NPCA Officials Cite Snowmobile Emissions In Criticizing Winter-Use Plan For Yellowstone National Park

Pointing to the National Park Service's own testing as evidence, National Parks Conservation Association officials are criticizing a proposed winter-use plan for Yellowstone National Park, saying testing shows snowmobiles have gotten dirtier and noiser, not cleaner and quieter.

In pointing to the park's Yellowstone Over-snow Vehicle Emission Tests – 2012: Preliminary Report, NPCA officials say the trend to dirtier and noiser snowmobiles the past six years "contradicts the snowmobile industry’s repeated promises to make cleaner snowmobiles and keep unhealthy gasses such as carbon monoxide, benzene and formaldehyde from fouling the air of the country’s oldest national park."

The report explains that scientists tested 2011-model snowmobiles in Yellowstone and compared their emissions with 2006 models made by the same companies, NPCA noted in a release.

"One manufacturer’s newer snowmobile emitted over 20 times more carbon monoxide than its earlier model. Another company’s newer model had higher emissions of every exhaust gas sampled, including 5 times more hydrocarbons," the release said.

The report concludes: “The model change in snowmobiles has not been a positive influence on air quality based on the emission data.”

In releasing the park's Draft Supplement Winter-Use Environmental Impact Statement earlier this month, Superintendent Dan Wenk said his proposal to allow up to 480 snowmobiles a day in Yellowstone, more than twice the average entries of recent winters, would make the park “cleaner and quieter.”

However, the National Park Service’s own studies contradict that assertion, the NPCA release said. "That document shows the proposed plan would increase snowmobile noise and pollution in Yellowstone National Park with significantly greater emissions of carbon monoxide and cancer-causing gasses such as formaldehyde and benzene," the park advocacy group said.

“Rewarding a technology that is going backward and getting dirtier is the very opposite of stewardship that Americans expect and deserve in Yellowstone National Park,” said Tom Kiernan, NPCA president. “After 10 years of pledging to make major improvements to emissions and noise, the snowmobile industry has gone back on its promise to the National Park Service and the public."

The emissions study looked at “recent additions to the snowcoach fleet” and concluded: “emissions are generally lower for newer snowcoaches compared to mean values of the earlier fleet and especially compared to the older carbureted engine snowcoaches.”

Indeed, specific data provided in the report show that current snowcoaches are up to 50 times cleaner than current models of “Best Available Technology” snowmobiles when the vehicles’ carbon monoxide emissions are calculated on a per-visitor basis. In per-visitor emissions of hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides, the report shows snowcoaches are 2-5 times cleaner than snowmobiles. The report reflects that these air-quality advantages of snowcoaches are expected to become even more significant when Yellowstone requires all snowcoaches to utilize newer engines.

“The National Park Service should make an immediate U-turn on this misguided policy. After all, the growing majority of Yellowstone Park’s visitors prefer multi-passenger snow coaches, which are demonstrably cleaner than snowmobiles, which are getting dirtier. Even park officials have acknowledged that,” said Chuck Clusen, director of the National Park Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The only obvious and responsible path forward is to facilitate the use of snow coaches, not snowmobiles.”


Even if they were electric someone would sue to remove them... that is how lawyers make money and how the park system loses money.

This is an example of how the orthodox Wilderness movement's opposition to bicycles on trails is fundamentally counterproductive. I've read that 0% of Yellowstone is Wilderness and that's why the snowmobiles can operate in it. With mountain bikers on their side, Wilderness advocates would have a better chance of getting Congress to designate parts of Yellowstone as Wilderness. Thus doth the perfect get in the way of the good. Meanwhile, the blanket bicycle ban on Wilderness means that thousands of miles of Wilderness trails that cyclists would ride and help maintain are falling into abandonment from nonuse. Was there ever a more misguided approach to this issue?

Don't take it from me. Take it from the National Park Service itself. Quote: "Congress must take the opinions of all American citizens into consideration when debating whether or not to designate an area as wilderness. As you might expect, this process can take years, even decades. For example in the National Park Service, recommendations dating back to the late 1970s still exist for 13 national parks, three national monuments, and one national seashore. This is why some lands that have been recommended to Congress have been designated as wilderness and some lands, such as areas in Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, have not."


