Four the fourth time in a decade, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has told Yellowstone National Park officials that snowmobiles are bad for Yellowstone’s natural resources and soundscapes. It remains to be seen if park officials will heed that advice as they head into the final stages of adopting a winter-use plan for the park.
Last week EPA officials sent a letter to Suzanne Lewis urging the Yellowstone National Park superintendent to reconsider the park’s preferred winter-use plan, which allows 720 snowmobiles to enter the park each day. According to the EPA, the proposed allowance would add significantly to air pollution, noise and wildlife disturbance, reversing progress that has been made in protecting these resources in recent years.
Previous planning documents have designated a snowcoach-only alternative as the “environmentally preferred” choice because it protects park resources while still allowing for historic levels of access. But this time around the agency listed its “no action” alternative as the environmentally preferred choice, effectively dismissing snowcoaches and inviting a legal challenge down the road.
“There is sufficient information from past analyses and from winter use monitoring to enable this [environmental impact statement] to focus on those alternatives most likely to meet the…park protection thresholds, and comply with [park service] policies and regulations,” wrote an EPA official.
Yellowstone National Park spokesman Al Nash acknowledged that in this, the fourth go-around for the winter-use planning process, the park service received more than 100,000 public comments. The vast majority of those comments favor an end to snowmobiling in Yellowstone.
Park officials have said in the past that they want to give Yellowstone’s gateway communities a sense of certainty going forward after a decade of litigation and more than $10 million in taxpayer-funded research on the issue. With the EPA—the independent federal arbiter of the natural resources laws governing the park—warning that the current proposal doesn’t past muster, those gateway communities could be looking at many more years of uncertainty.