Sled ban should stay, say members of Congress 

Some members of Congress are urging the Bush administration to keep in place a permanent phaseout of all snowmobiles in the national parks.

More than 100 members of Congress signed a letter to the White House last week calling for the administration to maintain a three-year phaseout of snowmobiles in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, which was implemented in January. After a nearly 1,000-day public comment period, thousands of Americans submitted comments on the ruling, with 85 percent supporting the ban.

Despite support from National Park Service (NPS) officials, the ban sparked lawsuits from the state of Wyoming and snowmobile advocates such as the Blue Ribbon Coalition (BRC). President Bush has not yet altered the phaseout but has extended the public comment period.

The ban was implemented after a 13-year study revealed a variety of snowmobile-induced problems such as winter-weary animals being displaced by loud machines motoring through the park. NPS researchers also noted extensive deterioration to both air quality and watersheds in the areas of heavy snowmobile traffic.

The administration granted the extension after industry advocates complained that the study didn’t take into account their new “environmentally-friendly” snowmobile technology, which they say allows for quieter, less polluting machines.

But according to Yellowstone’s chief planner John Sacklin, the industry-supplied science was “disappointing” and didn’t stacked up to peer review, resulting in BRC demanding an apology from Sacklin.

“We’ve gotten no response from [Sacklin,] but it’s not appropriate for a public official to be publicly critical,” says BRC Executive Director Clark Collins. “The industry will come up with cleaner, quieter snowmobiles, and with the current administration we have every reason to be optimistic that our access will be preserved.” Still, snowmobile critics say they have yet to see the relevant science to support such claims.

“What we’re seeing is more promises from the snowmobile industry instead of tangible new information,” says Jon Catton, spokesman for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, a Bozeman-based environmental watchdog group. “More promises will not protect our nation’s first national park. Besides, snowmobiles present a range of problems that can’t be addressed through technology alone.”

According to data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), snowmobiles in Yellowstone release more than 5,000 tons of hydrocarbons annually, as well as about 50,000 gallons of unburned fuel into the park’s snowpack.

The congressional letter comes on the heels of an EPA call for tougher regulations on snowmobiles and other off-road vehicles, including a 30 percent reduction in snowmobile emissions by 2006 and a 50 percent reduction by 2010, although EPA officials note that Yellowstone may require stricter standards.

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