Federal Court Rules Clean Air, Wildlife, Quiet Must Come First in America's Oldest National Park

For Immediate Release

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
Contact: 

Elizabeth Heyd, NRDC, 202/289-2424 or 202/725-0648 (cell)

Federal Court Rules Clean Air, Wildlife, Quiet Must Come First in America's Oldest National Park

Court ruling will ensure safe, enjoyable experiences for all visitors to Yellowstone

WASHINGTON - A federal court ruled today that the Bush Administration's
decision authorizing snowmobile use in Yellowstone National Park
violates the fundamental legal responsibility of the National Park
Service to protect the clean air, wildlife, and natural quiet of
national parks, including Yellowstone, for the benefit of all visitors.
The court found that the Administration authorized snowmobile use
despite scientific conclusions by the National Park Service that its
decision would result in significant increases in noise and unhealthy
exhaust, which disrupt the experiences of visitors, and traffic that
harms Yellowstone's wildlife, including bison.
 

The
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia today invalidated the
Bush decision and directed that the National Park Service's substitute
plan ensures all visitors can safely experience the park, and uphold
laws that require stronger protection of Yellowstone's air quality,
wildlife, and natural sounds.
 

In a 63-page ruling, Judge Emmett Sullivan stated: 

"The
Organic Act clearly states...that the fundamental purpose of the national
park system is to conserve park resources and values." page 18
 

"NPS
fails to explain how increasing snowmobile usage over current
conditions, where adaptive management thresholds are already being
exceeded, complies with the conservation mandate of the Organic Act."

Page 61-62
 

"...the Court finds that NPS has failed to articulate why a plan that will admittedly worsen air quality complies with the conservation mandate."
Page 60
 

"...the
Plan clearly elevates use over conservation of park resources and
values and fails to articulate why the Plan's ‘major adverse impacts'
are ‘necessary and appropriate to fulfill the purposes of the park.'"

Page 61 

"According to NPS's
own data, the WUP [Winter Use Plan] will increase air pollution, exceed
the use levels recommended by NPS biologists to protect wildlife, and
cause major adverse impacts to the natural soundscapes in Yellowstone."

Page 62 

The ruling is available at www.greateryellowstone.org.
 

"I'm
thrilled that this ruling will restore Yellowstone's profound winter
quiet," said Tom Murphy of Livingston, Montana, a Yellowstone guide and
photographer since 1979 and author of three books about the Park.
"Yellowstone's values have been diminished by snowmobiles. There's no
excuse for it when visitors are increasingly choosing modern
snowcoaches that are less expensive and much less disruptive of the
park and other visitors' enjoyment."  

"This
is an important victory for Yellowstone and all of America's national
parks," said Sean Helle, attorney with Earthjustice. "Yellowstone is an
embodiment of one of America's great ideas - that our cherished lands
must be conserved and protected. The Court's opinion reaffirms this
principle." 

"Beyond
Yellowstone, the court's ruling reaffirms that a cornerstone purpose of
our national parks is to provide opportunities to enjoy nature and
these opportunities must not be compromised, particularly when
protective alternatives are readily available," said Bob Rosenbaum,
attorney with Arnold & Porter.
 

Because
it has already studied a range of options for providing broad public
access to Yellowstone during winter, the National Park Service is in a
position to develop a plan promptly that enables visitors to continue
enjoying the park this winter in compliance with the court's order. To
ensure visitor experiences remain safe and enjoyable, and the local
economy strong, the Park Service should ensure that the number of
snowmobiles accessing the park remains this year at the daily average
of the past five seasons-approximately 260 snowmobiles per day.
Following that, the Park Service should work with local gateway
communities and businesses to begin phasing down the number of
snowmobiles in the winter of 2009-2010 while promoting expanded visitor
access on modern snowcoaches.
 

The
public is increasingly demanding the opportunity to enjoy Yellowstone
via snowcoach. Snowcoach use has grown 89 percent since 2002 due to
increasing visitor demand for comfortable and educational park tours.
Businesses have responded with significant investments in modern
coaches that feature guides knowledgeable about Yellowstone's geology,
wildlife and history.
 

The
court's ruling is consistent with research conducted by the National
Park Service that indicated the need for greater protection for the
park's wildlife, natural quiet, and clean air:
 

  • Even
    with an average of 263 snowmobiles per day during the past five
    winters, snowmobile impacts have exceeded Yellowstone's noise
    thresholds;
  • Biologists studying traffic-related
    impacts to wildlife during these years recommended capping or further
    reducing vehicle numbers in order to protect bison, elk and other
    animals often weakened by Yellowstone's harsh winters;
  • The
    number of snowmobiles authorized by the Administration-540 per
    day-would represent a doubling of current snowmobile use that has
    already been problematic and result in:
  • A tripling
    of the area in Yellowstone where visitors would hear motorized noise
    for half or more of the visiting day (63 square miles instead of 21
    square miles currently);
  • Degradation of
    Yellowstone's air quality with increases in snowmobile exhaust (carbon
    monoxide, hydrocarbons, particulates, benzene and formaldehyde) of
    between 18 and 100 percent; and 
  • More animals being pushed from preferred habitat, impacting their health and increasing mortality.

"This
ruling reaffirms the idea at the heart of our National Park System-that
the duty of Yellowstone's managers is to preserve the Park for the sake
of all visitors, and to place the highest value on protection of
Yellowstone's unique natural treasures," said Tim Stevens, senior
Yellowstone Program Manager for the National Parks Conservation
Association. 

"This ruling
will ensure that visitors are not disappointed by air and noise
pollution when they make the one winter trip to Yellowstone of their
lives," said Amy McNamara, National Parks Program Director for the
Greater Yellowstone Coalition. "We take our hats off to the tour
businesses that didn't wait for this ruling. Their increasing
investments in modern snowcoaches are already making it possible for
winter visitors to access and enjoy Yellowstone while protecting it."
 

During
the past ten years, over half a million Americans sent comments to the
National Park Service concerning Yellowstone's winter management,
making it the most publicly-commented-on issue in the history of the
national parks. A consistent 4-to-1 majority has favored accessing the
park by snowcoach instead of snowmobile.
 

The
Greater Yellowstone Coalition, National Parks Conservation Association,
Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society,
and Winter Wildlands Alliance collectively represent over two million
members and challenged the Bush Administration's failure to protect
Yellowstone's resources and values. The organizations were represented
by Earthjustice, a public interest environmental law firm in Bozeman,
Montana, and the firm of Arnold & Porter in Washington D.C.

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