Yellowstone National Park was the first of its kind. In March of 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill that established Yellowstone as the first National Park and began the movement to preserve the wild lands of the American frontier. The National Park was born out of the desire to preserve the majesty and beauty of the natural world for the perpetual enjoyment of the American people. Yellowstone was created to ensure that future generations could come and see what America looked like before colonization and the industrial revolution.
The real debate on what is appropriate to access Yellowstone National Park began when the first automobile entered the park in 1915, after several years of debate. This decision led to building roads and infrastructure to accommodate park visitors. In the early 1960’s, in order to spur winter visitation, snowmobiles were allowed inside park boundaries without debate. The real snowmobile debate didn’t begin until 1971, when the National Park Service began grooming roads to accommodate the snowmobilers. Before grooming, the service industry that accommodates snowmobilers today was non-existent. The increased access to snowmobilers was matched by increased visitation. By the early 1990’s the snowmobile’s effects on the Yellowstone air quality, ambiance and scenic value were very apparent. Park employees were getting sick from the carbon monoxide and other carcinogens, like benzene, spewing from the tailpipes of the inefficient 2-stroke engines and visitors were complaining of the air and noise pollution. In 1995, the National Park Service began studying the effects of snowmobiles on air quality and found that Yellowstone had the nation’s highest CO levels recorded anywhere in the country on a high traffic winter day(Layzer). After years of study, the NPS issued an Environmental Impact Statement stating that snowmobiles were of great threat to the Yellowstone environment and contrary to the National Park’s mission and the Organic Act. A ban was approved by the Clinton Administration which sought to cut off all snowmobile traffic within a few years to abate air and noise pollution and remedy issues snowmobiles cause to wildlife and the visitors hoping to see some wildlife. With the inauguration of the Bush Administration, the ban was revoked in favor of requiring Best Available Technologies, BAT, snowmobiles to reduce emissions and noise while technically allowing more snowmobiles inside the park. Today, after the ban has been reinstated and revoked again and again, the debate continues over whether or not snowmobiles belong in the nation’s first National Park which was created for the enjoyment of all people.
The question of whether or not snowmobiles belong inYellowstone National Park brought out many advocating the ban and a few opposing it. The groups endorsing the ban are the Wilderness Society, The Blue Water Network, The National Parks Conservation Alliance, the National Park Service and the majority of the American public. Out of 350,000 public comments received, 80 percent of the American public was pro-ban. The groups against the ban are all affiliated with the snowmobiling industry or snowmobile advocacy groups. The International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association, The Blue Ribbon Coalition, International Snowmobile Industry Association and all the snowmobilers who want access toYellowstone’s interior are present to defend their rights to accessYellowstonehow they chose.
The advocates for the ban hold the position that allowing snowmobiles intoYellowstoneis harming wildlife, vegetation, air and water quality, park ecology, park employees and park patrons. Steve Bosak of the National Park Conservation Association said, “What do you want to experience in the park? A buzzing noise and speedway experience or the wolves howling and the winds whistling through the trees?”(ChicagoTribune.com). The Blue Water Network states, “They’re killing our wildlife, ruining our air and water quality, poisoning the health of rangers exposed to snowmobile’s carbon monoxide exhaust, and destroying the solitude and peace cherished by other winter visitors”(Layzer). The advocates for the ban are coming from the perspectives of ethics, science and the issue of sharing a common resource. They cite scientific evidence of harm, ethical dilemmas regarding how to treat this majestic natural resource and the commons issue of sharing a highly desirable resource without degrading the quality of enjoyment for future generations. All the environmentalists want to do is keep America’s first National Park as natural as possible.
On the other hand, the anti-ban advocates are arguing mostly from an economic perspective with a tinge of ethical questions and common resource questions. They say the communities of West Yellowstone and Jackson Hole would be drastically impaired economically because so much revenue comes from the snowmobile industry. Snowmobile advocates also argue that they have the right to experience the park on snowmobiles if they choose to do so. They also use advances in snowmobile technology to advance their perspectives. Christine Jourdain of the American Council of Snowmobile Associations said that the exhaust is tolerable and that the machines idle so quietly that it’s possible to stop and make a cell phone call. People from the snowmobile industry say that the new generation of snowmobiles are cleaner and quieter but studies of 2004 models shows the new machines polluted more than the old ones, producing 40 percent to 213 percent more emissions than 2002 models, according to the EPA(Chicago Tribune.com).
