, it reflects attitude. And until you development an atmosphere of reasonable attitudes there will never be respect, much less harmony.
Now, the National Park System is facing a most difficult future and there is one thing for sure. People can unite and save the system or they can fight and destroy it. It happens every day in all facets of life. There are users from many walks of life. None are completely right and none are completely wrong. Everyone needs to question their own attitude and decide which side of this fence they want to be on. That part IS simple.

Best to everyone,

"There seems to be two user types in every contraversial situation that develops in our National Parks. There are the ones that want no noise, no tracks, no change to anything, no movement that will be noticed by another, not even wildlife, and some would even prefer no people at all."

Who? This seems to be a strawman.

For some that are following comments pertaining to many of the events affecting various Parks and National Seashore Recreation Areas, my post will have meaning. If it is not clear to you, I apologize. It may not have been completely appropriate to place this comment on this article as it pertains primarily to a specific Park. That being Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreation Area. But, in following other Parks, it gives one, such as myself, a better understanding of the mindset that is so influential to problems facing many of our Parks and particularly Cape Hatteras. When I see this, I comment. I do this for two reasons. one is in an effort to try to bring people together. The other is, frankly, to try and influence broad opinion and understanding as it affects the plight of Cape Hatteras. Please understand that there are people trying to influence regulation of that park, many of which do not know much about it except what they are told by various groups or read in articles such as these, which include reader comments. admittedly, I attempt to counter some of this information. More important, I try to spark an interest that will lead them to investigate for themselves what led me to make the comment I made. This instead of simply listening to someone elses opinion. The people of Cape Hatteras, trying to preserve open access to the beach, have had to fight some very strong National organizations with probably millions of members. It's the small against the giants. I once had a great admiration for the organizations. Now I am opposing them. Not because I want to but because I believe they are wrong. I wait for the day that I can return to being supportive of them. They represent a lot of good people but, being right about some things don't make them right about everything. I best leave it at that.
Kurt, I hope you know what I am trying to say.

Ron (obxguys)

Cape Hatteras a Different Situation

I have been to Yellowstone once (over 40 years ago). I doubt I ever get back there but who knows. I have great memories of the Park.
My enjoyment and recreation now comes from viewing the Park from afar. I would rather there be no snowmobile in the Park. My input to the management of the Park is of equal value to the people that live in Jackson or the visitors that frequent the Park. With that said I would reluctantly agree to sections of the Park, with strict regulations, be open to snowmobiles.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore is a very different case. It is an extremely small park compared to Yellowstone. In the past ORV use was allowed 365 days a year in the most biologically sensitive, scenic and dramatic sections of the Park. This has resulted at times in traffic jams on the Park beaches, huge tail gate parties and a ocean beach that resembles a gigantic parking lot with deep ruts from the edge of the dune to the high tide rack line. ORV groups are lobbying for a continuation of this type of management.

southern s 1:

I have been to Yellowstone once (over 40 years ago). I doubt I ever get back there but who knows. I have great memories of the Park.
My enjoyment and recreation now comes from viewing the Park from afar. I would rather there be no snowmobile in the Park. My input to the management of the Park is of equal value to the people that live in Jackson or the visitors that frequent the Park. With that said I would reluctantly agree to sections of the Park, with strict regulations, be open to snowmobiles.

Regardless of whether of not the public has the use of snowmobiles, the NPS uses snowmobiles for basic activities. There are some areas that are staffed during the winter, and snowmobiles are used to bring in supplies and mail, as well as used to ferry staff in/out.

Southern s 1 states "ORV groups are lobbying for a continuation of this type of management." Allowing the world to see the facts as he and every environmentalist see them 100% WRONG

I have to belive those who break the laws need to be punished. I understand , but no one proves this area was marked in a way to prevent accidental intrusions so I cannot say one way or the other. I do doubt as reported above in the comments that there are a bazillion signs though.

To all on the enviro bandwagon about eliminating access to ORV's and Snowmobiles "WE WILL NEVER GIVE UP" because it is our right to do so.

Where did I say I want to stop all beach driving in CHNS or snowmobiling in Yellowstone? Saying things we didn't say or imply is a constant problem we environmentalist have.
The ORV access lobby during the reg-neg did basically want to continue the policy of allowing ORVs to Bodie Island Spit, Cape Point, South Beach, Hatteras Inlet, North End of Ocracoke and South Point of Ocracoke 24/7 365 days a year. They didn’t want it all, just the most remote, dramatic, scenic and biological sensitive areas in CHNS. So much for compromise!

SS1 did you even read the 2010 report... seems there were no significant birding in most of those locations except if you count species that are not endangered... OOPS that is all of them.

No you did not say that but the environmentalist did during the REG NEG.

A lawsuit is the environmentalist word for "Compromise" they have proven this for me on so many occasions that I cannot count. This explains where all the additional funds go instead of to the parks the money goes to the lawyers hired by the enviromentalist. The environmentalist hire lawyers to find the loopholes and low hanging fruit of the NPS rules and regulations and exploit them. The NPS has very little choice but to concede each and every case, not on merit, but because of a lack of money to fund defending these lawsuits. This allows JUNK science to rule the day and because a federal judge has to sign off on the lawsuit it is stated that this is fedrally approved. This has been going on for decades in Cape Hatteras and Yellowstone. I remember the Environmentalist threatening the park system to protect the Ghost crabs form the ORV's but were proven wrong. Now these same creatures they were trying to protect are now eating their precious birds... Now that is GODS justice...

We love to snowmobile in Yellowstone. Coming from Florida, we bring a living to all that reside and provide in the surrounding communities. and I know how this is appreciated.
Anyone that has ever ridden a snowmobile will tell you that when you stop and get off in fresh snow you, not the snowmobile will sink. That blows the compaction theory. Secondly, almost everyone seems to be happy with restricting the snowmobilers to the groomed roads, you know, the ones the animals use to easily pass thru the park, on the already compacted pavement. This is the same path that the tractor trailers use to bring in all the construction supplys and food and other stuff all year.
If the snowmobiles are so scary to the animals, why don't they use them to do the roundups to do the annual Bison slaughter?
Why don't they just close the park in the winter? Then the late spring opening and then the early fall closing and what the hell why don't they close the park in it's entirity and put everyone on unemployment? This would be much better, besides, they could use all the money they will be saving to pay the unemployment!
We are thinking about closing the State to tourists. They are dirtying our air and beaches and ruining our roads and just think, some of them don't even speak english.
These little articles promote conversation, unfortunatly as previously stated, misinformed. Lets get a grip already.

Snowmobiles are used in the bison roundup.

Why don't they mark the border better, how is a biler suppose to know where the border is? at some points there is a an orange piece of metal nailed to a tree, but what does that mean? Furthermore, it has been proven that those snowcoaches pollute 10X worse then modern sleds that meet or exceeds epa requirements.