Federal Judge Blocks Recreational Snowmobiling in Yellowstone National Park

Will there be recreational snowmobiling in Yellowstone this winter? NPS photo.

A federal judge, ruling that Yellowstone National Park's decision to continue recreational snowmobile use in the park runs counter to science and the National Park Service's conservation mission, has tossed out the park's winter-use plan.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan's ruling, while sure to spur more legal battles, throws in doubt whether there will be recreational snowmobiling in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks when the winter season gets under way in mid-December.

"We've got to figure out what it means. We don't know where we go from here," Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash said this afternoon. "The judge was very clear that he took issue with some of our analysis and decision-making. It's up to our winter-use planning staff and Justice Department attorneys to study this so we know how to move forward."

In his 63-page ruling, which was stinging at times in its criticism of the Park Service's interpretation of its own Organic Act, Judge Sullivan held that while the Organic Act does call for public enjoyment of the national parks, "(T)his is not blanket permission to have fun in the parks in any way the NPS sees fit."

"As plaintiffs articulated at the hearing, the 'enjoyment' referenced in the Organic Act is not enjoyment for its own sake, or even enjoyment of the parks generally, but rather the enjoyment of 'the scenery and natural and historic objects and wild life' in the parks in a manner that will allow future generations to enjoy them as well," wrote Judge Sullivan in today's ruling. "NPS cannot circumvent this limitation through conclusory declarations that certain adverse impacts are acceptable, without explaining why those impacts are necessary and appropriate to fulfill the purposes of the park."

The winter-use plan was challenged by the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, the National Parks Conservation Association, the Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, the Winter Wildlands Alliance, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“This ruling reaffirms the idea at the heart of our National Park System—that the duty of Yellowstone’s managers is to preserve the park for the sake of all visitors, and to place the highest value on protection of Yellowstone’s unique natural treasures,” said Tim Stevens, senior Yellowstone Program Manager for NPCA.

“This ruling will ensure that visitors are not disappointed by air and noise pollution when they make the one winter trip to Yellowstone of their lives,” said Amy McNamara, National Parks Program Director for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. “We take our hats off to the tour businesses that didn’t wait for this ruling. Their increasing investments in modern snowcoaches are already making it possible for winter visitors to access and enjoy Yellowstone while protecting it.”

At the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, leaders were calling for Yellowstone and National Park Service officials to accept the judge's ruling and work harder to protect the parks' resources.

"They should be quietly praising this whole thing instead of continuing to obfuscate the whole question in my judgment," said Bill Wade, who chairs the coalition's executive council. "It should be very clear where they go from here.”

Mr. Wade said Yellowstone Superintendent Suzanne Lewis should have the authority to pass an emergency rule to allow a limited amount of snowmobiling in the park this year while her staff moves to develop a winter-use plan in line with Judge Sullivan's ruling.

That said, the coalition believes snowcoaches -- not snowmobiles -- should transport winter visitors in Yellowstone because the coaches are safe, quieter, less polluting, and less impacting to wildlife than snowmobiles.

During the past 11 years the Yellowstone snowmobiling saga has seesawed back and forth. While the Clinton administration on its way out of office issued a directive that snowmobile use be phased out of the park, the Bush administration immediately stayed that when it took office.

A series of legal challenges -- some by conservation groups, some by snowmobile advocates such as the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association -- alternately pulled the Park Service in opposite directions. The latest decision came last November, when Yellowstone officials approved a plan to allow up to 540 snowmobiles and 83 snowcoaches per day into the park -- despite research that concluded such levels would impact park resources.

When the coalition of conservation groups announced its legal challenge to the plan, it noted that the Park Service disclosed in a study accompanying its decision that allowing 540 snowmobiles into Yellowstone each day would dramatically expand to 63 square miles-the portion of the park where visitors could expect to hear snowmobile noise during more than half of the visiting day. That would be a three-fold increase from the current portion of the park where noise intrudes on the visitor’s experience during at least half the day.

The groups also noted that in its Final Environmental Impact Study accompanying its decision, the Park Service acknowledged 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.”

Judge Sullivan found more than a few problems with the National Park Service's conclusions in approving the winter-use plan (WUP). Among them:

* The court finds that NPS fails to articulate why the WUP's impacts are 'acceptable.' NPS simply repeats the above standards in the context of the WUP's impacts on soundscapes, wildlife, and air quality, but fails to provide any supporting analysis of how the impacts relate to those standards.

* The ROD (record of decision) makes no effort to explain, for example, why impacts on soundscapes characterized as 'major and adverse' do not 'unreasonably interfere with the soundscape' and cause an unacceptable impact.

* Similarly, NPS fails to explain why increasing the amount of benzene and formaldehyde to levels that broach (and sometimes exceed) the minimum risk levels applicable to hazardous waste sites does not 'create an unsafe or unhealthful environment for visitors or employees.'

* ... NPS provides no quantitative standard or qualitative analysis to support its conclusions that the adverse impacts of the WUP are 'acceptable.'

* As with soundscapes and wildlife, the court finds that NPS has failed to articulate why a plan that will admittedly worsen air quality complies with the conservation mandate.

In his conclusion, Judge Sullivan found that the winter-use plan "clearly elevates use over conservation of park resources and values and fails to articulate why the plan's 'major adverse impacts' are 'necessary and appropriate to fulfill the purposes of the park."

"NPS fails to explain how increasing snowmobile usage over current conditions, where adaptive management thresholds are already being exceeded, complies with the conservation mandate of the Organic Act," he wrote.

While this ruling was being digested today, Yellowstone's winter-use planners were joined by Department of Justice attorneys in Cheyenne, Wyoming, before U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer. Judge Brimmer, who in the past has ruled almost completely opposite Judge Sullivan on the snowmobile issue, was conducting a hearing into a lawsuit brought by the state of Wyoming and Park County, Wyoming, over the winter-use plan's 540-snowmobile-per-day limit as well as its requirement that snowmobilers be led by commercial guides.

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Comments

There is no mystery about what is going on here. Just have to look to see what elected officials live near Yellowstone and Grand Teton.