In the 109th Congress, no new legislation was proposed dealing directly with the issue of snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park. The current Congress does, however, deal with issues regarding Yellowstone buffalo, as well as the health of the National Park’s ecosystem, which both are directly affected by the presence of snowmobiles. The focus of legislation has changed direction from an all out ban on snowmobiles, which was introduced to the House and Senate of the 107th Congress, to introducing bills to protect the wildlife and ecological integrity of the park. The first bill that was introduced to the House and Senate to ban snowmobiles was the Yellowstone Protection Act in the 107th and the 108th Congresses. A few other bills addressing snowmobile use in national parks were introduced in the 107th and 108th Congress. Some bills were calling for legislation to ban snowmobiles completely as recommended by the EPA and the NPS; some were for restrictions and some to preserve access. A couple of bills were introduced in the 105th and 106th Congress calling for protection to access the National Parks on snowmobiles. The few legislative proposals concerning snowmobile in Yellowstone indicate strong support for both a ban and continued access but the issue has faded from national attention. The debate has endured for years but lost public attention, aside from regional debates, in the shadow of a war on terror and rising oil prices.
The 109th Congress proposed no new legislation relating directly to snowmobile use in Yellowstone National Park so the following will focus on the last bill proposed in the 108th Congress. The Yellowstone Protection Act, bill S 965, was introduced in the Senate which sought to require the Secretary of the Interior to implement the final rule to phase out snowmobile use in Yellowstone as well as Grand Teton National Park and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway which connects the two parks. The bill was sponsored by Mr. Reid and co-sponsored by Mr. Chaffee, Mr. Corzine, Mr. Sarbanes, and Mr. Lieberman.
Senator Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, may have proposed this legislation because he doesn’t believe in trading ecological health for economic benefits. He stands behind the environmental movement to have the right to breathe clean air, drink clean water and the freedom to contemplate in the quiet ofAmerica’s natural heritage. Senator Lincoln Chaffee, Republican from Rhode Island, is a member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and like Senator Reid, believes a healthy environment is crucial for economic growth. Senator Jon Corzine, Democrat from New Jersey, is also a member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and also believes environmental health is requisite for a healthy America. Senator Paul Sarbanes, Democrat from Maryland, has proposed many initiatives to protect the American natural heritage and is following suit with co-sponsoring the Yellowstone Protection Act. Senator Joe Lieberman, Democrat from Connecticut, pushed legislation to designate the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness to prevent drilling there, played a significant role in drafting amendments to the 1990 Clean Air Act, staunch promoter for higher standards for clean water and has continued to act as watch dog to the Bush Administration’s enforcement of environmental laws. Senator Lieberman, like the rest of the Easterners co-sponsoring this bill, is an advocate for preserving the bounty of natural wonder in America and believes snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park are contrary to the goals of the National Park Service and the mission of the park itself. Although great distance separates most sponsors of this bill, it reflects the fact that America will be less beautiful if effort is not made to protectAmerica’s natural heritage.
THE YELLOWSTONE PROTECTION ACT
The Yellowstone Protection Act is a short, easy to read bill, which deals with the effects snowmobiles have on the Yellowstone National Park experience, from the quality of life for wildlife that live there to the health of park employees and the experience of park patrons. The bill’s objective is to proceed with the phase out of snowmobiles in the park as suggested by the Environmental Impact Statement issued by the Environmental Protection Agency and the data revealed by a 10 year study by the National Park Service which found that snowmobiles are impairing air quality, natural soundscapes, wildlife, public and employee health as well as the experience of park visitors. The Yellowstone Protection Act is seeking to enact policy change that follows the rules set forth by the National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Air Act as well as the National Park Service’s duty to manage the park to allow future generations of Americans to visit the unspoiled natural world the park encompasses. The bill was read twice then it was referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and stalled there.
