Parks rev up to ban snowmobiles

Yellowstone, Grand Teton could be snowmobile-free by 2002-03

  • Snowmobiles out for a ride through Yellowstone

    John Brecher photo
 

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. - The scene was one of primordial beauty. Shaggy bison brushed aside a blanket of snow to paw at buried forage. Elk grazed for a winter meal in the mist of bubbling hot pots and fumaroles.

The sound track, however, was the whine of snowmobile engines as President's Day weekend visitors toured the first national park on rental "sleds." A hazy smog lingered at the gate most of the day as 3,681 snowmobilers zoomed through.

Just three weeks later, on March 13, park officials announced that snowmobiles will likely be banned from Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks beginning in the winter of 2002-03. Snowcoaches, vans on caterpillar tracks, will be the only motorized travel allowed. The announcement followed the Environmental Protection Agency's comments in February that a snowmobile ban was the only way to clean up the park's air (HCN, 3/13/00: EPA sets sights on snowmobiles).

Representatives of local governments who had been working with the Park Service on its winter-use plan had proposed an option allowing snowmobiling to continue. The Park Service had offered a plan that would phase in nonpolluting snowmobiles over 10 years.

But neither option appears to have resolved the parks' legal obligations to maintain a clean environment, said Teton Assistant Superintendent Steve Iobst. Those obligations begin with the law creating the nation's first park and extend to the Clean Air Act. "These state there can be no degradation of park values or resources," he said. "There are a variety of constraints that we cannot ignore, regardless of when they are dated."

The honeymoon's over

Local people who had been meeting regularly with park staffers reacted with shock and fury to the announcement, which came down from Don Barry, an undersecretary in the Interior Department in Washington, D.C. The local planning process will continue, but some question its value.

"I have to re-evaluate if it's worth throwing any more money into this process," said Teton County Commission Chairman Bill Paddleford. "It's not 'we' anymore - it's 'the undersecretary.' "

The move will devastate the winter economy in the greater Yellowstone area, said Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Steve Duerr. Snowmobile outfitting in Jackson Hole brings in $1.3 million annually. Last year, outfitters took 1,395 commercial snowmobile trips and 8,189 people through the south entrance.

In West Yellowstone, the gateway to Old Faithful geyser, 20 percent of the town's total resort taxes are collected during the winter season. Park officials estimate that winter visitors to Yellowstone spend $60 million annually in towns and counties surrounding the park.

Wyoming Sens. Craig Thomas and Mike Enzi said the Park Service was caving in to Washington bureaucrats. "Sen. Thomas doesn't deny there should be changes, but there are other options that should be looked at to meet the needs of the laws," said Dan Kunsman, a spokesman for Thomas. "They are hiding behind the laws in a draconian-type of approach."

Environmentalists rallied behind the Park Service. "Long-lasting air and noise pollution in national parks is unacceptable," said Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance program director Pam Lichtman. "We are finally moving in the right direction and we are making protection of the park resources a priority."

Marv Jensen, the assistant superintendent for Yellowstone, said a final winter-use plan should be out by Nov. 1. "This is not a decision, not anything definitive," Jensen said. "This is the analysis to date. This is the direction we are leaning."

The author reports for the Jackson Hole News.


YOU CAN CONTACT ...

  • Steve Iobst with Grand Teton National Park, 307/739-3415;
  • Pam Lichtman with the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, 307/733-9417;
  • Steve Duerr with the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce, 307/733-3316.

Copyright © 2000 HCN and Rachel Odell

High Country News Classifieds
  • OLIVERBRANCH CONSULTING
    Non-Profit Management Professional specializing in Transitional Leadership, Strategic Collaborations, Communications and Grant Management/Writing.
  • SAGE GROUSE CCAA COORDINATOR
    The Powder Basin Watershed Council, headquartered in Baker City, Oregon, seeks a full-time Sage Grouse CCAA Coordinator. This position is part of a collaborative effort...
  • MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Marketing Communications Manager to join our...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR - OKANOGAN LAND TRUST
    Executive Director, Okanogan Land Trust Position Announcement Do you enjoy rural living, wild places, family farms, challenging politics, and big conservation opportunities? Do you have...
  • GREAT VIEWS, SMALL FOOTPRINT
    Close to town but with a secluded feel, this eco-friendly home includes solar panels, a graywater reuse system, tankless hot water, solar tubes, and rainwater...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Powder River Basin Resource Council, a progressive non-profit conservation organization based in Sheridan, Wyoming, seeks an Executive Director, preferably with grassroots organizing experience, excellent communication...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER- NORTHERN PLAINS RESOURCE COUNCIL
    Organize with Northern Plains Resource Council to protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life. Starts $35.5k. Apply now- northernplains.org/careers
  • BEAUTIFUL, AUTHENTIC LIVE YULE LOG CENTERPIECE
    - beautiful 12" yule log made from holly wood, live fragrant firs, rich green and white holly, pinecones and red berries. $78 includes shipping. Our...
  • CRAZY HORSE MEMORIAL DIRECTOR OF PROGRAMS FOR THE INDIAN UNIVERSITY OF NORTH AMERICA
    Crazy Horse Memorial, in the Black Hills of South Dakota, is currently accepting applications and nominations for the Director of Programs for The Indian University...
  • CRAZY HORSE MEMORIAL® MANAGER OF RESIDENCE LIFE FOR THE INDIAN UNIVERSITY OF NORTH AMERICA®
    Crazy Horse Memorial is currently accepting applications for the Manager of Residence Life for The Indian University of North America. This position is responsible for...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Are you an art lover who dreams of living in the mountains? Is fundraising second nature to you? Do you have experience managing creative people?...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Public Lands Foundation, a non-profit organization supporting the multiple-use management of public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, seeks an experienced leader...
  • COLD WEATHER CRAFTS
    Unique handmade gifts from the Gunnison Valley. Soy lotion candles, jewelry, art, custom photo mandalas and more. Check out the website and buy Christmas locally...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    North Cascades Institute seeks their next Executive Director to lead the organization, manage $4 million operating budget, and oversee 60 staff. Send resume/cover letter to...
  • EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks an Editor-In-Chief to join our senior team...
  • LENDER OWNED FIX & FLIP
    2 houses on 37+ acres. Gated subdivision, Penrose Colorado. $400k. Possible lender financing. Bob Kunkler Brokers Welcome.
  • HISTORIC LODGE AND RESTAURANT - FULLY EQUIPPED
    Built in 1901, The Crazy Mountain Inn has 11 guest rooms in a town-center building on 7 city lots (.58 acres). The inn and restaurant...
  • POLLINATOR OASIS
    Seeking an experienced, hardworking partner to help restore a desert watershed/wetland while also creating a pollinator oasis at the mouth of an upland canyon. Compensation:...
  • ELLIE SAYS IT'S SAFE! A GUIDE DOG'S JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE
    by Don Hagedorn. A story of how lives of the visually impaired are improved through the love and courage of guide dogs. Available on Amazon.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.