"(T)his is not blanket permission to have fun in the parks in any way the NPS sees fit."
Right on Judge Sullivan!
Reminds me of one of my favorite Aldo Leopold quotes, "Recreational development is a job not of building roads into the lovely country, but of building receptivity into the still unlovely human mind. "

Way to go, Judge Sullivan! And congratulations to the dedicated people at GYC, Wilderness Society, NPCA, SC, WWA and NRDC who have kept at this fight all these years! (Cheers to JC and KB!)

I only hope that when Palin revs up her rhetoric against this decision that our conservation-minded pols don't shy away from speaking out in defense of park protective policies.

Thanks for covering this, Kurt.

I have to say, this seems like a good thing to me. Hundreds of loud, polluting machines will be kept out of yellowstone. You don't need to tear up the landscape if you can ride in snowcoaches.

Art Sedlack was ahead of his time!

At any rate - here is a relevant historical article on the history of snowmobiles in Glacier Park and Yellowstone.

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3951/is_200310/ai_n9338664/pg_1

Another case of one person (judge) deciding how a public asset can and cannot be untilized by the public.

Huzzah! And what a way to bring a flame-bait topic to NPT! ;-)

I'm not a big fan of motorized recreation in any NPS site. As I always say, the NPS is not there to guarantee recreation, it's there to protect America's natural wonders and historic treasures. Allowing activities that threaten the integrity of those wonders needs to be prohibited (or at least controlled to lessen the impact).

I don't know that much about that part of Wyoming, but I'm sure there are plenty of places people can snowmobile for fun.

============================================

My travels through the National Park System: americaincontext.com

Let's see if this one holds...we've been here before. Its time to give the park back to the native species as much as possible during the stressful times of winter (especially last year), and to allow those who visit the park in winter for the very reason of skiing within a pristine landscape with no mechanical noise--or as little as possible. This just goes to show how the NPS gets stuck between a rock and a hard place by trying to appease every single group out there who believes they have a right of access and a right to block access. Its time for the business's who rent sleds to step up and buy a coach or two and stop whining about their right to access. Respect the park, repsect the decision, respect the science used to make the decision, and move forward.

It's ironic that most of these comments are in favor of keeping snowmobiles out of YELL, yet most of the commentators on CAHA issues want motorized access. Perhaps many of the CAHA people aren't interested in YELL? Or is YELL somehow different than CAHA? If so, is it really our - or anyone's - prerogative to say that one park is more deserving of protection than another?

It's ironic that most of these comments are in favor of keeping snowmobiles out of YELL, yet most of the commentators on CAHA issues want motorized access. Perhaps many of the CAHA people aren't interested in YELL? Or is YELL somehow different than CAHA? If so, is it really our - or anyone's - prerogative to say that one park is more deserving of protection than another?

I would take exception to that comment, anon. Protection of all NPS units should be our mission. However, in all fairness, to compare YELL to CHNSRA is akin to comparing Mars to Jupiter. Please do not infer that we care only for our area of this country.

-"White noise" caused by the surf interaction on the beach reach levels sufficient to be heard for miles. There are no such noise issues in this arena.

-PWC's, (Personal Water Craft), usage has been banned for over a decade.

-ORV's allowed in the area are state licensed vehicles only, not ATV's.

The CHNSRA Rangers employ both ATV's and either Ford or Dodge 4WD vehicles to perform their duties. I would assume that YELL rangers employ similar vehicles from 4WD autos to snowmobiles to snowcats to patrol their boundaries.

Should these be banned as well?

The similarities in this situation and those unfolding in the CHNSRA are curious. Single Federal Judges are blocking public access to public lands on the basis of type of access.

Beware that hiking may one day be denied...

I agree with Paul. There has to be other places for people to snowmobile in the winter besides Yellowstone NP. Or any other National Park for that matter. Animals and habitat are already under stress in the winter. Why add more? My hats off to all the people involved in reaching this decision.

As an Alaskan who has spent time on a snow machine I support this decision. Snowmachines, ORVs, and other such vehicles have no place in parks whose mission is to protect and preserve the scenery and the ecosystems. These recreational activities are not compatible with this directive. There are other public and private lands where these damaging activities can occur. I hope the same ruling can apply to Denali Park where snow machining still occurs in some areas. Let us learn to appreciate the wild at the wilds pace.

I am not saying that anything should be banned. All I did was point out the difference in the reaction to similar cases in YELL and CAHA. And wonder why the CAHA crew hasn't jumped on the bandwagon to allow snowmobiles in YELL....

Moreover, the judges are doing what they are supposed to do - interpreting and enforcing the laws to the best of their understanding and ability. Of course it's going to be one judge - it's not like there's a whole panel of them sitting up there at this point in the system (yes, I know if it is appealed, then there will be more than one...) That's why judges are there - to make tough decisions like this. They aren't around to make people happy, and the whole "activist judges are out to ruin the country and are ignoring the majority of Americans" argument, no matter who it comes from (liberals use it just as often as conservatives) is getting old as dirt. Grow up already. People who say things like that make it sound like one day we'll wake up to find breathing and eating banned.

And for goodness' sake, quit calling it CHNSRA. No one in the rest of the country calls it that (not even the people who write their brochures!), and even though it's the right name, you don't need to throw it in our face as if it's proof that it's justified for people to run all over the park.

There might be some pertinent insight to be gained, by looking into the background & history of Judge Sullivan. There's always been hangin' Judges, and warnin' Judges.

From the points Kurt quotes the Judge as listing, the bench is basically 'fixing' the Park's winter use Plan. "You need to do better here, you need to be more specific there."

For the Judge to say ...

"(T)his is not blanket permission to have fun in the parks in any way the NPS sees fit."
... sounds a tad unprofessional & weak. He's basically coming off as a 'smart-mouth'. He faulted the Park for 'winging-it', then he turns around and does the same thing.

Going by the emphasis placed on how loud & polluting snowmobiles are ("the science"), it strikes me as likely they will eventually be allowed. All ya gotta do is make them quite & clean. Problem solved!

New (and increasingly popular) four-stroke snowmobile engines make the machine a whole new ball game. (It's the inherently/easily more-powerful, lighter-weight and more-compact 2-cycle engines that make snowmobiles 'loud & smelly'. It costs more to make a similarly small, light & powerful 4-stroke, but once you do, it's dramatically quieter & cleaner.)

