Conservationists: Yellowstone’s Winter Use Plan Has Merit But Needs Improvement

Share Article

After more than a decade of work to create a fair winter use plan for Yellowstone National Park, the National Parks Service has come up with a proposal that conservation groups are cautiously optimistic about for cutting down on emissions from gas powered vehicles.

Yellowstone’s proposal would not ban snowmobiles from the Park. Instead, it would require reduced levels of noise and carbon monoxide in models of snowmobiles allowed into the Park.

For more than a decade, regional and national conservation organizations have urged Yellowstone National Park to adopt a sustainable winter use plan that affords visitors access while providing the highest levels of protection for air quality, wildlife and Yellowstone’s unique natural soundscapes. Today, the organizations said they were hopeful that a proposed management plan announced by Yellowstone National Park can fulfill these purposes.

The groups — Greater Yellowstone Coalition, National Parks Conservation Association, Winter Wildlands Alliance, Sierra Club, and Natural Resources Defense Council – said clarifications by Superintendent Dan Wenk have allayed some of the organizations’ concerns about the initial proposal while also highlighting changes the organizations believe are needed in the plan before it is finalized later this year. In particular:

  •     The proposed plan’s authorization of increased future snowmobile use hinges on manufacturers cutting noise and carbon monoxide emissions from park-approved snowmobiles to specified levels. The Superintendent has clarified that until these reductions occur, the number of snowmobiles cannot increase because the impact levels to Yellowstone’s resources that the National Park Service anticipates, and is legally required to minimize, are based on the improved technology.
  •     If specific snowcoaches or snowmobiles do not meet the park’s noise and emission standards by the plan’s phase-in dates, the Superintendent has underscored that they will not be allowed into Yellowstone.
  •     The Superintendent has emphasized publicly that Yellowstone’s plan will lead to continued improvement in the resource conditions experienced by visitors and wildlife during recent winters. The groups believe this is the right goal, but needs to be addressed specifically in a final plan to guide future management actions more predictably.

“The park’s proposed plan and the Superintendent’s commitments to its core elements are big steps in assuring Yellowstone’s conservation and the enjoyment of visitors,” said Mark Pearson, Conservation Program Director for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. “Yellowstone had lost control over snowmobile use by the 1990s and it has taken over a decade for our first national park to restore the healthier winter conditions now benefitting visitors and wildlife. Many visitors now come to Yellowstone in winter because of opportunities to experience and learn about its wonders without intrusive exhaust and commotion.”

“Going forward, the proposed plan requires significant improvements from snowmobiles before they can be certified for use in Yellowstone,” said Tim Stevens, Northern Rockies Regional Director for the National Parks Conservation Association. “They will need to cut noise and carbon monoxide emissions and travel at lower top speeds to protect public safety, wildlife and the opportunities of visitors to enjoy Yellowstone’s natural quiet and natural sounds.”

The groups applaud the National Park Service’s commitment to continue improving Yellowstone’s winter conditions. Yellowstone’s proposal would not ban snowmobiles from the Park. Instead, it would require reduced levels of noise and carbon monoxide in models of snowmobiles allowed into the Park.

“We agree with the Superintendent that these changes are needed to ensure continued improvement in the resource conditions experienced by skiers, snowshoers and other visitors seeking the natural sights and sounds of Yellowstone's winter season,” said Mark Menlove, Executive Director of Winter Wildlands Alliance. “Continuing to make Yellowstone cleaner and quieter is the right goal.”

The study released by the National Park Service today reflects that even after snowmobiles are required to cut their emissions, a group of seven snowmobiles would emit far more exhaust into Yellowstone’s air than a single snowcoach. Specifically, the study shows that visitors accessing the park by snowmobile would generate 8 times more hydrocarbons and 13 times more nitrogen oxides than those visiting Yellowstone by snowcoach—that the two types of “transportation event” are not “comparable” in protecting the park’s air. Moreover, NPS’s study reflects that if a snowmobile “transportation event” is allowed to include up to 10 snowmobiles rather than 7, impacts to Yellowstone’s air quality from each group of snowmobiles compared to those of a snowcoach would increase further and would also result in more carbon monoxide in the park’s air. For the plan to emphasize public access that minimizes adverse impacts to Yellowstone’s air quality—thereby maximizing opportunities for visitors to experience Yellowstone’s unique winter qualities—the plan should not allow groups of snowmobiles larger than seven.

The groups applaud the National Park Service’s expressed commitment to improving Yellowstone’s winter conditions. But they said a portion of the plan allowing snowmobile groups without professional guides is a step in the wrong direction.

"As our nation’s first national park, Yellowstone and its wildlife deserve the absolute highest level of protection, and we commend the Superintendent’s desire to make the park cleaner and quieter,” said Bonnie Rice, Senior Representative for the Sierra Club. “The proposed plan takes important steps in that direction; however, we are concerned that the National Park Service appears to be stepping away from its longstanding requirement that all snowmobile groups have a professional guide. As the Park Service’s own analysis has repeatedly shown, this requirement has been essential in reducing harassment of wildlife and violations of park rules, and it should not be weakened.”

Yellowstone proposes to continue avalanche control on Sylvan Pass above the East Entrance for the benefit of a scant few winter visitors – just 110 visitors entered by the East Entrance in 2011-12. Deploying high explosives so that one or two visitors a day can snowmobile through an avalanche-prone pass unnecessarily exposes national park staff to workplace dangers, and visitors to hazards from unexploded shells. The use of artillery shelling is inappropriate in the world’s first national park, in the heart of habitat for wolverine and lynx, and the program’s $125,000 bill, over $1,000 per visitor, is unsupportable when many critical needs in Yellowstone are going unmet.

“Yellowstone is an iconic piece of America, and the public overwhelmingly has said it needs to be properly protected," said Chuck Clusen, director of national parks and Alaska projects for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “This proposal has come a long way. As we review it in the days and weeks ahead, we will suggest ways the National Park Service can strengthen it to ensure it is sustainable and able to provide the level of protection that Yellowstone deserves.”


Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

Tim Stevens
National Parks Conservation Association
(406) 223-3137
Email >

Mark Pearson
Greater Yellowstone Coalition
(406) 556-2807
Follow us on
Visit website