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Conservationists Sue To Protect Yellowstone From Snowmobiles

Plan Endangers Public Health and Park's Resources.
March 25, 2003

Yellowstone Park rangers wear respirators because of snowmobile exhaust
Photo courtesy Greater Yellowstone Coalition
Washington DC — 
A coalition of conservation groups today filed suit to challenge the National Park Service's proposal to allow continued snowmobiling in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. The administration's plan would allow even more snowmobiles in Yellowstone where the noisy machines already disturb wildlife, pollute the air, and spread clouds of exhaust over such famous landmarks as Old Faithful.

"Families visiting Yellowstone in winter shouldn't have to worry about their health, they shouldn't have to wear ear plugs, and park rangers shouldn't have to wear respirators," said Abigail Dillen, an attorney with Earthjustice, who is representing Greater Yellowstone Coalition, National Parks Conservation Association, The Wilderness Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Winter Wildlands Alliance, and Sierra Club.

"The Park Service's decision flies in the face of overwhelming public sentiment favoring a ban on snowmobiling in Yellowstone. The science says snowmobiles are harmful to Yellowstone, the law requires the National Park Service to protect the park, and polls show that Americans want the service to do its job," said Charles Clusen, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's National Parks Project. "It's a sad day when we have to file a lawsuit to force this administration to do the right thing."

Federal laws and regulations require the Park Service to preserve Yellowstone's spectacular natural resources "for the enjoyment of future generations." Yet under the Park Service's new snowmobile plan, winter visitors should not expect to enjoy clean air and natural quiet.

Contrary to the administration's public statements, which have touted continued snowmobile use, a recently completed study by the administration identifies ending snowmobile use as best balance between preservation and use of the parks.

That study, completed after two years and $2.4 million, analyzed "cleaner and quieter" snowmobiles and determined that even limited numbers of the newest machines would cause significantly greater impacts than a full transition from snowmobiles to snowcoaches. These greater impacts include haze at Old Faithful, more engine noise, health problems for employees and visitors with sensitive respiratory systems, and chronic disruption of wildlife.

In addition, the Bush administration study concludes that phasing out snowmobiles would not cause great or even moderate economic impact: "Even with the phaseout of snowmobiles, economic impacts to local communities in the five county area have been found to be negligible to minor." These findings are identical to the conclusion that formed the basis for the earlier decision in November 2000 to begin phasing snowmobiles out of both parks.

Air and noise pollution anticipated by the Park Service pose serious health risks, especially to people with respiratory problems and other vulnerable populations such as pregnant women, children, and senior citizens. According to Betsy Buffington of The Wilderness Society, "The Park Service's new decision means that a huge segment of Americans will have to worry about breathing in Yellowstone." The Park Service also reports that employees may experience hearing loss due to constant exposure to the noise of snowmobile engines.

"There's an easy way to solve all the problems caused by snowmobiles. Keep them out of Yellowstone," says Hope Sieck of Greater Yellowstone Coalition. "The Park Service has made it clear that mass-transit snowcoaches are the best way to get visitors into the park, and the public is overwhelmingly behind that approach. So, tell me, why do we still have snowmobiles in the park?"

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Contact:
Abigail Dillen, Earthjustice, 406-586-9699