Monitor archives:
Copyrighted material

Snowmobilers Invading Remote Yellowstone Wilderness

by Jack Clinton

Bush threw out 10 years of science under pressure of snowmobile lobby
(ENS) LARAMIE -- Hundreds or perhaps thousands of snowmobilers have been trespassing deep in the heart of the Yellowstone National Park's wilderness, rangers there report. Aerial photographs taken by the National Park Service document acres of parkland crisscrossed with hundreds of snowmobile ruts.

Yellowstone snowmobiles
Snowmobiles line up at the gate to enter Yellowstone National Park, where they pollute the air and frighten the wildlife
One ground photo shows a track that climbs over the roof of a snow covered ranger station.

"The sheer numbers of people riding in the park back country is very disturbing," said Jon Catton of the environmental group Greater Yellowstone Coalition.

The trespassing comes as the Bush Administration considers rolling back a Clinton era ban on snowmobiling in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.

Park officials report that the majority of the back country trespasses have taken place on a remote plateau in the park that snowmobilers reach by traversing forest service lands surrounding the West Gate entrance of Yellowstone. The remoteness of the area makes it virtually impossible for rangers to regularly patrol.

With hundreds of miles of groomed and patrolled roads available to snowmobile riders, park officials complain that it makes no sense for snowmobilers to cross well marked borders and ride in the Yellowstone back country.

"It's just blatant disregard," said Bob Seibert, the ranger in charge of western Yellowstone.

South of Yellowstone, in Grand Teton National Park, trespassing is also occurring, although not to the extent that it occurred this year in Yellowstone, said chief ranger Colin Cambell.

"Annually, we always have trespassing, but most comes in from the west slope (Idaho side) of the park," said Cambell. Our geographic situation is entirely different than Yellowstone's."

Clark Collins of the snowmobile advocacy group, Blue Ribbon Coalition, claims that the borders near the West Gate of Yellowstone are not well marked. Clark says the Blue Ribbon Coalition has tried to work with the Park to better mark the boundaries, but their efforts were rejected.

"Now that some snowmobilers cross the boundary, they blow it all out of proportion," Clark said. "The park is just trying to draw negative attention to the snowmobile community."

But Yellowstone spokesperson Marsha Karle denied the charge that the park was grandstanding to sway public opinion.

"What these snowmobilers did was wrong and illegal," Karle said, "and there is nothing wrong with letting people know about it."

Last year, the National Park Service voted to ban snowmobiles from Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, phasing out recreational snowmobile use over a three year period and promoting a snowcoach based transit system. That rule was drafted following 10 years of scientific research and a three year public process.

But the ban was blocked by a lawsuit filed by the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association and the state of Wyoming. A settlement reached with the snowmobile industry by the Bush Administration centers around performing a new environmental impact study.

The Supplemental Environmental Impact statement offers four options for winter management in the parks, two of which would remove snowmobiles from the parks: implement the original plan, or follow the plan but delay implementation by one year.

The other alternatives would permit snowmobile use, while requiring the machines to meet new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pollution standards for off road vehicle engines, replacing dirty two stroke engines with cleaner, quieter four stroke engines.

Conservation groups say the Bush administration is making too many concessions to industry by reopening the option of allowing continued use of snowmobiles in the park, after a decade of study found that the machines are too damaging to the park's natural resources.

"The pro-snowmobile alternatives in this plan fail to give the parks the protection they deserve and that the public demands," said Thomas Kiernan, president of the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). "The National Park Service needs to uphold the original plan for eliminating snowmobiles - despite heavy pressure from the industry to keep the parks open to these harmful machines."

Final action on snowmobile regulations will not occur until November.

© 2002 Environment News Service and reprinted with permission

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor March 24, 2002 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to use in any format.