Set standards for noise & emissions, and the manufactures will meet it. End of problem, right? Or maybe not ...

Many who object to snowmobiles rattle off several objective reasons ("the science") why the machines are bad and should therefore be banned. Yet many also reveal clearly enough that their true objection is emotional & subjective in nature. They are attentive to benzene levels, not so much as a problem to correct, but as a pry-bar to get rid of snowmobiles ... whether they are really - objectively & "scientifically" - hurting anything or not.

The main 'real' issue with snowmobiles that I'm seeing is, the potential 'running' or disturbance of wildlife. Preventing this could involve some regulation, and active/adaptive management, but it should certainly be possible to have both contented buffalo, and contented snowmobilers.

Why do we keep allowing these motorized machines to pollute the environment in all our parks. The parks are not meant for racing etc they are meant to preserve the plants and animals and allow for guarded enjoyment by the public in such a way that the environment or animals are not interfered with. The use of our parks by the loud zing zingers only occurs because of intense lobbying by those selling and using these noisy, disturbing machines. Thank God someone defends the silent majority obviously our politicians don't!

bearguy,

Alaska!

Do you have a sense how the general Alaska snowmobile community stands on this question? Is it typical or atypical for an Alaskan snowmobiler to oppose their use in Parks?

I note that you characterize snowmobiles as involving "damaging activities". If we identify specifically what these damages are, and then take measures to prevent the damage - then what?

In fact, bearguy, I suspect the perspective of Alaskans, and the situation in Alaska, has more to do with how the question of ORVs in Parks will be settled nation-wide, than many folks realize (or are willing to admit).

I have watched the hearings and rulings on snowmobiles in Denali fairly closely, but I can't discern an outcome or intent.

Yellowstone Superintendent Suzanne Lewis, National Park Service Director Mary Bomar and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne each wholly deserve this finely worded 63-page bitch slap, IMHO.
Reads to me like Judge Sullivan did his homework.

To read up on this years long SNAFU click here. (I find the reader comments most entertaining :-))

Ted,

The current plan calls for snowmobiles to be accompanied by a guide and that they be 4-stroke. So, if that isn't good enough, it's not clear what would satisfy the judge in this case.

On the science of noise and snowmobiles, I defer to others. Whether snowmobiles or any other vehicle should be allowed is one question, but that the government here put in plans that went against their own scientific advice (even from the EPA) is really the stink bomb that is behind the success of this lawsuit. (And, throw in Cody, where the Park Service basically got pushed around - by Cheney, apparently - into keeping Sylvan Pass open against their own better judgment - now all moot apparently by this order).

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

No vehicles should be allowed in any national park. Park all them RVs and cars at the entrance and walk in! You wanna see Old Faithful? Hop on a mule.

Jim,

Ah - I knew that all snowmobiles are guided (which surely goes a long way to tamp down the yee-haw! factor), but not the 4-stroke requirement. I understand that models tuned for smooth riding, durability & economy (rental machines) are similar to automobiles in emissions.

Agreed, as Park management is bound by a science-evaluation protocol, if they ignored their own science reports (which were otherwise adequate & appropriate), then they can get rapped.

And yes, it does look like more than one question in play; distinct issues of science, philosophy and politics all morphing back & forth and being passed off as one.

While I applaud the decision as such, I see a huge problem coming up from it. This decision is not about the use of snowmobiles in the first place, it is about sloppy decision making in the NPS and even sloppier documentation of those decisions. Administrations decisions must be documented in such way that (judicial) oversight is possible. This was obviously lacking here (and in many, many other cases), most probably because the decision was in conflict with the data and could not have been based on any sound reasoning.

The danger is, that proper decision making and documentation could be confused with more bureaucracy. Nothing is gained if NPS staff is told to spend more time on their desks writing lengthy legal briefs to cover their asses in future decisions.

Anon,

My, how you like to make assumptions and read falsehoods into my words!

You’re looking at your first “band-wagon jumper” right here. The reason more folks haven’t piped up yet is that we’re all pretty busy fighting our own battles >2K mile away from Yellowstone. There are striking similarities to the issues, hence my post. The difference in reaction that you reference is probably due to the fact that nearly everyone in this country owns a vehicle, where snowmobiles are fairly specialized. Also, not too many folks can take their family of four somewhere on a snowmobile.

My opinion of the use of single judges is simply that. My opinion. We don’t necessarily have to agree on that issue. However, your vehemence is certainly unwelcome. Telling another adult individual to “grow up” merely detracts from the debate, and makes the author of said words seem all the more childish themselves.

My point is this: If they start banning access to areas for any reason, then look out. Pedestrian access can be proven to be detrimental to species just as easily as motorized access.

And finally, I absolutely refuse to call the Hatteras Island NPS unit anything but CNHSRA! The simple existence of it, and the curious way the designation has come and gone is somewhat central to our battle, and completely symbolic to it. I know of thousands of folks who refer to it as such, regardless of NPS nomenclature. If it offends you, I suggest you skip reading my and others posts where that acronym is present.

Anonymous proclaimed:

"Park all them RVs and cars at the entrance ... Hop on a mule.
You're joking. On multiple levels. One certainly hopes.

The process by which the obese, the old, the diabetic & otherwise health-challenged, the flat-footed, the deskbound, the harried, and yes, the lazy are disenfranchised from the Parks is a fantasy. Hallucination. Delusion?

There are in all likelihood going to be more forms and higher levels of vehicular usage in the Parks' future, not less. "The Science" will prevail, leading to the minimization of "objective" problems with motorized transport. 'Personal issues' and 'religious views' won't compute.

Mules? Egad. Have you ever been around areas with high levels of livestock & riding animals? Care to guess what the fuel-economy and emissions levels of horse-culture looks like? The landscape effects of churning hooves? Take 2 aspirin and call the doctor in the morning.

ATVs and snowmobiles are the leading edge of an epochal transformation of human mobility, and they are destined especially for the Parks. Subject to reasonable management.

The car has done one good thing for Yellowstone. Because people travel further and faster over a day, there are far fewer structures and buildings in Yellowstone than there used to be. The theory for awhile has been to horde large crowds of people into fewer areas so that the larger area of the park is protected at the sacrifice for the few. So, Old Faithful in particular is the sacrificial lamb.

