Conservationists Challenge Yellowstone National Park Snowmobiles

Federal officials ignore recommendation of their own scientists in new plan


Sean Helle, Earthjustice, (406) 586-9699
Amy McNamara, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, (406) 586-1593
Chris Mehl, The Wilderness Society, (406) 581-4992
Craig Noble, NRDC, (415) 875-6103

Conservation groups, represented by Earthjustice, have filed a lawsuit challenging a federal government decision that allows 540 snowmobiles per day inside Yellowstone National Park. Over the past three winters just over half that many snowmobiles have entered Yellowstone daily during the winter season.  In the lawsuit filed in U.S. district court in Washington, DC, conservationists say that allowing 540 snowmobiles daily in Yellowstone is contrary to the National Park Service’s overarching mandate to give highest priority to conservation of national park resources.

“The Park Service’s own analysis demonstrated that snowmobiling should be radically reduced to prevent air pollution, human health risks, harassment of wildlife, and destruction of the parks’ natural soundscapes,” said Earthjustice attorney Doug Honnold. “The Park Service needs to do more to usher in a future where snowcoaches provide winter access that is consistent with the purposes of the national parks, not turn back the clock as Wyoming suggests.

“After a three-year study, the park’s own scientists recommended capping traffic at its much-reduced level to protect winter-stressed animals from being disturbed and harassed by too many vehicles,” said Chris Mehl of The Wilderness Society.

In its Final Environmental Impact Statement, the National Park Service noted that Congress established the National Park Service in 1916 in part due to a recognition that the American people “wanted places to go that were undisturbed and natural and which offered a retreat from the rigors and stresses of everyday life.” 

Many snowmobile models recently approved for use in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks are right up against limits set for noise and carbon monoxide emissions.  Recently the National Park Service released a list of 41 models less than five years old that will be allowed in the parks. More than half of those models exceed the allowable noise limit at full throttle. In recent years 13 out of 24 certified snowmobiles models have bumped up against the maximum allowed carbon monoxide emissions.

Government studies also show that allowing 540 snowmobiles to enter Yellowstone each day would dramatically expand the portion of the park where visitors are expected to hear snowmobile noise during more than half of the visiting day. The area where noise intrudes on the visitor’s experience during at least half of the day would jump from 21 square miles to 63 square miles, a three-fold increase.

The Park Service’s study says 540 snowmobiles per day would increase carbon monoxide, hydrocarbon, and particulate pollution beyond levels monitored during the past several winters. The study found that all of these unhealthy pollutants could be reduced dramatically if the National Park Service chose instead to emphasize snowcoach access and further reduce snowmobile use or phase it out completely.

“The past four seasons have shown that Yellowstone’s winter visitors are increasingly embracing modern snowcoaches and the health of the park has improved because of it,” said Amy McNamara of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. “The National Park Service’s decision makes a U-turn on that progress and will lead to unacceptable impacts in our first national park.”

The conservation organizations bringing the suit collectively have more than two million members.  They are: Greater Yellowstone Coalition, The Wilderness Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Winter Wildlands Alliance, and Sierra Club. The conservation groups are represented by Earthjustice.

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