A federal judge has banned snowmobiles from Yellowstone National Park. He said that a plan approved by the Bush Administration to allow 500 snowmobiles to travel daily through Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in the winter months would cause damaging noise pollution, air pollution, and would also stress wildlife.
Emmit Sullivan, the judge who presided over the case said, “According to the National Park Service’s own data, the (plan) will increase air pollution, exceed the use levels recommended by NPS biologists to protect wildlife, and cause major adverse impacts to the natural soundscape in Yellowstone.” Snowmobiles have been allowed in the park during the past few years, although data from 2006 suggests that the park averaged about 290 per day in the winter months of that year.
The decision is no doubt going to be controversial, and Wyoming’s Senators have already denounced it. They claim that national parks exist for the enjoyment of Americans, a semi-accurate claim, because the National Park Service mission also states that parks should not be impaired. Finding the balance is often a challenge, as these two goals can often be at odds with one another– as has been the case in Yellowstone for some time.
As someone who has worked for the National Park Service in many capacities over the past ten years in many parks, and as someone who has a lot of friends who work or who have worked at Yellowstone, I know that the issue is not simple. In graduate school I even heard of a study about how cross-country skiers in Yellowstone might be more likely candidates than snowmobiles to stress out large animals like bison. The reason: animals can hear the snowmobiles from far away, and move. But with people moving quietly on skis, animals can be approached quickly and without warning, adding a higher potential for stress when caught off-guard. I have not personally read the study, so I cannot comment upon its accuracy or methodology.
Here’s my personal opinion about the case of Yellowstone and snowmobiles. Can’t we have at least SOMEWHERE in the United States that is afforded the highest level of ecological protection? Isn’t it most appropriate that it is Yellowstone: our most famous park, our first national park, and one of the most splendidly diverse in its grandeur? There seem to be plenty of other places to enjoy snowmobiles that are in beautiful locations. Just my opinion of course, but come on. If you give a little wiggle room on everything, what will ever truly be protected?