None of these questions is very simple. It's what happens when a natural place is artificially set aside to prevent people from following their natural instincts. It's never easy to play God.

Snowmobiles certainly have no right to be in Yellowstone, but denying them access doesn't really do anything much to go at the larger problems. I'm not even convinced the air will be cleaner, if it means that visitation simply transfers to the restricted access and monopolized snow coach industry and if more and more cars (like mine) keep using the north of the park in the winter. If roads are still being groomed, what difference will it make to wildlife and the bison who continue to leave the park to face hazing and slaughter? I'll be glad if they are gone for a lot of personal reasons, but I've never understood the amount of passion over the issue without an equal amount of passion on the larger Yellowstone issues.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

Anons I & II,

Why do we keep allowing these motorized machines to pollute the environment in all our parks. The parks are not meant for racing etc they are meant to preserve the plants and animals and allow for guarded enjoyment by the public in such a way that the environment or animals are not interfered with. The use of our parks by the loud zing zingers only occurs because of intense lobbying by those selling and using these noisy, disturbing machines.

And by the lobbying of the park users who use said machines to access the park areas that they prefer. Again, please note that NPS rangers also employ the same mode of transportation in the fulfillment of their duties. Look, I’m all for a viable replacement to the IC engine, but unless you’ve got one in your back pocket you’re not telling us about, then we’re stuck burning gas for a while yet to come.

No vehicles should be allowed in any national park. Park all them RVs and cars at the entrance and walk in!

Mr. Clayton so eloquently handled the latter part of this post, so I’ll take the former. Vehicles in the parks, also used by NPS personnel, are absolutely necessary to the safety and upkeep of the park. As far as I know, all vehicles are bound by some level of emissions controls mandated by either Fed or local laws, sometimes both. Some parks are so large that a foot-bound NPS simply could not manage it in this manner. I’m sorry, but I do not share the guilt that some do over burning fossil fuels in the best means of personal transportation that mankind has produced to date. I also refuse to step back in time and harness either equine or wind power to travel.

Mules? Egad. Have you ever been around areas with high levels of livestock & riding animals? Care to guess what the fuel-economy and emissions levels of horse-culture looks like? The landscape effects of churning hooves?

I used to run a horse stables facility with 20+ animals counting both horses and ponies. We gave either ½ hour or 1-hour trail rides through the Virginia woods every weekend during the warm months. We literally had to clean the trails of dung periodically during peak season as the trail would become clogged with it. Just imagine thousands of visitors on the backs of thousands of animals and the mess it would cause.

This business went under due to the high cost of insuring the riders against injury. Do you think the NPS would enter into such a high risk venture? Doubtful.

Also, we haven’t even broached the subject of the access for the disabled. Do we dare want yet another branch of government, (The DOJ this time), and the ADA folks involved in this? Hiking trails up the sides of mountains with wheelchair ramps their entire length, anyone? Sidewalks everywhere?

Well regulated, reasonable, low-impact motorized access can certainly become a reality, if both sides are willing to give a little. Lawsuits just bring yet more lawsuits.

dapster belled the cat:

"Also, we haven’t even broached the subject of the access for the disabled."

Seriously, this is it - the basic reality.

Much, likely a majority of the population is incapable of accessing our Natural Wonders, on foot.

Yet that is the appeal-of-choice of the 'mystical solitude' contingent. "The presence of snowmobiles ruins my wilderness-experience. Let them walk."

"Oh, let them eat cake." "Marie, they'll have your head." "Nonsense: It's wilderness - they can walk like the animals, be limited to the level of animals. Make it so, Jeeves."

Somebody took a wrong turn on the road to the future, thinking it will exclude or ignore those who do not meet a certain standard of physical robustness & endurance. Yes ... cake was a nutritious & healthful commodity-byproduct of the bread-baking industry, and national enshrinement of Teutonic ideals energized late-1930s Germany ... but note that the lowly & homely won the day, hard & fast.

The snobbery & elitism of "Let them walk" is self-defeating.

No vehicles should be allowed in any national park. Park all them RVs and cars at the entrance and walk in! You wanna see Old Faithful? Hop on a mule.

You're joking. On multiple levels. One certainly hopes.

Ed Abbey's dead, so someone has to play that part. While I don't wholly agree with them, his rants on this subject are classic and entertaining.

Belling cats. It's what I do....

Much, likely a majority of the population is incapable of accessing our Natural Wonders, on foot.

I have both a two year old son and a 73-year old father. I simply cannot ask them to make the same treks that I am capable of. Does that mean that they should be excluded from viewing our national treasures simply because of the limitations placed upon them due to their age? I think not.

One day, we shall all be old, if we are lucky enough. Those of you who are hale and hearty at this moment in time may find yourselves on the other side of the fence one day, looking in longingly.

The other side of a fence that you helped to construct.

Kirky Adams,

I'll bite. Let's have a quick look at Ed Abbey.

Favorite quote:

"Abbey's abrasiveness, opposition to anthropocentrism (sometimes characterized as misanthropy ), and outspoken writings made him the object of much controversy. Conventional environmentalists from mainstream groups disliked his more radical "Keep America Beautiful...Burn a Billboard" style. Based on his writings and statements--and apparently in a few cases, actions--many believe that Abbey did advocate ecotage or sabotage in behalf of ecology. The controversy intensified with the publication of Abbey's most famous work of fiction, The Monkey Wrench Gang. The novel centers on a small group of eco-warriors who travel the American West attempting to put the brakes on uncontrolled human expansion by committing acts of sabotage against industrial development projects. Abbey claimed the novel was written merely to "entertain and amuse," and was intended as symbolic satire. Others saw it as a how-to guide to non-violent ecotage, as the main characters attack things, such as road-building equipment, and not people. The novel inspired environmentalists frustrated with mainstream environmentalist groups and what they saw as unacceptable compromises. Earth First! was formed as a result in 1980, advocating eco-sabotage or "monkeywrenching." Although Abbey never officially joined the group, he became associated with many of its members, and occasionally wrote for the organization." (emph. added)

Among the problems bedeviling environmentalism, eco-terrorism easily strikes me as the most discrediting.

