Snowmobiling In Yellowstone - Why We Fight

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By Jack Welch

BlueRibbon Coalition


The Congressional mandate for Wilderness is entirely different than that of the National Park System. Wilderness is all about protection. National Parks protect, but also are supposed to be visitor friendly. The idea is for the American public to come and visit.


When creating the National Park System, Congress mandated that the Park Service: (1) "promote" and "provide for the use and enjoyment" of park resources and (2) and "leave unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."


Radical environmental groups openly admit they would like to change that. They think National Parks should be all about protection, just like Wilderness, and they are working hard to make that happen. Wilderness activist groups have attempted to close all the dirt roads in Canyonlands National Park, eliminate personal watercraft from Lake Powell and ban snowmobiles from Yellowstone.


Snowmobiling is a wonderful and totally unique way to experience Yellowstone in the winter. Technology allows us to have that experience and minimize impacts. Guides ensure compliance with all Park Service rules. Just like in Canyonlands and Lake Powell, BRC fights to protect snowmobiling in Yellowstone because it's the right thing to do.


That is why we fight. Let's take a look at who we fight.


BRC has proudly joined others in fighting for reasonable snowmobile access to Yellowstone for the last 12 plus years. Among those on the other side is a group called the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.


In an article titled GYC Wants Snowmobile Ban by Next Winter, the Island Park News reported on a recent fund-raising event hosted by Mike Clark, Executive Director of the Bozeman-based Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC). 


GYC purports to support science-based management policy for Yellowstone. But we're not so sure.


Island Park News quotes Clark as asking for donations to: "support a plan for Yellowstone that will eliminate snowmobiles and promote a quieter and cleaner winter experience for visitors, and more important, for the wildlife that call Yellowstone home. Unfortunately, the National Park Service continues to allow snowmobiles, causing unnecessary noise and pollution in America's first national park."


But the Park Service study reports: Air quality is very good to excellent in the winter. Best Available Technology snowmobiles, limits on numbers of oversnow vehicles, and commercial guiding have all contributed to the improvements in air quality. The BAT technology snowmobiles are currently all four-stroke machines that produce far less pollution than traditional two-stroke snowmobiles. Yellowstone intends to implement a BAT requirement for snowcoaches in the future that would continue to improve air quality.


Island Park News quotes GYC's Clark as saying: "Snowmobiles have been a noisy, air-fouling, wildlife-stressing influence in Yellowstone for four decades. At one point, nearly 2,000 snowmobiles daily were roaring across the park without restriction. The time is now to do what is right for Yellowstone and its wildlife,"


Let's look at what the Park Service science says about that: Extensive studies of the behavioral responses of five species (bison, elk, bald eagle, trumpeter swans and coyotes) to over snow traffic showed that these animals rarely showed high-intensity responses (movement, defense postures, or flight) to approaching vehicles. For individual animals, 8 to 10 percent of elk and bison show a movement response to snowmobiles and snowcoaches. Approximately 90 percent of elk or bison either show no apparent response or a "look and resume" response.


This level of reaction was consistent for a wide range of daily average oversnow vehicle use (ranging from 156 to 593 vehicles per day). Thirty-five years of census data do not reveal any relationship between changing winter use patterns and elk or bison population dynamics. No wildlife populations are currently declining due to winter use (swan populations are declining, but this decline is being experienced regionally and due to factors unrelated to winter use in the park or region).


GYC also says it
  Promote the most environmentally friendly means of visiting the park's interior, such as snowcoaches, snowshoes, and skiing;


That sounds nice, except that based on wildlife monitoring, the odds of eliciting a movement response were higher for snowcoaches than snowmobiles.


That's who we fight. We fight well-funded extremists bent on changing the way the National Park System is managed. They distort and lie about the science they claim to hold dear. They operate under a classic "ends justify the means" modus operandi.


In the larger philosophical struggle over management of public lands, National Parks are the tip of the spear. BRC is proud to have been in the trenches over the last 25 years and we are committed to continue that fight.


How you can help:


The NPS is preparing another Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for a Winter Use Plan for Yellowstone National Park. The anti-snowmobile forces tried to have the federal courts close Yellowstone. Thanks to the involvement of snowmobilers and OHV users across the country, all they got was another EIS.


It is one of many such environmental analyses and it is an important and required skirmish in our ultimate battle to finally ensure snowmobiles can stay in Yellowstone.  We know the process seems to never end, but the anti-access groups hope to exploit apathy and confusion. It is important that we stay engaged with our consistent and increasingly-supported opposition.


The good news is that recent studies are showing the claims of GYC and other anti-motorized groups as vastly overstated. This EIS could provide for a reasonable, science-based, long-range Winter Use Plan for Yellowstone National Park. 



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