The Bush administration is still determined to bring snowmobiles back to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, despite all the gains the parks have seen from a successful snowmobile phase-out over the past four years. The new proposal would allow up to 720 snowmobiles into Yellowstone and an additional 140 snowmobiles into Grand Teton every day during the winter snow season.
Four years ago, in a lawsuit brought by Earthjustice, a federal court judge in Washington, D.C., found that the Park Service had failed to justify a similar plan to allow 950 snowmobiles into Yellowstone each day. In the wake of that decision, snowmobile numbers have steadily declined, and air quality and natural quiet have dramatically improved.
This past winter, there were 250 daily snowmobiles on average, and visitors enjoyed the parks in their most pristine condition in decades. Nevertheless, in a draft environmental impact statementreleased today, the Park Service unveiled its "preferred alternative" to turn back the clock, and nearly triple snowmobile use in the park. This preference defies the agency’s own conclusions in three successive studies over the past ten years that phasing out snowmobiles and replacing them with cleaner, quieter snowcoaches that carry more passengers is the least polluting, and least intrusive way to bring people into the park during winter, when the park is at its most peaceful and wildlife are most vulnerable due to cold and limited food supplies. Ironically, the EIS was released one day after seven of the eight living former Park Service directors sent a letter to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne calling for a permanent ban on snowmobiling in the parks. (The eighth, Fran Mainella, left office a year ago and is barred from commenting publicly on park matters.)
"Yellowstone in winter has not been better in many years, and that's because the park is finally free of pollution and noise from hundreds and hundreds of snowmobiles every day," said Abigail Dillen, an Earthjustice attorney who has represented several conservation groups in litigation to eliminate harmful snowmobile use in the parks. "Snowmobiles were literally putting a cloud over Yellowstone. It's time to leave that past behind and embrace the return of clean air, peace, and quiet. That's the future the Park Service should be proposing for our first national park."