All the legislation proposed to ban snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park has vanished from the public eye as well as Congress. The lack of legislation on the issue has allowed for an increase in snowmobile traffic in the park and perpetuating the damage done to the values of the park as a place to escape the roar of urban living and see first hand what America once looked like. Until a new President is elected and more seats open up in Congress to allow more environmentally minded people to enact legislation, the snowmobile ban is not going to happen. All the motorized recreation pundits can call this a victory at the expense of clean air and a healthy Yellowstone ecosystem.
The Environmental Protection Agency has issued many documents to the Federal Register regarding snowmobile access in Yellowstone National Park. The issues encompassed in the documents range far and wide. Some documents deal with hazards posed to wildlife, ecological stresses and human health concerns. The issue was first brought to the attention of the EPA in 1998 and had several more published through present time. The actions suggested by the EPA are restricted access and only allowing snowmobiles with Best Available Technology (BAT). The documents indicate that there is an ongoing debate about what the BAT’s are and whether or not the new machines will actually produce fewer emissions and run more quietly. And the snowmobilers, regardless of the snowmobile they operate, want access because they have rights to park resources as well. The actions taking place are simply balancing the needs of snowmobilers and protecting the health of the park and its employees from noise and air pollution.
The notice to phase out snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park was added to the Federal Register in 2000. The notice was in response to the fact that snowmobiles in Yellowstone are contrary to what the park was established for; preservation of the park’s unspoiled natural resources for the enjoyment of future generations. The EPA justified this action by citing the Organic Act, which states the National Park Service is to manage the national parks to insure the unimpaired enjoyment of future generations, as well as the General Authorities Act, which also sought to conserve park resources and values. The EPA also cited the Redwood Act of March 27, 1978, which sought to clarify judicial obligations to conserve park resources and values when public and private interests clashed. The EPA also cited regulation 36 CFR 2.18 Snowmobiles which allowed snowmobile access in national parks only when they were consistent with the parks natural, cultural, scenic and aesthetic values, safety considerations, park management objectives, and would not disturb wildlife or harm park resources. Several other reasons were noted but addressed the same issues regarding impairment of park resources and values. The several Environmental Impact Statements done on this issue reflect inconsistency with all regulations concerning national park resources and values so action is being proposed and noted.
The proposed action was to slowly phase out all snowmobile traffic from Yellowstone National Park. The phase out would take place slowly and address concerns from surrounding communities. The EPA addressed public comments and amended the policy to allow smoother transition for affected parties but eventually the phase out would be complete. The snowmobile community, of course, would argue for their right to access the park and site advancing technologies would abate pollution and noise levels which are just a few of the reasons for banning snowmobiles from the parks interior. The snowmobile community would also adamantly talk about how banning snowmobiles would ultimately close off economic opportunities, or ways of making a living, for surrounding communities which arose from the popularity of exploring Yellowstone on snowmobiles. The opposing side, including environmentalists and park patrons who access it using non-motorized devices like skis or snowshoes, say the ban would reassert the mission of the Park Service to conserve the park’s resources and values; including, but not limited to, maintaining the health of Yellowstone’s ecosystem, natural soundscapes, aesthetic quality, natural habits of wildlife, and air quality throughout the park.
Yellowstone National Park was established asAmerica’s first National Park to preserve the majesty of the American West. It was established as a symbol ofAmerica’s natural heritage and a monument to the grandeur and wonder of the American landscape. The park was set aside for the enjoyment of all people in perpetuity but when one’s enjoyment sacrifices the integrity and wonder of the parks natural attributes, possibly ruining the experience for present and future visitors, regulations must pass to secure the parks future values. The phasing out of snowmobiles was decided to be the best action after 10 years of study to preserve park’s values and maintain the reasons it was set aside for. Unfortunately, the EPA’s final Environmental Impact Statement under the Bush Administration is allowing more snowmobiles access to the park. Letting snowmobiles in the parks interior is contrary to mission of the National Park Service and it is in complete disregard for the laws protecting the parks future. The phase out should take place to save the park and everything in it; including the geysers, bears, bison, wolves and everything else. The snowmobilers can still access all the land adjacent to the park, so what is the fuss?
Layzer, Judith. The Environmental Case: Translating Values Into Policy.
Washington,D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, Inc., 2006