I hear that there's new leadership at the top of the Wilderness Society. It might be time for it to take the plunge and forge an alliance with mountain bikers. The quid pro quo—support for new Wilderness in exchange for supporting mountain bike access to trails few people ever visit—seems worthwhile to me.

imtnbke, welll, not all mountain bikers approve of wilderness because under current rules bikes are not allowed in officially designated wilderness. But you know that. And you've argued against that as well.

From IMBA's point of view, that organization believes "that cross-country (XC) style mountain biking is an appropriate, quiet, muscle-powered activity that belongs in Wilderness alongside hiking and horseback riding."

Now, I'm not sure what "cross-country style mountain biking" is, but it sounds like off-trail, though I might be wrong. Perhaps Mark could wade in and explain??

But to the general issue of when Yellowstone will see officially designated wilderness, that will not happen as long as Wyoming's congressional delegation opposes it. And as to the NPS taking the opinions of all Americans into consideration, last I heard the percentage of American citizens who commented on the Yellowstone winter-use plan and who wanted to see snowmobiles phased out was about 80 percent. And NPS officials are quick to point out that public comments "are not a vote."

All that said, technology exists to provide cleaner, and quieter, winter recreation in Yellowstone, whether that's in a snowcoach or snowmobile. The park's own tests prove that.

Hi, Kurt — That, of course, is my point. The Wilderness expansion proponents, whether interested in National Parks or National Forests, have to slog uphill all the time, and mountain bikers' opposition to losing valued trails when an area becomes Wilderness makes the slog just that much harder. I'm sure you're right, though, that mountain bikers' support for Wilderness would not magically transform Yellowstone into Wilderness overnight, or even in five years. I'm not arguing that. It's other places that lack the Wyoming congressional delegation that might benefit from the conservation equivalent of what is called in Italian history the compromesso storico (historic compromise).

One would hope that the Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club would rethink their stance, but I'm skimming today's New York Times and just saw this headline: "Gay People Will Remain Unaccepted by Boy Scouts." It's a reminder that organizations are capable of sticking mule-headedly to antiquated and self-defeating dogmas. Perhaps the Wilderness folks can do better than the Boy Scouts in reflecting on the wisdom of past stances. After all, in 1978 the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wisely decided that black people do not bear the "Curse of Cain" and can be accepted into the church's priesthood! And that in turn is allowing Mitt Romney to run for President.

I can answer your question about cross-country. Mountain bikers like to stick to trails, which makes us unlike some hikers. All that cross-country (XC) means is mountain biking on trails that involves a lot of climbing and physical effort, as opposed to downhill (DH), in which the aim is to go from a high point A to a low point B, often aided by a motor vehicle shuttle. The downhill crowd isn't interested in Wilderness or National Park access—the trails are likely to be too physically demanding. Some of those guys (and the occasional gal) aren't in very good shape.

I don't care what you are trying to prove but I will still take winter over summer for less noise and less emissions from vehicles as a person trying to enjoy Yellowstone.

Secondly you say the snowmobiles are getting dirtier. Maybe they do have higher emissions but look at what the manufacturers have done with the snowmobiles. They have gone from 40 hp in the early ones that the consumer doesn't desire to now producing 130-180 hp that the consumer now will accept for other places other than Yellowstone thereby helping improve emissions in other places that only had a history of 2 stroke engines. You act like it is a bad thing to have cleaner engines everywhere that will help in areas outside Yellowstone also. There hasn't been a clear limit of snowmobiles allowed in Yellowstone for several years so the manufacturers have to make something that will appeal to the consumer to want to buy besides just supplying snowmobiles for Yellowstone. They are still meeting the Best Available Technology requirements and selling all over the world those same snowmobiles too now that they have refined them.

Go and enjoy Yellowstone in the winter and see and respect what it has to offer.

YNP4everyone — I know you're writing to Kurt, not me, but I have a question. I don't know much about snowmobiles. Are electric ones technologically feasible? I assume they'd be as quiet as a Prius as well as pollution-free, and that might make them more acceptable to people who don't like them. Just curious.

YNP4everyone, can't disagree with you re the wonders of Yellowstone in winter and the less congestion when compared to summer. It is a great experience, and I've been lucky enough to sample it twice so far.

