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OPINION: Coalition of NPS retirees oppose allowing more snowmobiles in Yellowstone



The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees

WASHINGTON, D.C – Despite assurances by Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Dan Wenk and other National Park Service leaders that the park will be “cleaner and quieter,” the NPS has indicated that it will support a winter use plan that could more than double the number of snowmobiles currently operating in Yellowstone.

“The NPS is proposing to make a bad situation at Yellowstone even worse,” said Maureen Finnerty, chair of the Executive Council of Coalition of National Park Service Retirees. “We are bewildered about this proposal after seven previous environmental reviews resulted in a major federal court decision ruling that NPS was not following its own legal and policy mandates in managing snowmobile use in the park in the winter.”

Finnerty pointed out that Wenk acknowledged that the current average of about 200 snowmobiles operating daily in Yellowstone are “dirtier and noisier” than those five years ago. However, she said, “Superintendent Wenk, in a complicated scenario of ‘transportation events,’ proposes to allow up to 480 snowmobiles per day to enter the park for the next five years—levels not seen there for nearly a decade.”

The NPS proposal asserts that air quality impacts in Yellowstone would be “moderate” and air quality would improve relative to the “National Ambient Air Quality Standards.” However, the Clean Air Act, under which Yellowstone is designated as a “Class I Area” does not use NAAQS as its criteria—the act states that air quality will be “the best possible” in Class I areas. NPS’s plan does not meet that standard.

Another CNPSR member, Deny Galvin, was deputy director of the National Park Service 10 years ago. At that time, Galvin says, the snowmobile industry promised to produce cleaner and quieter machines. “I can tell you that the trust has been broken. Instead of working to enhance the snowmobiles to make them quieter and cleaner, they’ve actually cut production of those that meet the existing environmental standards in the park.”

CNPSR asserts that the park service’s plan is more impacting on Yellowstone’s resources than any of the other three alternatives listed in the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement/winter use plan released on June 29, 2012.

CNPSR supports Alternative 3, which would allow current levels of motorized oversnow vehicles to operate until the 2017-2018 season, after which all snowcoaches would have to meet “best available technology requirements and could increase to 120 per day with a corresponding decrease in snowmobile numbers to zero during a three-year phase-out period.”

According to Finnerty, this is the only proposal that meets current NPS legal and policy mandates and is shown by scientific analysis and resource monitoring to reduce impacts on park resources. “Moreover, it is what 80 percent of the nearly 1 million members of the American public who have commented in previous environmental reviews have said about how they want Yellowstone to be managed in the winter.”

The park service’s own analysis shows that in emissions per visitor, snowcoaches in the current Yellowstone fleet are 2 to 5 times less polluting than current models of snowmobiles operating in the Park, Galvin said. “It confirms that Alternative 3 will phase to a “snow coach only” operation [and] is the cleaner, quieter, simpler course of action and can result in an increase in winter visitation to this wonderful Park. They should adopt it. Yellowstone deserves it.”

The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees has more than 830 members, all of whom are former NPS employees. The group and its members speak out for national park solutions “that uphold law and apply sound science.”

The Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement/winter use plan is now closed to public comment.

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