National Park Service Reconsidering Snowmobile Ban at Yellowstone

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:20 PM EDT

( - Snowmobilers will likely have to wait until November before finding out if the National Park Service (NPS) will back away from its earlier plan to ban snowmobiling at Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks as well as the Rockefeller Parkway that connects the two parks.

The latest phase of public comment in the controversy ended Wednesday, but Interior Department spokeswoman Cheryl Matthews told it would take several months for a new statement to be issued.

"The final environmental impact statement is due out to the public by November 15," Matthews said.

The earlier decision to phase out snowmobiling at Yellowstone and Grand Teton over a three-year period was issued by the Clinton administration the day before George W. Bush was sworn in as president. Once in power, the Bush administration placed the ban on hold, and in February of this year, the NPS requested a second round of public comments on the issue.

A federal circuit court in Wyoming has also ruled that the NPS's original ban was based on a flawed environmental impact study with incorrect data that misstated the amount of snowmobile emissions and their effects on wildlife.

Ed Klim, president of the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association, said he is confident the NPS will change the earlier decision and allow snowmobiling.

He said research has proven existing snowmobile use in Yellowstone and Grand Teton has not violated any ambient clean air standards.

"Scientific data now show that snowmobiles do not significantly impact the environment when driven on snow-covered groomed roads in managed sections of Yellowstone and Grand Teton, the same roadways that are used by tens of thousands of autos and busses in the warmer months," said Klim.

Klim said his group is assisting the National Park Service in its environmental impact study.

"We're doing all we can to provide the hard facts that will make it easy for them to allow people to continue enjoying the unique winter beauty of these parks by snowmobile," Klim said.

But the National Parks Conservation Association and the Bluewater Network disagree, and criticize the Bush administration for its management of the national parks.

"In our oldest national park, preserving irreplaceable natural treasures has always come first," said Steven Bosak of the National Parks Conservation Association. "Defending snowmobile use that is harming Yellowstone, instead of defending Yellowstone itself, is a change of direction in the management of our nation's most cherished places that millions of Americans will find deeply troubling."

"By delaying a phase-out of snowmobiles, the administration is turning a blind eye to the golden rule that has always guided management of Yellowstone," said Sean Smith, Public Lands Director for Bluewater Network. "That ethic holds that we should do for future generations what our ancestors did -- pass on Yellowstone's natural wonders, unimpaired."

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