Among the problems bedeviling environmentalism, eco-terrorism easily strikes me as the most discrediting.

I couldn't agree more, Ted. While I find merit in some of the ends Abbeyism seeks, the means do a grave disservice to the cause.

My point in invoking Abbey here is that Anonymous' post was nearly a quote from Desert Solitaire. And I'll stand by that book being entertaining and a classic. There's a reason tens of thousands of people (who would never send a cent to Earth First) still cite it as a favorite and an inspiration. And in every debate on subjects such as these, there will be an actor playing the Abbey part - as evidenced above. I'd rather audition for the less incendiary parts myself - perhaps Aldo Leopold?

-Kirby.....Lansing, MI

And when I am old I shall take to the over abundance of roads and nature trails that Our National Parks provide me, all the while holding to heart Our National Parks doctrine of Protection and Preservation for Our Future Generations.

As for motorized access, I have no sympathy for people like my mom who, at age 70, has not taken care of herself and can no longer get to the same places I can. But she got to see Yellowstone in the 1940s. People should see parks while they are young and capable.

Much, likely a majority of the population is incapable of accessing our Natural Wonders, on foot.

There are MANY, MANY older citizens who have taken care of their health and can enjoy the parks without a motorized device. As a fire lookout, I remember a gentleman in his 80s making the 600 foot ascent up the cinder cone on which I worked. At 7,000 feet on Mt. Hood, a man easily in his 60s zoomed past me with a youngster. And those who can't? I'm sorry, but too bad. Life sucks and is unfair. Get over it. Anyway, I doubt anyone who can't hike Yellowstone is going to be racing at 70 miles per hour down a snowmobile trail. If we had to provide access to everyone to everything, the NPS would have to build a 1000-foot elevator shaft to Cleetwood Cove so everyone could take a boat tour of Crater Lake. Ridiculous!

I've heard, "Oh, but I was working when I was younger! I didn't have the time or money to see national parks!" Well, these people made the choice to work and be sedentary and not to do parks on the cheap when they could physically do so. My choice was to work in parks in my 20s and forgo financial rewards for non-material rewards. Now, I'll work until I die.

Abbey, an anarchocaplitalist?, inspired people fed up with corporatism (government and corporate collusion) ravaging wilderness to make a stand. Under most circumstances I would not monkeywrench myself (I'd never survive prison), but maybe if it came down to it--if the Forest Service decided to resume logging in sequoia groves (an unlikely proposition), I very well might monkeywrench as a last ditch effort to save the trees I love.

But we might not have radical environmentalism if our corrupt, small-f fascist government (read: corporatist) didn't pillage wilderness for the benefit of a select few.

I have both a two year old son and a 73-year old father. I simply cannot ask them to make the same treks that I am capable of. Does that mean that they should be excluded from viewing our national treasures simply because of the limitations placed upon them due to their age? I think not.

Thanks to roads and ease of access, most of the iconic national treasures, both natural and artificial, can be enjoyed by your father and son. However, there are vast areas of wilderness with stunning sights that they cannot see. No roads go to these places and no vehicles are permitted. Should we remove any restrictions and build roads there? I would propose most of our parks are big enough to accommodate those who need a sight at the end of a road and those, like me, that need sights far from the end of the road.

Those of you who are hale and hearty at this moment in time may find yourselves on the other side of the fence one day, looking in longingly.

Indeed I shall. There will be a day that I can't get across the river and up the Queets Valley in Olympic like I do today. I just hope to God they don't build me a road to get there. There's something to be said for aging gracefully, accepting the onset of limitations, and continuing to love the wonders of wilderness just because they exist - whether you can see them or not. I look longingly now, at 35 years old, at those who climb 8,000 meter peaks and circumnavigate arctic islands in kayaks. I live vicariously via the magic of words and photographs. I harbor no bitterness that these things aren't accessible to me due to physical, emotional, or financial limitations.

Yes, some of us would help construct fences. But I assure you that some of us build them for far more than personal desire of the here-and-now. You won't hear a peep from us when we find ourselves fenced out. I call myself a lover and defender of nature. I would be a hypocrite to propose the rules be changed when the painfully natural processes of age and infirmity confine me to my books, leaving the forest to the next generation.

-Kirby.....Lansing, MI

Life sucks and is unfair. Get over it.

Well, Frank, I guess that's kinda, sorta what I was saying too. :-) But, expressing it like that usually doesn't endear one to your opinion. Quite the opposite, actually. Like I was saying, we all play different parts in these discussions.

-Kirby.....Lansing, MI

Frank C. summed up his edict ...

"People should see parks while they are young and capable."
Deciding that some people are worthy, and that others are not, is a role the more fortunate among us decline. However, to act upon such a decision, one must be a leader, and to be a leader one must run for office and win at the ballot-box. That's tougher duty than the prison you couldn't handle, Frank.

... he sets snowmobiles up as a straw-man:

"... I doubt anyone who can't hike Yellowstone is going to be racing at 70 miles per hour down a snowmobile trail."
  • In truth, older, softer & pudgier folks speak of their snowmachine in the soft cadence of surprised lovers. You're just not listening, Frank.
  • Happy old snowmobile users in the Park (and often outside it too) drive & ride slowly, quietly and yes, considerately. They have no fiendish intent, or character. You're seeing things, Frank.

... and he soft-peddles the charges:

"Abbey, an anarchocaplitalist?, inspired people fed up with corporatism (government and corporate collusion) ravaging wilderness to make a stand.
...
But we might not have radical environmentalism if our corrupt, small-f fascist government (read: corporatist) didn't pillage wilderness for the benefit of a select few."
It's not "radical environmentalism" "inspired" "to make a stand". It's amateurish guerrilla/civil warfare, using arson, firebombs, and terror. It's contributing to the criminal delinquency of the weak & addle-brained, to commit social suicide in a fit of petulant pique falsely represented to them as heroism.

Ed Abbey not-so-coyly promoted terrorism as a way to protect nature. But Edward himself knew better - knew that in truth such acts are capable of yielding no such benefit. But he had a sufficiently poor grip on his principles to incite others to sacrifice themselves pointlessly as proxies for his own disgruntled bitterness.