As for snowmobile emissions, according to the park's own data (Ch 3 of the latest DSEIS, page 114), in 2002-03, when two-strokes ruled the roost and there were hundreds more snowmobiles allowed in the park, maximum CO emissions per 8 hours was 1.2 parts per million. In 2009-10, when BAT was supposed to have been onboard, those emissions rose to 1.7 ppm, before dipping back to 0.9 ppm for 2010-11.

And according to Yellowstone's own studies, the snowmobile fleets are not meeting BAT requirements.

imtnbke, some years ago, around 06 or 07 I think, a Utah company built a prototype electric snowmobile that their studies claimed was as powerful as a two-stroke.

Now, why the manufacturers didn't jump on board, I don't know, but it apparently can be done.

An electric snowmobile would not be pollution free, the pollution would merely be displaced to the power plant that generated its electricity. Furthermore, transmission of electricity is a rather inefficient process.

I think most people understand that there's no free energy lunch. (But who knows?—people's ignorance about energy can be astonishing.) The difference, however, is that any air pollution emitted to power an electric snowmobile is going to be emitted at a power plant somewhere else. It isn't going to be emitted in the middle of Yellowstone National Park and it shouldn't have any effect there, unless Yellowstone suffers from air pollution emitted by neighboring power plants.

Well, that's instructive. Thank you. I'm glad I allowed for the possibility that Yellowstone is affected by externally generated air pollution.

Anon is correct to a point. The source of electrical generation is important. So, if that source is hydroelectrical, for example, electric vehicles are obviously going to be superior to combustion whicles with respect to air quality.

Now, with nuclear power plants, the air pollution is nil (unless of course you place said power plant in the direct path of a once in a millenium tsunami).

I still don't understand why 600,000-plus summer visitors this June alone is CELEBRATED as a success for the park, but allowing 300 snowmobiles in the park for the entire winter is somehow ruining the park. Did those 600,000 people get magically transported there in June? No, they got there in cars, trucks, RVs and other things that have emissions. Over 1 million people are expected there in July. There are more people in one July day in the park than there are during a four-month period in the winter. This isn't about common sense or emissions, it's about winning or losing. Their arguement makes no sense!

It is interesting when I look at the tests you have linked it shows the 2012 Ski Doo being better in some departments than the 2006 model but you choose to only see the Arctic Cat which also happens to be the most powerful production power plant made be it 2 stroke or 4 stroke. Why not mention any improvements in the newer models? The snowmobile manufacturers are developing these engines along the way and according to the study the snowcoaches are able to slap in an engine that can be out of a wrecked vehicle model year 2000 or newer with the modern engine equipment.

We should be able to agree that the 4 strokes are cleaner than the 2 strokes for the purpose of transportation in the park. I find it interesting that you would say that even with cleaner and fewer snowmobiles that it isn't making an improvement. Maybe that means there are other factors at play. I don't think you are really saying we may as well go back to the way it has been.

Onwards though as I haven't looked at the latest studies very closely but do they have a base level established say the week before snowmobiles are allowed in the park and say a week after they leave the park to see if there is a rise and fall of pollutants during the period when snowmobiles, snowcoaches, and automobiles aren't allowed in the park other than administrative duties? As others have pointed out there is a possibility that pollutants can be coming from other sources than the snowmobiles.

I looked at the BAT list at and they list the new models as meeting the BAT requirements.

Again I say if you want clean and quiet no matter how you want to nit pick the studies it is far better to visit Yellowstone in the winter than the summer and it doesn't take millions of dollars to realize that if that is your main criteria for visiting Yellowstone. Go Enjoy!!!

I have to clarify a comment that imtnbke made about the snowmobiles in Yellowstone. Let it be clear that the snowmobiles are only allowed to operate on the same roads that automobiles travel in the park and nothing more. They do not travel cross country in the park and currently they have a guide that they have to follow wherever they go. If you designated the roads as Wilderness are they really Wilderness? Also if that happens every single automobile that normally travel the park in the summer months would then also be eliminated. Yellowstone is about trying to reduce impacts in the park but also a Wilderness designation would eliminate some management options they have currently.

