Snowmobiles or no mobiles? That’s the seemingly perennial question the National Park Service has been grappling with for more than 15 years.
According to the agency’s latest scoping report, 92 percent of the 33,365 people who submitted comments as part of the agency’s latest in-depth study of the issue said snowmobiles should be banned in favor of snowcoaches. In June, NPS announced the onset of its latest Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which, once completed, will determine the future long-term management of snowmobile and snowcoach use in Yellowstone, Grand Teton National Park and the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway connecting the two.
In 1990 the Park Service released a plan calling for further research once snowmobile visitation in the park reached 143,000 annually. By 1993 that number had been surpassed, but the agency dragged its feet on completing an EIS. In 1997, environmental groups sued over the agency’s failure to complete a new plan, and after three years of study the NPS released a new EIS in 2000 that called for phasing out snowmobile use over three years. Pro-snowmobiling groups filed a lawsuit, and the Bush administration agreed to write a supplemental EIS. That document was completed in 2003 and allowed continued use of snowmobiles, but under stricter restrictions. More court battles ensued, and federal courts in Washington, D.C. put a stop to both Clinton- and Bush-era plans, so the NPS drafted a three-year temporary plan, which is in place through this winter.
Since the announcement of the 2000 EIS, the Park Service has received hundreds of thousands of comments on various winter-use plans and spent about $7 million compiling them.
The two previous EIS documents concluded that allowing snowcoaches only is the service’s “environmentally preferred” alternative.
Jon Catton, a Bozeman-area conservationist working on the Yellowstone snowmobile issue, says the latest scoping results cement what the public has been saying for years.
“For five years the percentage of Americans favoring snowcoach access rather than snowmobiling has been between 80 and 90 percent,” says Catton. “The number of comments from citizens across the country on this issue has exceeded anything in the history of the National Park Service. These latest results only add to that story.”