Well, Frank, I guess that's kinda, sorta what I was saying too. :-) But, expressing it like that usually doesn't endear one to your opinion.

Perhaps I've been watching too much Judge Judy. (Having lived in New York, I sure miss the days where I could say "get over it" and no one thought it unreasonable.)

But I stick by it. Get over it. There are millions of acres to snowmobile. In a previous comment, I listed the dozens of chemicals in gasoline (which I remember my college girlfriend's dad spilling all over Medicine Lake from his snowmobile tank). Loud. Obnoxious. They have no place in Yellowstone.

Good evening--

I concur with the posts that say that snomos have no place in Yellowstone or Grand Teton. And, I really don't believe it is a question of access. You will remember that the original winter use plan called for a two-year phase out of snowmobiles to be replaced by snow coaches, a much more environmentally-friendly form of access. The two-year phase out was proposed to give the snowmobile dealers around the park some time to make the kind of business decisions they would need to make. Older people, families, people with disabilities, or those who don't have the time or energy to ski or snowshoe into the park can ride on these snowcoaches. They cause less pollution, make less noise, carry more people, and are, in my opinion, a viable option to the snowmobiles.

No doubt the park will devise an emergency rule to get by this winter, but let's hope they pay more attention in the next round of rule-making to what their own scientists are saying to them and less to the political agendas that they appear to have followed for the last 7 years.

Rick Smith

This thread is getting really good. Many points to ponder written here.

Terrorism, attached to any cause, is never the answer. It will only breed hatred for the cause and the people associated with it. It is also immoral, as well as illegal. Reprisals from the opposition will surely ensue if this is allowed to escalate.

I think it is rather elitist to say that you must visit these areas at a certain age. Sure, there are those folks out there who beat the odds and stay very fit past retirement age, but they are the exception rather than the rule. I also am not advocating the creation of new roads, etc. for any reason. However, I am against road removal and severe limitations to existing access unless there are sound scientific reasons supporting these actions. Soft science of the heart does not apply, in my opinion.

Many of you have mentioned "Snow Coaches" as an alternative for access. A quick search on Google gave me my first look at these machines. Kind of a van-meets-snowcat arrangement. Quite impressive! Please help this East Coaster to understand the differences in use/access for the 2 types of machines in question here. Are the snowcoaches allowed on the same/similar terrain as snowmobiles? I would imagine simple size differences between the two would keep the coaches on wider trails and flatter terrain. Do they go high over passes and such?

I would agree that these would be a completely viable alternative vs. snowmobiles for access for those not able to hike in. However, will these systems suffer the same fate as snowmobiles, and be banned in the future for the very same reasons? A similar situation is under way in CHNSRA, where Jet Skis were first banned in 1999, and the push to ban vehicles began in 2008. The gates have been opened, and the final outcome has yet to be determined. This may be the beginning of the same for Yellowstone.

One big problem I have with snow coaches (and I'm no fan of snowmobiles) is access. Both modes of transportation are expensive and shut out a great many people. The biggest advantage of snowmobiles over snow coaches - as far as I can see - is that the snow coach choice in the park is monopolized, perpetuating the age old government / corporate rule over the park. So, while they provide access for all kinds of people who might not otherwise see the park in winter, the "all kinds" are almost entirely rich or upper middle class people. And, while Yellowstone, by its very distant nature tends to exclude many demographically poor people from being able to see it (except for poor people without families and with summers largely open), there is never any reason to exacerbate the problem. If snow coaches were publicly owned and free-to-use vehicles, or if there were some kind of progressive scale of cost, or on and on ... it wouldn't be so bad to me. But, as is, eliminating snowmobiles (a vehicle that depends upon some privilege but at least allows for some possibility of avoiding cost) without addressing the access issues involved with snow coaches removes one problem while creating another.

Others have suggested plowing all or most Yellowstone roads and allowing cars. I'm not sure I'm for that one, either. Others suggest just leaving the park more or less closed and leaving it to those who can get in on snowshoes and skies. I don't really have an answer, just that the considerations are more than environmental versus mode of enjoyment but that they must also consider the public nature of the park and the economic class disparities that also exist in our society.

And, of course, they need to consider the effect on wildlife. Evidence is mixed on the effect of groomed roads on wildlife migration. With bison leaving the park - often along these roads - to almost certain death, it does no good to continue the debate on these grounds without considering the implications to bison policy. That has to be part of the discussion as well. However, in some way that might be negligible, because bison eventually will find ways to leave the park to better grazing grounds. What bothers me is what I've personally witnessed in the north of the park, where the policy to keep roads open is followed so zealously at times that snow plows have hazed bison off roads within the park just to clear the roads. The bison are forced into full gallops and then get panicked, trip in the snow, hurt themselves, and put visitors in danger. Does grooming roads put unnecessary stress on animals? What will be done to make sure that doesn't happen?

So, for me, economic class, remembering the land and the wildlife as equal considerations in the process, and of course noise and air quality, all fit into it. Aesthetically, I'd prefer to see skis and snowshoes; however, if we can, where we can, we should find other ways of access, so long as we consider fairness. If fairness becomes too costly, then it's generally not worth doing at all. So, if a clean snowmobile is either a fiction or just costs too much to do in a way that allows a wide variety of people from different classes to use them, then I don't want them. That goes for snow coaches - as it stands, I don't want them, either, for anyone - until access to them is fair. If a middle class person like me isn't willing to spend the money for my family to take one, I know it's downright impossible for many other people.