Now about the electric snowmobiles just aren't feasible. Take the Chevy Volt which has had millions of dollars of research and currently a $7500 tax incentive which the snowmobile manufacturers can't possibly match. It has an EPA distance of 35 miles before it needs recharged. Old Faithful is just over 30 miles one way from West Yellowstone and the Chevy Volt couldn't even make the entire loop without a recharge. Add tracks and travel on snow and the Chevy Volt's mileage would be cut in half to 18 miles making it not even be able to travel to Old Faithful without a recharge when traveling on snow. That is why I don't think an electric snowmobile is possible when you add in the extreme cold which is hard on batteries also.

Kurt -assuming your ppm calculations are correct, can you document that the 1.7 level has any more detrimental impact on the park than the 1.2 level?

It seems reasonable to me that snowmobiles should be allowed to use Yellowstone's roads during the winter. Why not, especially if Common Sense is correct that it's only 300 during the entire winter? Even if it's 100 a day, would that be so bad, given the size of Yellowstone's road network? The idea of walling off as much of America as possible to as many Americans as possible is politically untenable in the long term, notwithstanding that the proponents of this idea embrace it and try to enforce it with notable vigor.

YNP4everyone is correct that an area containing a road, by definition, cannot be designated as Wilderness. There are, however, certain exceptions to this rule that highlight the absurdities surrounding federal agencies' misinterpretations of the Wilderness Act of 1964. For example, I hear that the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness in California has big dirt roads that cattle ranchers use to cart around cattle in trucks to their grazing meadows deep inside the Wilderness, which they no doubt trample, defoliate, and generally trash. A bicyclist found on these same roads, however, theoretically could be cited for the dastardly public offense of having a bicycle in a Wilderness. I think the Wilderness within Point Reyes National Park also has a bunch of dirt roads for the same purposes. Cattle and trucks yes, bicycles no. The ironies abound.

Common sense makes a good argument. I can't see how 300 snowmobiles do more damages than 1000s of cars and trucks.

Zeb, that's what the scientists have said in the past....

Unless they're waking up hibernating bears, it's hard to see how the 300 snowmobilers could be disturbing anything. And if they are doing that, why are they allowed now? If it all comes down to air pollution, I'd like to hear the scientists to whom Kurt refers explain why they're worse than the, what, 20,000?, SUVs, pick-up trucks, Winnebagos, and non-smog-controlled 1960s-era Chevrolet Impalas and Ford Falcons that drive through every week. (OK, I'll admit there probably aren't too many of the latter that show up. Indeed, it's been a while since I've seen either a Maverick, a Gremlin, a Pacer, or a Vega.)

There's more to the Yellowstone snowmobile controversy than emissions. Here's a summary of the history (through 2006 anyway) that turned up at my fingertips with a simple internet search -- try it and see what else you can find.

For those wondering how winter emissions can be worse than summer, here's a story from Traveler's archives that explains that....

I quote, "testing shows snowmobiles have gotten dirtier and noiser, not cleaner and quieter."

This statement is 100% false and inaccurate. ABSOULTELY FALSE. To even suggest it shows how uninformed the source is, simply using whatever lies they can drum up in hopes of swaying public opinion. SHAME! Anyone familiar with snowmobiles and their engine technology that been implemented over the past ten years knows for an absolute FACT that this statement is blatantly false. It is so incredibly far from the truth that it makes me sick to think that it would be published and even suggested.

A carbureted two-stroke snowmobile engine like what was allowed into the park for what 30 years is going to outputting so much more in terms of unburned fuel and carbon emisisons it is crazy. I have personally studied the emissions data, and each new engine built must be certified as to how clean it is buy the EPA so this is public knowledge. The new sled engines are cleaner and quieter, we have the proof. The latest BAT (best available technology) machines are using super-clean 4-stroke engines (exactly like the ones found in motorcycles that enter the park unrestricted all summer long) and direct-injection two-stroke engines that operate so clean and quiet you can run one in your garage and not be overcome with fumes. Seriously. Cleaner than a four-stroke in many respects.

Noise? These new engines are far quieter than the "old" ones. So do not believe these LIES for a second. This is what it has come down to, using FALSE information to promote an agenda. How stupid do you think we really are? When the day comes that we have electric snowmobiles, these same groups will not be happy - they will instead move the target to some other criteria. Call it dangling the carrot, moving the target, or never satisifed, it is all accurate. But it's OK for them to drive their car or motorcycle through the park in the summer, but I can't ride my sled with the same engine in the winter? What makes you so special? That's called a DOUBLE-STANDARD in my book. Maybe they don't want cars to be entering in the summer? Makes you wonder what the real long term agenda really is, now doesn't it?

