The Bush administration’s decision to upset the ban on snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park has been met, as expected, with howls of outrage from both environmentalists and a lot of the media. After the millions of grant dollars spent lobbying and litigating to ban snowmobiles, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and other environmental groups should be howling. As for the press, well, there’s probably nothing that upsets editorial boards more than being ignored.
But like a lot
of folks in Yellowstone’s visitor-dependent gateway towns,
which have built their winter economies around snow machines, I
say, let ‘em scream, and thank you, Mr. President.
Environmentalists first held up the bison as a reason for closing
the Yellowstone Park to sleds, claiming that easy footing on snow
roads allowed too many bison to survive the winters or walk out of
the park, which was fatal. Then the spin changed. The poor bison
were being stressed by the mean and noisy snowmobiles. However,
stress studies on game species show that wild animals are stressed
most by humans on two legs and not by politically incorrect
motorbikes, cars or snowmachines.
In its environmental
impact statement, the National Park Service tried vigorously to
sell the ban, claiming that going to snowcoaches for groups would
give "low-income" visitors greater opportunities to visit
Yellowstone in winter. The trouble with that argument is that
Yellowstone isn’t a neighborhood park, and it takes more than
a bus token to get there. For a "low-income" family of four from
Los Angeles, the round trip of 32 hours and three transfers on
Greyhound to its bus station in Livingston, Mont., is $552.
A snowcoach ride isn’t exactly low-income either.
The cheapest per-seat fare for a snowcoach I found on the Net is
$79, plus the entrance fee. That’s a cool $360, and never
mind motels, food, film and the rest. Does a week at Mammoth, $749
double occupancy and kiddie cots extra, sound like a low-income
Next, look at how the Clinton administration
sought to deal with congestion,wildlife conflicts and pollution
from snowmachines, all legitimate concerns. The obvious solution to
overuse, as well as to traffic jams at the gates, is a system of
reservations or pre-sold passes. Any airline traveler (at least
before 9/11) knows how efficient planning ahead can be.
The solution to the problem of Park Service staff having to breathe
snowmobile exhaust at the park gate is obvious to any American who
drives tollways. Freeway tollbooths have positive-pressure venting
systems that force clean, filtered air into the booth.
Modifications might have cost a couple of hundred thousand dollars.
The work could have been done between the end of the summer season
As for wildlife conflicts, first-time
visitors on snowmobiles should be required to hire a guide; those
caught harassing wildlife in the park should have their sled
confiscated. As for snowmobile exhaust itself, the industry says it
is close to a clean solution. In the next few years, there will be
enough four-cycle sleds for rent to serve everyone. And if speeding
is still perceived as a problem, rental sleds for the park could be
equipped with speed governors.
These solutions are
reasonable. Instead, Yellowstone Park Superintendent Mike Finley
steadfastly refused to consider any of them, insisting until the
bitter end not to pre-ticket, not to require guides for newby
tourists and not to install ventilation. He allowed the problems to
A clue as to why Finley took such a hard line is
contained in his retirement speech to members of the Greater
Yellowstone Coalition. Finley pronounced the Bush administration
"determined to let the moneychangers into the temple" of
Yellowstone. The "moneychangers," if you think about it, are the
small business owners and motel-keepers in the "temple’s"
Finley, as it turns out, is still on the
scene. He is president of Ted Turner’s foundation, one of the
Greater Yellowstone Coalition’s long-standing funders. The
Yellowstone ban proposal was never really about the environment. It
wasn’t even about politics, since politics is supposed to be
about finding reasonable compromise. The ban was an extremist snow
job where its proponents gave up nothing but instead got exclusive
winter access to Yellowstone at the expense of not only
park-dependent communities and businesses, but also the rest of
America. It is heartening to see the Bush administration turn the