Should We Be Surprised That Snowmobile Politics Trumps Science in the National Parks?

Get the Flash Player to see hear the audio.

Former NPS Director Fran Mainella; NPS Photo.

Former National Park Service Director Fran Mainella speaks with Kurt Repanshek about her decision to support the other living past directors and their call to eliminate snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park in favor of snowcoaches. NPS photo.


SOUND: Snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park.

KURT: At a time when politics in Washington truly are a “contact sport,” we shouldn’t be too surprised when we learn that science has been trumped when it comes to decisions affecting the national park system. Should we be disappointed? Of course. But surprised? Unfortunately not.

These past seven years there long have been suspicions that politics shaped the National Park Service’s position on snowmobiling in Yellowstone National Park. Those suspicions gained tremendous weight when I talked with Fran Mainella, who a little over a year ago resigned from her position as director of the National Park Service.

During her six years in office Ms. Mainella refused to call for a ban on snowmobiling in Yellowstone, even when two environmental impact studies and an environment assessment pointed to snow coaches as the environmentally preferred alternative for motorized winter recreation in the park.

Now, though, she’s changed her position and believes science should be the final measure when it comes to deciding if snowmobiles are appropriate for Yellowstone’s resources, its wildlife, visitors, and even employees. She made that change publicly known recently when she decided to join seven other former Park Service directors in asking Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to oppose an increase in snowmobile use in Yellowstone and to favor snow coaches for winter motorized recreation in the park.

MAINELLA: Part of what I was trying to do was just again further reinforce the importance of the science and making sure that we rely on the science. Anyone making a decision has multiple factors that come to play. Access is an important part. There’s the other considerations, visitor services and all these other things that we’re responsible for in the National Park Service. But what I was just trying to encourage was when all is said and done is that the science, taking care of the resource has to be the predominant force. That’s really it. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have snowmobiles in there. That isn’t what I was saying. I’m just saying as a former national park service director to help just further reinforce the fact that it is important that we just stay to the science.

KURT: Of course, Ms. Mainella's latest view begs the question of why she didn't hold that position during her tenure as director.

When I reached Ms. Mainella at Clemson University, where she’s a visiting scholar, she explained that as Park Service director she did not hold the final decision on snowmobiling in Yellowstone.

MAINELLA: All I can say is that those decisions, I chose to have my discussions in the 'house' of the Department of Interior, so whether I agreed or disagreed was reflected in those meetings. Once a decision was made by the Department of Interior, I did come out and speak on behalf (of it) because I felt that was my responsibility in the position (as Park Service director).

KURT: When I pressed her a bit later on whether she supported the science of those environmental studies conducted during her tenure, as she now says the Park Service and Interior Department should do in the saga’s latest chapter, Ms. Mainella had this to say:

MAINELLA: We helped develop the new snow coaches to further enhance the improvement of snow-coach use in the national parks. Those were some of the things that we were able to do. But again, all I can tell you is that those decisions were decided at a level beyond our office. A pay grade higher than mine.

KURT: Of course, Ms. Mainella’s newfound position begs another question: What does current Park Service Director Mary Bomar really favor in Yellowstone? When I sat down with her back in October she, too, voiced support for letting science guide on-the-ground decisions.

BOMAR: When I came into the National Park Service, I didn't realize the in-depth that the good stewards in the national parks went to. Often, we'd be accused of studying things to death. If you didn't like the answer we'll do another study. But I will say over time that I've come to really appreciate that, that we make good decisions based on good information.

KURT: Despite those words, don’t you still wonder whether science or politics are guiding snowmobiles in Yellowstone?

SOUND: Snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park.

KURT: At the National Parks Traveler, I’m Kurt Repanshek


Is it really science...or junk science by agenda-driven enviros??

The real and only agenda of the enviros and UN is to lower our standard of living to a third-world country.

So, the "enviros" and the UN are responsible for issuing driver's licenses and universal health care to illegal aliens? These and other related "gifts" of our beloved govenment are doing more to lower our national standard of living than whatever agenda to which you refer. And in neither of the above mentioned instances are either the United Nations or environmental groups responsible in any way, shape of form.

Additionally, since there is no specific mention of the manner, duration, data, and generalizations drawn from the studies that were performed within the context of the above article, the reference to "junk science" is totally without merit. Without knowledge of experimental design and data analysis, your assumption pertaining to the quality of the study is based solely on emotion and ignorance, and in no fashion related to the scientific method practiced in the study.