Banning snowmobiles is the only way to clean up the winter air in Yellowstone National Park, says the federal Environmental Protection Agency, at least until the industry comes up with cleaner machines.
The Park Service disagrees. Its preferred alternative in a new winter-use plan would plow the road between West Yellowstone and Old Faithful, opening it to buses, shuttle vans and limited numbers of private vehicles (HCN, 9/13/99: Tempers flare over winter plan). Other roads in the park would remain open to snowmobiles.
The Environmental Protection Agency now says that alternative is unacceptable, as are five of the six other alternatives in a draft version of the plan. In a letter to the park, EPA staffer Cynthia Cody cited a 1972 executive order signed by former President Richard Nixon, which allows snowmobiles in national parks only if they "will not adversely affect natural, aesthetic or scenic values."
Snowmobiles fail that test, Cody said.
"Analysis ... clearly and convincingly demonstrates current snowmobile use is adversely affecting the natural, aesthetic, and scenic values' in the park, she wrote.
Park spokeswoman Cheryl Matthews says the Park Service has a duty to comply with laws and will take the EPA letter seriously.
"No decision has been made," she said. "But that EPA letter is part of the process and has to be considered." Park officials say they will decide on a new winter plan by Nov. 1.
Cleaner and quieter snowmobiles already exist. Arctic Cat is testing prototype four-cycle snowmobiles in the park this winter, and ThreeR Industries, a small manufacturer in Capac, Mich., has begun building and selling a small four-cycle sled that meets strict California air-quality standards. Traveler's Snowmobile Rentals in West Yellowstone has one of the ThreeR machines; even though the cleaner sleds are less powerful than their two-cycle counterparts, Travelers' co-owner Glenn Loomis is ready to buy more.
"If noise and pollution are what needs fixed, let's fix it," says Loomis. "The technology is there. We can make it work."