Kevin, perhaps you need to take the issue up with park officials and their researchers, for they're the ones who published the data about noise and emissions.

But it's OK for them to drive their car or motorcycle through the park in the summer, but I can't ride my sled with the same engine in the winter? What makes you so special? That's called a DOUBLE-STANDARD in my book. Maybe they don't want cars to be entering in the summer? Makes you wonder what the real long term agenda really is, now doesn't it?

You--and a number of other posings above--are assuming that there is smehow no difference between summer and winter climates--i.e. that snowpack doesn't exist. Take another look at the link Kurt posted (as well as an infinity of other articles).

Anon - what that study tells me is that thcorrelation directcorrelation between traffic and co and at any measured level the park is well below established standards.

I appreciate all of this information, and I am looking at it. I don't want to sound like someone who favors snowmobile use in the teeth of the facts, if the facts are bad. Instead, I only want to be generally open-minded about people's various desired uses for public lands and not oppose those uses based on myths or stereotypes.

I have to admit that the motorcyclists and ATV drivers give me fits in high-altitude Colorado and Idaho when I'm on my mountain bike. They're crucial for the economies of both places—at least that's what motel and restaurant owners tell me. And I admire the bike-handling skill of the motorcyclists on technical singletrack. Those guys are quite physically fit, believe me—they have to be. But I'm not thrilled about pulling over while a mile-long ATV train roars by me or if I have to deal with motorcycle ruts and noise on a beautiful singletrack trail at 11,000 feet. Anyone who's been on the Reno Divide-Flag Creek-Bear Creek loop south of Crested Butte, Colo., will know what I'm talking about.

Kevin, perhaps you need to take the issue up with park officials and their researchers, for they're the ones who published the data about noise and emissions.

Kurt your article is the one that mentions dirtier and noisier snowmobiles yet the study you have in the second paragraph that your article is based off of has no mention of noise levels in it so how can you come to the conclusion that they are noisier when the study doesn't have any sound level information in it? Also it shows a 2012 snowmobile cleaner in some respects than its 2006 counterpart and you just say they are dirtier when your source says otherwise. The bottomline is the studies show that air quality is far below air quality standards in the park and is not an issue.

Also your study link you have comparing summer to winter shows the seasonal average of CO being the same when comparing summer to winter and shows the PM2.5 as being higher in the summer yet you somehow claim it is cleaner in the summer when the study you cite says otherwise. Even in its conclusion it says "Overall, the current CO and PM2.5 air quality is well below the national standards during the winter."

Again just go enjoy the park, it will not dissappoint. See for yourself instead of trying to twist studies around.

Park officials, including staff that worked on the studies and analyzed the data, acknowledged during a conference call with reporters that snowmobiles had gotten dirtier and noiser. True, they haven't yet posted all the soundscape data, which is curious.

That said, have you read the DSEIS?

As noted in several places on the Traveler, the park's research shows that overall 8-hour CO emissions are greater now than they were just a few years ago, and they would continue to increase under the preferred alternative. No twisting required.

From previous articles:

* In writing the DSEIS park planners seemingly pulled some punches when discussing CO emissions. On page 110 of Chapter 3, they wrote that "(M)aximum 8-hour CO concentrations at Old Faithful have declined from 1.2 ppm in 2002/2003 to 0.4 ppm in 2007/2008." But if you turn to page 114, Table 16 shows that while 8-hour CO emissions did indeed dip to 0.4 ppm during the 2007/08 winter season, they rose to 1.7 ppm in 2009/10 before sliding a bit to 0.9 ppm in 2010/11. The numbers get worse when you look at 1-hour maximum levels, which rose from 0.9 ppm at Old Faithful in 2007/08 to 7.6 ppm in 2009/10 and 4.3 ppm in 2010/11.

* Under the park's preferred alternative, which could allow upwards of 480 snowmobiles and 60 snowcoaches per day, CO emissions would jump to 252 tons per year until BAT kicked in for the 2017-18 winter season, when CO would dip to 212 tons. The current CO emissions total 138 tons per year.

