WASHINGTON - August 19 - When the National Park Service monitored engine noise last winter in Yellowstone National Park where visitors come to enjoy some of the rarest sounds in nature -- from erupting geysers to bubbling hot springs -- the agency found problems that cut right to the core of public pledges made repeatedly by top officials of the Bush Administration.
In short, with fewer than 300 snowmobiles in the park each day, monitoring demonstrated that engine noise was pervasive and frequently exceeded standards established to protect visitors' enjoyment. Buffeted by criticism that the Administration is catering to the snowmobile industry and not providing a level of protection that Americans want in their first national park, the Administration time and again has cited its commitment, through "strict limitations" and "adaptive management," to tighten standards or reduce snowmobile numbers if such problems developed.
"We have requirements on certain levels of emissions and noise on snowmobiles that enter Yellowstone National Park. We will hold our visitors to those requirements." -- John Wright, Interior Department Spokesman, Billings Gazette, September 11, 2003
"Park Service Director Fran Mainella, in the park earlier this week, stressed that the new plan includes intensive monitoring of noise and emissions so people can know what the real impacts of the new machines are. If the impacts are too high, she said, adjustments will be made." -- Bozeman Daily Chronicle, August 28, 2003
"We'll be monitoring the effects and, if we need to, ratchet it down," Norton said."-- Billings Gazette, June 29, 2003, quoting Interior Secretary Gale Norton
Contrary to its frequent reassurances, given publicly and in court, the Administration is now proposing to increase, rather than decrease, the number of snowmobiles -- far beyond the daily numbers that exceeded protective standards last winter. This can only happen by weakening the standards designed to protect visitor enjoyment.
In its own two-year study of winter use in Yellowstone, the Bush Administration confirmed the central conclusion of earlier studies -- that natural quiet and natural sounds, together with air quality, human health, and wildlife would all be protected most fully by eliminating snowmobile use while increasing visitor access on snowcoaches. The Administration's study said this about natural quiet:
"An important mission of the NPS is to preserve or restore the natural soundscapes associated with units of the National Park System. The natural soundscapes (also referred to as natural quiet and the natural ambient sound level) are the unimpaired sounds of nature, and are among the intrinsic elements of the environment that are associated both with the purpose of the park and with its natural ecological functioning. They are inherent components of the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife' protected by the NPS Organic Act. Natural sounds and tranquility are major resources of many national parks and are valued by visitors." -- Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, page 127
For More Information
National Park Service Retirees Warn Major Yellowstone Snowmobile Proposal Coming Out This Week Will Ignore Science (news release from Coalition of Concerned National Park Service Retirees)