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December 1999 Planet Main
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The Planet

The Winter Invasion of Yellowstone

by Drusha Mayhue

During the winter, fresh air is pumped into ranger booths at the West Yellowstone entrance to protect employees from carbon monoxide levels that are higher than those measured in Los Angeles.

It's no joke.

The thousands of snowmobiles that create this health hazard pour out more pollution in a single weekend than automobiles emit in the national park in an entire year. Noise and fumes from snowmobiles have become major problems in both Yellowstone and Grand Teton, and the National Park Service admits that visitors must sometimes move 10 miles or more to escape the noise.

In an effort to solve the problem, the Sierra Club's Wyoming, Idaho and Montana chapters are working with the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, a task force of 14 organizations representing 2.7 million people. The coalition recently submitted a "citizen's solution" to be considered by the Park Service as it prepares winter-use plans for Yellowstone and Grand Teton.

"To restore a balance in these national parks, we need to stop the recreational use of snowmobiles," said John Schmidt, a member of the Club's Yellowstone Ecosystem Task Force. "The Park Service can instead provide access for those who want to use the park in the winter by using a mass-transit system of snow coaches, which are like buses on skis."

Banning snowmobiles is just one step needed to protect the parks during the wintertime, said Schmidt. The coalition is also pushing for a study to determine how much winter use should be allowed in the parks, and wants to see further research on the needs of wildlife wintering in Yellowstone and Grand Teton. Also, limits should be placed on off-trail backcountry use by skiers and snowshoers where wildlife needs additional protection, he said.

The coalition advocates discontinuing the Continental Divide Snowmobile Trail in Grand Teton National Park while continuing automobile access in the park. The group also promotes a plan to close Yellowstone's east entrance, where only 3 percent of park visitors travel and where expensive avalanche control efforts involve military explosives that are not in keeping with the purpose of national parks.

"These national parks belong to all of us," said Schmidt. "We need people across the country to get involved by keeping pressure on the Park Service and educating the public that these problems exist in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks."

To Take Action:
Write the National Park Service and tell them you support the proposals made by the Greater Yellowstone Coalition in order to restore the natural winter character to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Tell them it's a solution that protects the health of wildlife and people while improving the visitor's experience. Write Clifford Hawkes, National Park Service, Denver Service Center, 12795 W. Alameda Pkwy., Lakewood, CO 80228;

Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper and tell readers that snowmobiles are wreaking havoc on the wildlife and winter ambiance of Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. Encourage readers to join you in writing to the Park Service.

Drusha Mayhue is chair of the Sierra Club's Yellowstone Ecosystem Task Force.


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