Groups Fight Government Snow Job — Legal Battle to Stop Snowmobiles in Yellowstone

The Fund for Animals, Bluewater Network, Ecology Center, and several individuals went back to court on March 25th in their ongoing battle to stop the use of snowmobiles and the packing of snowroads in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. The groups are challenging the Bush administration's Record of Decision (ROD) issued today, which reverses a January 2001 ROD that announced a phase-out of snowmobiles in the parks.

The new ROD effectively eliminates any limits on snowmobile use that the government had contemplated, continues to jeopardize air and water quality, wildlife, natural quiet, and human health, and permits road packing activities to continue in violation of multiple federal laws.
"This new decision will continue to devastate Yellowstone and its unique wildlife — including bison, elk, grizzly bears, gray wolves, and bald eagles — and will cost millions of tax dollars for law enforcement and monitoring of snowmobile impacts," said Michael Markarian, President of The Fund for Animals. "Turning our first and foremost national park into a national playground, simply to placate the snowmobile industry, is a fleecing of American taxpayers."

Thousands of Yellowstone bison have died in recent years after using the groomed trail system — created by using machines to pack 25-foot-wide snowroads — to leave the park and enter Montana, where they have been slaughtered by federal and state officials. Since 1985, more than 3,500 Yellowstone bison have been gunned down or trucked to slaughterhouses.

Furthermore, the noise and pollution from thousands of snowmobiles destroy Yellowstone's clean air and quiet, and threaten the health of park rangers who have experienced breathing difficulties, headaches, nausea, dizziness, and hearing loss. The pollution has become so severe that carbon monoxide levels in Yellowstone have exceeded federal air quality standards. According to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, the 1,000 snowmobiles entering West Yellowstone on a busy day release a volume of hydrocarbons equal to that of three million cars. The EPA has expressed concerns that snowmobiling in Yellowstone "could negatively impact human health."

"This decision shows yet again President Bush's willingness to place the snowmobile industry's profits ahead of protecting national parks," said Sean Smith, Bluewater Network Public Lands Director and former Yellowstone ranger. "It's deplorable and wrong that the President would ignore overwhelming public opinion, relevant federal law, and conclusive scientific research and sell out our national heritage this way. The courts will now have to step in and force the administration's snowmobile management back into compliance with the law."

The Fund for Animals and others sued the government in 1997, resulting in a settlement agreement that forced the agencies to prepare an environmental study of winter use impacts and led to the planned phase-out of snowmobiles. The Fund also continued to push for a prohibition on road packing to protect bison and other wildlife — an issue that the government promised to address in the 1997 settlement but has continued to ignore. The latest lawsuit also challenges the National Park Service's failure to act on a January 1999 rulemaking petition by Bluewater Network and other groups seeking a prohibition on snowmobiles throughout the park system.

A copy of the 12-page complaint is available by clicking here, and a copy of the government's ROD challenged in the lawsuit is available by clicking here. Six-minute b-roll footage of snowmobiles harassing bison in Yellowstone is also available upon request.

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