One other note - I read a lot by politicians about the parks being for "benefit and enjoyment of the people" and that environmentalists forget that. There is a fallacy lurking. The mode of enjoyment cannot be abstracted to mean that enjoyment cannot be had. One way of enjoying being denied does not rid people of enjoyment. If enjoyment can only be had by destroying a place, then the Organic Act is simply nonsensical. There is no inherent right to the mode of enjoyment or for people to be able to make a living providing means that are destructive to the purpose of a place. The question isn't rights and what the people deserve, but what we should be doing. Anyhow, that aside helps me to think about things differently and may be a useful way to re-frame all our ethical quandaries.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

"I have both a two year old son and a 73-year old father. I simply cannot ask them to make the same treks that I am capable of. Does that mean that they should be excluded from viewing our national treasures simply because of the limitations placed upon them due to their age? I think not."
Although I don't necessarily agree with the total elimination of vehicles from Yellowstone, the idea isn't automatically without merit. Let's face it, 90% of Yellowstone ALREADY is inaccessible except by horseback or foot; and many of these areas contain national treasures that are as great or greater than those visible from the road. So it is in most National Parks. Shall we build roads to every mountain top? To every canyon bottom? To every Alpine meadow or pristine lake? Along the spine of the Sierra Nevada's? Aren't all citizens entitled to see these wonders? I am financially handicapped. I would love to go to Hawaii, but I can't afford it. Shouldn't someone buy me a ticket? There are always going to be places we would like to visit but cannot. I am never going to climb El Capitan in Yosemite, because I am not physically capable. I am never going to vacation in Hawaii, because I am not financially capable. Even the very old, the very young and the handicapped can ride on horseback or in a horse drawn carriage. They did for thousands of years. Whenever I think of all the places I would like to visit, all the mountains I would like to climb, I ask myself if I have seen all that I CAN? Have I driven every back road in Montana, for example. The answer, of course, is no. It wound take several lifetimes for me to do so. Have I visited every state park, snowmobiled every forest trail in the millions of acres of National Forest open to that activity? Soon I realize that there is too much that I CAN do to worry about what I can't.
Our National Parks were never intended to be substitutes for Disneyland. They were, and are, intended to preserve unimpaired for future generations, a slice of what America was...sometimes before it was even America. When study after study shows that allowing snowmobiles is not in the best interests of doing that; and survey after survey shows that the majority of Americans feel that snowmobiles should be banned (and, yes, Yellowstone is owned by ALL Americans; not just those living within a hundred miles of her borders), then why are we even having this conversation??
Snowmobiles should be banned. Once and for all, and permanently. Period.
In the summer, a quota system should be set up allowing only a certain number of private vehicles in the park each day; and when that quota has been met, further visitors (on that day) would be limited to foot, horseback or tour (shuttle) bus. It would be better for the wildlife, it would be better for the air quality, it would be better for each individual park visitor's experience AND it would go a long way toward actually accomplishing the mission of the Park Service.

@dapster: Both snow mobiles and snow coaches are only allowed in Yellowstone NP on roads - or to be precise where roads are under the snow. And coaches have much less impact per passenger.

@Jim: You can run you own snow mobile, but you can only go with a licensed guide - there is no unguided snow mobiling in the park - so if you take a licensed coach or hire a licensed guide does not that much of a difference. Frankly - if anyone wishes to get the feeling of freedom on a beautiful winter day by running a snow mobile through the landscape: Go to a National forest, Yellowstone NP never was a place where this was possible.

Frank C.,

Road building? Who's talking about road building? Well ... you, mainly.

Snowmobiles don't need roads, remember?

You consistently caricaturize "access" in ways that are not real, not happening, and not a threat.

You should actually read the National Parks Organic Act of 1916, posted on the National Park Service website. It shows that there is plenty of room within the law for both access and usage of our National Parks. It's short, but may be a jarring read.

Ted, please note that the comment to which you're presumably referring was made by FrankN, not me (Frank_C).

As for the Organic Act, I have read it many times over. I was the only new seasonal interpretive ranger in Zion in 2000 who actually knew that the Organic Act is the National Park Service's founding charter. (One coworker, now a chief of interpretation, thought it was the California law establishing a legal definition for food labeled "organic"!)

I have advocated for a new charter, one that shuns special interests and places preservation above tourism. The Organic Act is seriously flawed, outdated, and was heavily influenced by interest groups that tilted the balance from preservation to conservation and opened the door for a hundred years of development and industrial exploitation.

Frank raises an intriguing prospect, that of revising/updating the National Park Service Organic Act of 1916.

His suggestion particularly struck me today as earlier I was listening to an NPR show about the presidential nominees and the U.S. Constitution and whether it is a static or living document, whether it should be strictly interpreted in the context it was set down in, or whether future generations should be allowed to interpret its provisions in consideration of present-day circumstances.

Much has changed since the Organic Act was written 92 years ago, and while Congress reaffirmed its key provisions via the Redwoods Act of 1978, it easily can be argued that revising the Act to take into consideration evolution of both the National Park System and societal views of natural resources would not be a bad idea.

But where would you start? Should each application of "conservation" be replaced with "preservation" in the Act? Should the sections Ted referred to earlier regarding livestock grazing and logging be struck? While it's already clear that the Organic Act places preservation of park resources above enjoyment of those resources, does that section need to be clarified or strengthened?

How far would you go with a revision?

Frank C.,

I did indeed misread the author-name, and attacked you for someone else's statements. I'm sorry.

Frank C, a related issue/question I have been mulling and do not know how to approach, is the relationship between the Wilderness Act, and the Organic Act. Since some "wilderness" are lands covered by the Organic Act, how is the conflict between them resolved?

I certainly agree - the Organic Act (often held aloft as some shining standard) is in reality not far shy of being an ordinary piece of pork.

I understand that you can only go through Yellowstone with a licensed guide. The snowmobile industry doesn't like it, but they have taken it rather than lose all snowmobiles. My point was economic; there are more guide industries, more ways to obtain snowmobiles, borrow snowmobiles, etc., and more varieties of guides. Still, it's not equitable access for those able to be there.

It might not be anyone's responsibility to make sure that every sort of person can have access to every sort of terrain (speaking to Frank's point), but for those who can make it, it's stupid to make the barriers that much worse, i.e., to ensure that only people from a certain class can use the park. That certainly is a problem for a place that is supposed to be a public treasure. Even those who live near Yellowstone are forced to succumb to the class enforced, monopolized access. In some ways, making snowmobiles guided is a step backwards. Get rid of them all or do it right.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

I would be very hesitant to open the Organic Act to anendment There would be no end to the silliness that would ensue.

