Since the mid-1990s, the National Park Service has been trying to come up with a plan to regulate the use of snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park that would withstand legal rulings and political pressure. Protecting the environment has almost always come out last.
For a moment in 2000, the environment won and the Clinton administration proposed to ban all snowmobiles. Repeated studies have shown that they disturb animals and create air and noise pollution. A judge rejected it because of inadequate public participation in the decision process. The administration of George W. Bush then opened the park to as many as 720 snowmobiles a day, and a court said that that violated pollution standards. The number has varied almost every year since. Last winter, the Park Service settled on 318 a day.
The Obama administration’s draft of a new winter use plan is only a slight improvement. It would admit from 110 to 330 per day, according to a schedule that would be published a year in advance. If you want a quieter Yellowstone experience, says the plan, visit the park with skis or snowshoes on a low snowmobile day.
In the past decade, the Park Service has tried to make the presence of snowmobiles more palatable, mainly by requiring guides for snowmobilers and the use of lower emission, state-of-the-art four-stroke machines. That has improved conditions since the 1990s, when a noxious cloud often hung over the west entrance to the park.
Snowmobilers and the local businesses that depend on them will surely complain that the new numbers are too low. We are certain they’re too high. Yellowstone needs more protection. Besides, there are miles of snowmobile trails in the national forests surrounding the park.
The New York Times (June 8)