* Other toxics also could be reduced more so than under the preferred alternative. Benzene emissions from the current mix of over-snow vehicles amounted to 0.17 tons per year. Under Alternative 3, those emissions would fall to just 0.05 tons, while under the park's preferred alternative, they would grow to 0.29 tons until the 2017-18 season, when they'd dip to 0.18 tons, still more than the current fleet.

* As for noise levels, the draft clearly states on page 262 in Chapter 4 that, "(A)ssuming the maximum allowed use levels, OSVs (over-snow vehicles) would be audible over 50 percent of the time in approximately 14.1 percent to 17.4 percent of the travel corridor area, compared to 9.7 percent of the travel corridor area under recent average conditions."

I have only really opened the DSEIS and skimmed it and not taken the time to read it except when you point things out.

I have read your linked studies that state "Overall, the current CO and PM2.5 air quality is well below the national standards during the winter." The study also stated "Basically, air quality has stabilized at below 20% of the CO standard in winter over the last 4 years." This all means it is a long way from even being an issue.

I also read "The observed air quality is dependent on several meteorological conditions that dominate changes in the CO concentrations when there are just small changes in the snowmobile traffic." This means that the weather plays a lot bigger role in the emissions than the actual changing the numbers of snowmobiles operating in the park.

That is no twist just quoting from the links to studies that you offered above.

Now to your bullet points. On point number one the studies have said that meteorological conditions dominate changes in the CO conditions so you can't just blame the snowmobiles when mother nature has a dominating influence. Also the air quality monitoring shelter and parking lots were changed at some time period that the studies didn't say which could make changes in seasonal readings when trying to compare different years of data.

On your points 2,3, and 4 you are trying to twist things because you are again comparing apples to oranges. You must convert apples to apples to be able to compare. You are trying to compare an actual or average in history to the maximum in the future. I will go out on a limb and say with confidence that you will not have 480 snowmobiles and 60 snowcoaches a day in the park under the new plan. You can't compare an average to a maximum, it is absolutely meaningless. At this point in time all you can do is attempt to compare the maximums of the old plans to the maximums of the new plan.

As far as the noise on the winter travel corridor. Is that really a bad thing? The numbers are a lot higher in the summer time and the summer travel corridor is much larger than the winter travel corridor because many roads are closed to snowmobiles in the winter that are open to the automobiles in the summer thus helping the summer noise impact a larger area of the park. I don't see the NPCA making much of an issue about the summer noise.

Just food for thought. Now again quit nit picking numbers and go enjoy the park. Years of studies conclude that the air is not bad in the winter. Thanks for your time.

Let me ask you two questions, YNP4everyone:

1) What would be wrong with minimizing to the greatest extent possible air quality impairments and noise levels, while also letting folks enjoy the park in winter?

2) Do you have a vested interest in snowmobiling in Yellowstone?

What would be wrong with minimizing to the greatest extent possible air quality impairments and noise levels...

This is the epitome of what is wrong with the "environmental movement". Minimize no matter the cost and no matter the actual benefit. The study shows that CO emissions are already well below national standards - which themselves are probably artificially low. What is right about minimizing when it isn't necessary?

Do you have a vested interest in snowmobiling in Yellowstone?

I don't know about YNP but I don't have a vested interest in snowmobiling. I don't even like having them on trails I might be hiking/snowshoeing et al. But I respect the right of others to want to snowmobile and believe there should be adequate facilities to meet their demand.

Anonymous, according to all the stats, there would be no additional costs. The technology already exists.

there would be no additional costs.

Then why don't you start up a business with this "existing technology'? Why hasn't anyone done so? Surely a business that could advertise lower emissions and lower noise at no additional cost would be a big winner. The reason is your "no additional cost" is a fantasy.

I'm not in the OSV business, that's why anonymous.

Yet park officials say the technology already exists, YNP4everyone points out there are certain models of snowmobiles that already meet BAT standards. So phase it in. Don't do it overnight. As businesses turn over their fleets, tell them they need to meet X standards by X year. If they can do it with snowmobiles, fine. If they can do it with snowcoaches, that's fine, too.

Beyond that, your previous comments raise an interesting question. How much is good enough for Yellowstone?

Where do you draw the line in the world's first national park between "this is what we can do with current technology, but we're satisfied if we just go this far...."?

