The phaseout, which is part of the new Winter Use Plan for Yellowstone, upholds laws, regulations, and executive orders designed to protect the Park. It sets in motion a restoration of clean air and natural quiet, which have been steadily diminished in Yellowstone by skyrocketing snowmobile use.
"We are not going to let politics keep the Park Service from doing the right thing by Yellowstone," said Bob Ekey of The Wilderness Society, one of five conservation organizations filing court papers to defend the Park Service's Winter Use Plan. "The winter use plan is the right decision according to the law and according to the science, and we're going to fight to keep it in place," Ekey added.
At many of the Park's most spectacular scenic sites, including Old Faithful and the Yellowstone's Grand Canyon, visitors now have difficulty escaping the buzz, whine, and roar of snowmobile engines. In other areas, heavy snowmobile use forces elk and other wildlife to avoid habitat vital to their winter survival.
Between 1983 and 1993, the number of visitors to Yellowstone doubled from 70,000 to 140,000. A majority of those visitors enter Yellowstone on snowmobiles, which are now responsible for up to 68% of Yellowstone's carbon monoxide pollution and up to 90% of its annual hydrocarbon emissions. At the Park's west entrance, unhealthy levels of carbon monoxide due to snowmobile exhaust have forced the Park Service to pump fresh air into entrance booths to protect the health of employees.
In 1997, the adverse impacts of steadily increasing snowmobile use in Yellowstone prompted the Park Service to undertake three years of intensive planning with major public involvement and consultation with state and county agencies in order to find a solution. This past November, the Park Service announced a new Winter Use Plan that calls for a three-year phaseout of snowmobiles in favor of snowcoaches, which carry multiple passengers while producing dramatically less air and noise pollution.
The new improved system will provide equivalent public access to Yellowstone with approximately 85 per cent fewer vehicles. At the same time, the expanded snowcoach system will carry visitors to trailheads, scenic attractions, and accommodations with less impact to winter-stressed wildlife and the Park's unique character.
"This is an approach that allows for protection and enjoyment of the Park at the same time, and that's the essence of the Park Service's mission," said Michael Scott of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.
Doug Honnold of Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund agrees. "Under the law, the Park Service must keep Yellowstone unimpaired. Once the Park Service examined the serious environmental problems caused by snowmobiles, it had little choice but to phase them out."
Earthjustice is representing, National Parks Conservation Association, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, The Wilderness Society, BlueWater Network, and Natural Resources Defense Council.