In 2003, Yellowstone will celebrate a centennial. It’s been 100 years since President Theodore Roosevelt dedicated the famous stone archway at the north entrance of the world’s first national park. The Park Service plans to commemorate the event. I wonder what Roosevelt would say if he could attend.
I picture him pounding his fist and
demanding of the agency, "What in heaven’s name are you
doing?" I think he’d be outraged at the Bush administration
and its determination to allow snowmobiles free rein in the park.
"You are compromising Yellowstone," I hear Roosevelt
bellowing, "and that was never supposed to happen!"
are the facts of what is happening: The Park Service has determined
that the administration’s plan to continue and even expand
snowmobile use in Yellowstone would cause substantially more harm
than an earlier decision to phase out the machines. The Park
Service believes we can expect a veil of dirty air near Old
Faithful, the world’s most famous geyser; noise throughout
the corridors where visitors travel; frequent strain on
Yellowstone’s wildlife; and risk to people with sensitive
lungs from snowmobile exhaust.
But this is not what the
superintendents of Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks have said
publicly, which is an important story in itself.
October, as the Park Service prepared to announce an administration
plan that it knew would be controversial, the agency decided it
would keep more than 300 pages of analysis to itself. Those pages
included computer modeling, paid for by taxpayers, which showed
that the administration’s plan for more snowmobiling would
cause harm to Yellowstone’s environment and increased risk to
The Park Service decided not to release
these findings. A transcript of an Oct. 31 conference call reveals
the assistant superintendent of Grand Teton National Park
explaining, "We want to stay away from some of the details (of the
plan) and focus on the fact that this is a collaborative decision
Calling a decision collaborative does not make
it so. What seems certain is that the Bush administration prefers
to listen to the snowmobile industry. Two years ago, Yamaha, Arctic
Cat, Polaris and Ski-Doo filed suit against the National Park
Service and have since spent, according to Internet bragging by
Polaris, millions of dollars lobbying to keep their machines in
Yellowstone and other national parks.
The Park Service
had determined in November 2000 that restoring clean air and quiet
and making Yellowstone safer and healthier for people and wildlife
required a new winter transportation system. The agency decided to
phase out snowmobile use and increase opportunities for visitors to
ride into the park on multi-passenger snowcoaches. The Park Service
said to do anything less would violate various laws and national
park policies. The Environmental Protection Agency agreed. So did
four out of five Americans with opinions on the question.
You might think that the Bush administration would likely have
defended the Park Service. Instead, it asked for another study and
more analysis. This backfired: Two additional comment periods
produced more than 360,000 cards, letters, and emails--more citizen
mail than the Park Service has received on any issue in its 86-year
history. The comments came in 4-to-1 in support of ending
snowmobile use in Yellowstone.
As for enlisting more
analysis, the Park Service did that, but it is sharing its 300-page
study primarily with supporters of the snowmobile industry; not
with the media or the public. The stonewalling has become clear,
thanks to the Billings Gazette, which obtained a copy of the study
by invoking the state’s open records law.
latest study, the Park Service confirms that newer snowmobiles,
while indeed cleaner, remain so disproportionately polluting,
noisy, and stressful to wildlife that allowing their continued use
in Yellowstone would come with significantly greater impacts.
"Compared with the plan approved in 2000," said the
Billings Gazette, in a summary of what the Park Service knows but
is not saying publicly, "the latest draft would be more harmful to
wildlife, air quality, visibility and park employees’
Americans have insisted on vigorous protection
of Yellowstone ever since Congress made it our first national park
in 1872. Though management directives echo that commitment, the
administration’s snowmobile plan ignores this goal. The Park
Service knows politics have replaced right action, and the American
people deserve to know, too.
After years of study and
public comment, costing millions of dollars, Yellowstone’s
future should not be decided behind a curtain of secrecy. The Park
Service should make its important findings -- all of them -- public