Of course, another question is should every activity be allowed and provided for in Yellowstone? That's a deeper philosophical debate.

Kurt asks:

"Of course, another question is should every activity be allowed and provided for in Yellowstone? That's a deeper philosophical debate."

Many people who ask this question really mean: "My activity should be allowed in [X location], along with those I can tolerate, and no others."

There are a few people out there who advocate no human visitation of these places at all. That is the most principled stand: if they're really that sensitive and valuable, everyone stay out.

Of course, that's politically untenable, and it would also be bizarre. But we have enough bizarre concepts already of how to treat wildlands in America that it's not entirely unthinkable that this could happen someday.

We already see this with Forest Service Wilderness areas. Some of them are losing their trails from underuse, and no one's interested in maintaining them. Either they can't afford it (the agency), they're not allowed to both maintain them and use them (e.g., mountain bikers), or they prefer that people not go there at all.

So people crowd into shopping malls for mindless purchases of junk that they end up cramming in storage lockers, and/or retreat into isolation before their computer screens in anonymous suburbs.

Don't try to put words in my mouth, imbtnbke....

I have to agree with the comment of Anonymous of 3:21 p.m.: "This is the epitome of what is wrong with the 'environmental movement.' Minimize no matter the cost and no matter the actual benefit."

I'm not saying that is true of the posters on this thread. This is a good discussion and I'm learning things from the snowmobile opponents. But I think it is true of "environmentalism" generally.

One problem is that there isn't any form of required licensing before one can call oneself an environmentalist. A barber or hairdresser requires a license in many places. But not an environmentalist." And yet one hears the media uncritically, and regularly, invoke "environmentalists' concerns" (concerns being the current fashionable euphemism for complaints or fears) as though a cadre of well-trained experts were speaking out.

I think environmentalist should be a term like accountant, real estate agent, or physical therapist—i.e., something you can't call yourself without a formal course of study and a qualifying exam afterward. The course of study should include economics, engineering, and either biology, chemistry, or physics. Not a PhD necessarily, but the equivalent of a BA.

Until then, when I hear the term environmentalist, I have this stereotyped vision of a 24-year-old guy I'll call Seth. Seth lives in an apartment in a urban, but not too gritty, Seattle neighborhood. He is earnest, serious, and politically correct. He may have studied political science at a green-oriented university. Seth can be found soliciting donations for environmental lobbies on the more fashionable streets of Issaquah or at the Whole Foods in Redmond. Occasionally he heads for an outing in the Cascades or the Olympics. The irony of doing these things by car escapes him. He has strong emotions about the environment—in fact he is convinced that we are doomed—but little education that could help him work usefully for environmental protection. He likes the label of environmental activist and thinks it gives him a certain standing, which it undoubtedly does in some circles.

"Don't try to put words in my mouth, imtnbke..."

I'm not. What I said is true of many people who voice that sentiment. But many, not all. That's why I was careful to qualify my comment by beginning it with "many." I'm not including you. Promise!

I'm not in the OSV business, that's why anonymous.

That might explain why you don't do it but it doesn't explain why nobody else has.

Yet park officials say the technology already exists,

Sure and the technology for an electrical car exists. However a Chevy Volt costs 2 1/2 times its gas equivalent. It doesn't come at "no cost" but does come at no benefit.

A reasonable and respectful presentation that addresses some of the attitudes expressed or alluded to in the comments relating to the article. Seemed logical to me.

At this point, I'm no longer quite sure I understand what the argument is. I think that I gathered this much:

- a few 100 snowmobiles pollute way less than 1000's of summer visitors

- park would like to limit the pollution of snowmobiles

It seems that limiting the snowmobile pollution is a worthy goal, but should it be applied as well to all visitors' cars that come in the summer? Any car made prior to 1990 is barred from the park!! Let's see how the public reacts. Otherwise, it kind of smacks of discrimination. I'm guessing that it's easier to pick on a few 100 snowmobilers than on the public at large.