Rick Smith

"There is created in the Department of the Interior a service to be called the National Park Service, which shall be under the charge of a director. The Secretary of the Interior shall appoint the director, and there shall also be in said service such subordinate officers, clerks, and employees as may be appropriated for by Congress. The service thus established shall promote and regulate the use of the Federal areas known as national parks, monuments, and reservations hereinafter specified, except such as are under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of the Army, as provided by law, by such means and measures as conform to the fundamental purpose of the said parks, monuments, and reservations, which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."
I'm not sure that you would want to mess with the Organic Act. It may have more holes than a piece of Swiss cheese, but depending on the political climate (the current one for example) you could make things a whole lot worse. Kind of like people who want to "rewrite" the ESA. Once you open a can of worms, no telling what might crawl out! Someone might decide that there is oil under the Grand Canyon, and fickle constituants, weary of four or five dollar a gallon gasoline, might well cry, "Drill, drill, drill!!"
"Road building? Who's talking about road building? Well ... you, mainly." No one is talking about road building. It's called sarcasm. They are called rhetorical questions and remarks.
"Snowmobiles don't need roads, remember?" THAT IS PART OF THE PROBLEM! That is why current snowmobilers in Yellowstone are required to have a licensed guide, because too many folks either did not know, or did not care, that YES, IN YELLOWSTONE, SNOWMOBILES DO REQUIRE A ROAD!! By law, snowmobiles may only be operated in Yellowstone on the road. And then only on certain roads. (BTW, even licensed guides occasionally wonder where they shouldn't.)
I have personally witnessed snowmobilers run wildlife off the road into deep snow. I have seen them chase coyotes down the road until they (the coyotes) were exhausted and dropped in their tracks. I have had snowmobiles blow exhaust (and snow) in my face. I have heard snowmobiles while snow shoeing miles from the road, as if they were just on the other side of a hill.
Mr. Macdonald, excellent points regarding the cost of visiting Yellowstone in the winter. Either way, snowmobiles or snow coaches, you better be prepared to plunk down a pretty piece of change. Another example of a place I would like to go but can't because of my financial disability (deep into the interior in the winter). Reasonably priced shuttles summer and winter would go a long way toward making Yellowstone more accessible to all, including the physically challenged.

Kurt Repanashek wrote:

But where would you start? Should each application of "conservation" be replaced with "preservation" in the Act? Should the sections Ted referred to earlier regarding livestock grazing and logging be struck? While it's already clear that the Organic Act places preservation of park resources above enjoyment of those resources, does that section need to be clarified or strengthened?

How far would you go with a revision?

All good questions with a broad spectrum of answers, depending largely on your political affiliation. And that's part of the problem. The modern Liberal sentiment might be status quo. No revision--maybe some patch work--and throw more money at the problems. The Neoconservative approach might increase corporate/governmental collusion "cooperation" and label it "reform" or "privatization". The classical liberal (or libertarian) approach would localize management of individual units under conservation trusts.

At the very least, the National Park Service should be exempt from the whims of politicians, so we can avoid the situation as FrankN describes it: "It may have more holes than a piece of Swiss cheese, but depending on the political climate (the current one for example) you could make things a whole lot worse."

So the first step in revising or rewriting the Organic Act is to remove the National Park Service from the Department of the Interior if not the federal government itself. If it is to remain under federal purview, it must be insulated from politics to the maximum extent possible. We must reign in Congress's pork barrel parks and increase the standards for what should be considered a national park. To further insulate parks from Congressional politics, a stable funding source must be found. Perhaps a one-time 10-year allocation of funds can get the new National Park Service going. We've had the discussion on another thread about making parks more self-sufficient and trimming the fat from the nearly 400-unit system.

Then, when adopting a new charter for this streamlined National Park Service, the emphasis should be placed on decentralization. The NPS currently spends more on system-wide administration than the operating costs of the 58 National Parks in the system. The revised or completely replaced charter should be simple and to the point. Like the federal system of government the United States used to enjoy, it should be limited in scope. It should set the standard for all National Park Service units. Individual park units should also create new charters, and those charters must follow the basic guidelines of the national charter. From there, however, individual parks would be able to more finely craft their charters to the specific needs of that individual park and locality.

The national charter should set the standards for national park status. It could mandate protection at different tier levels. Those truly "crown jewels" should designated for maximum preservation. Yellostone, Yosemite, Sequoia, Crater Lake, Glacier, Grand Canyon, so on. Another tier of park units, if these units are even to be retained, could either focus more on preservation or conservation, depending on the individual unit.

I've heard it said that rethinking the National Park Service is like "throwing the baby out with the bathwater". But this is no baby. The Organic Act is a terminal patient. As Kurt mentioned, the Organic Act was written 92 years ago, before the auto took over, before rapid jet travel, before we sent people to the moon, before the establishment of modern scientific fields of wildlife biology, the theory of plate tectonics, massive extinctions, and on and on. The Organic Act is from a world that no longer exists, and it's not fair to bind the current generation to the outmoded, unscientific, and uninformed views of those who lived a century ago. The future preservation of our national parks cannot be found in a bygone era's relic. The future preservation of our national parks can only be found in the present.

> Those truly "crown jewels" should designated for maximum preservation. Yellostone, Yosemite, Sequoia, Crater Lake, Glacier, Grand Canyon, so on.

Those parks, you dub crown jewels, are anything but. They are hot spots of the global tourism industry and accordingly managed that way. If you run Yosemite with the focus on protection, you would have to tear down each and any installation in the valley.

The editors and the readership of the Traveller assume, that the National Parks are the most protected areas in the nation. They are not. Real protection is done in wilderness areas, of which some are inside National Parks but most are not.

There are a number of National Wildlife Refuges (run by the Fish and Wildlife Service), that are simply closed to humans, in order to protect the wildlife. Huge tracts of Hanford Reach National Monument (FWS) in Washington State are closed to visitors because they are reserved for ecological research and visitors might disturb that. The recovery areas in the main blast zone of Mount St. Helens can be seen only from a handful of established foot trails, no visitor may leave those trails. And some sensitive parts simply have no trails running in their vicinity. Mount St. Helens is run by the Forest Service.

The National Park System was invented for tourism ('as a public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people') and tourism is an important factor in management. If you want real protection, don't give the area to the NPS. On the other hand, this does not mean National Parks should be Disneyland. But the balance between protection and tourism is much more complicated than some here assume.