Anon, re using the best technology out there, Randy Roberson, who runs Yellowstone Vacations out of West Yellowstone, has already moved in that direction, buying and running cleaner and quieter snowcoaches before the park established BAT guidelines for snowcoaches:

And from the Billings Gazette on July 15:

Randy Roberson, whose West Yellowstone business provides both snowcoach and snowmobile tours said he likes the plan’s incentives for running cleaner, quieter machines. Roberson has already invested in higher levels of technology for snowcoaches, although Yellowstone doesn’t yet have best available technology standards for snowcoaches.

imtnbke, you paint with too broad a brush and are slapping paint all over the boards. You live in California. What do you think of the air emissions standards for automobiles? Do you have to have your vehicle checked regularly to ensure it's not surpassing those standards? What about water quality standards for municipal water sources? Are those requirements some nasty plot by "environmentalists" or do they somehow improve quality of both the living environment and of life?

Frankly, I think you might have hit on something when you used the word "stereotype" in your comment. Folks are tossing around the word "environmentalist" as they do "liberal," which carries one definition of "favorable to or in accord with concepts of maximum individual freedom possible, especially as guaranteed by law and secured by governmental protection of civil liberties." Yet in roughly half the country it's a pejorative.

Casting about such labels doesn't accomplish any good, but rather muddies the discussion with distractions and obfuscations. Your story about poor Seth is silent to what else he might be doing to protect the environment. Does he recycle 100 percent? Does he buy carbon offsets? Does he ride public transportation 350 days of the year? Your implied definition of "environmentalist" could just be too extreme.

That aside, the philosophical debate I was suggesting goes to several questions, such as:

* Why do Glacier, Mount Rainier, and Yosemite, just to name a few other parks, ban snowmobiles, yet it's OK in Yellowstone?

* Why are snowmobiles and snowcoaches OK in Yellowstone, but not personal watercraft or kayaks/canoes on the Firehole or Yellowstone rivers? Why do some parks/seashores allow personal watercraft, but not others?

* Why do some parks focus on the side of protecting resources over recreation, which the Park Service's mission requires, but not others? And this particular question returns to one I asked above but which so far has remained unanswered: Where do you draw the line in the world's first national park between "this is what we can do with current technology, but we're satisfied if we just go this far...."?

Of course one answer to these questions is political pressure. Yet all these issues go to one over-arcing issue, which is the quality we as a society want the parks maintained to both for today and for 100 years from now. Frankly, I have to wonder if all the millions of dollars spent the past decade on trying to come up with a satisfactory winter-use plan couldn't have been better spent developing cleaner, quieter, over-snow vehicles.

Zeb, you're absolutely right that the park shouldn't focus all of its efforts on snowmobiles, but rather seek to limit all pollution, winter or summer.

but rather seek to limit all pollution, winter or summer.

Of course there should be limits, but those limits should have limits. Back to my "epitome" comment. Each increment "limit" to so called pollutants comes at an ever greater cost. Getting rid of the first 50% may cost x. Get rid of the next 25% 10x. By the time we are getting down to the last 1%, the costs become astronomical. The environmental movement wants that last 1% gone not matter the cost and no matter the lack of any real benefit. This philosophy has put crippling cost on many of our industries and is one major reasons jobs are going offshore. (percentages and x factors are for demonstration purposes to represent orders of magnitude, not actual numbers)

You ask why banned in Yellowstone but not others? I asked why banned in others. The answer? NPS's own failure. Snowmobiling used to be allowed in 42 National Park Units. But, due to the park services own administrative failures, it has since been banned in all but two. One must wonder whether those "administrative failure" weren't intentional.

I will ask once again. If the current level of CO is already well below the standard, what is the purpose of lowering snowmobile use? Only two real answers; 1) The philosophy of lowering pollution for lowering's sake - no matter the cost or benefit or 2) Someone(s) is intolerant.

Well put, Anon. I believe your understanding/viewpoint is held by many more than those that hold on to their intractable "philosophy of lowering pollution for lowering's sake-no matter the cost or benefit, or Someone(s) intollerant."

Have to liken the decision makers in some respects to our DC servents that have become so separated from the real life out here by legislating things that never effect them. Maybe tie their salaries to the country's health, both in economic and environmental terms. I can dream:).

I don't get it that reducing pollution is a 'bad' thing.

The comment about "no matter the cost or benefit" is just editorializing, not objective.

"no matter the cost or benefit" is just editorializing, not objective.

So Rick, you believe that we should spend anything it takes to get even the smallest decrease?

we should spend anything it takes to get even the smallest decrease?

What strawman are you talking about here? This sounds like nonsense.