: Battle of snowmobilers vs. quiet-seekers rages on at Yellowstone

: Battle of snowmobilers vs. quiet-seekers rages on at Yellowstone

Post by monmouth.co » Tue, 10 Mar 1998 04:00:00

Copyright 1998, The The Idaho Statesman
The Idaho Statesman

March 4, 1998, Wednesday

SECTION: Local ; Pg. 5b

LENGTH: 1065 words

HEADLINE: Battle of snowmobilers vs. quiet-seekers rages on at Yellowstone
Environmentalists, Park Service get involved in the fray

BYLINE: By Brandon Loomis

SOURCE: Idaho Falls Post-Register

DATELINE: YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. - For 20 years, Elaine Primeaux
dreamed of a trip from her Arkansas home to the new-fallen snow of
Yellowstone National Park. It happened last week. Her husband, Chris, took
her to the airport and flew with her to Bozeman, Mont., for a surprise
Valentine's Day celebration in the tranquility of the world's first national
park.;Sports; Snowmobiling

BODY:

If the buzz and smoke of a thousand snowmobiles made the moment less
tranquil than expected, they didn't notice. After all, they got there on a
snowmobile themselves.

There they sat on a bench before the world's most famous geyser - she with a
new heart-shaped rock on her finger, he with a smile on his face.

They are two of the hundreds of thousands of people who may see a little
piece of their lives change in the next four years as the National Park
Service decides the fate of Yellowstone's most visible winter organism: the
snowmobiler.

''Nothing compares to this,'' Elaine Primeaux said as the crowd filtered
away after an Old Faithful eruption. ''We'll probably come back every
year.''

One view <

That's the dream of West Yellowstone merchants, who staged a rally this
winter to protest a government study that could lead to a limit or ban on
snowmobiles in the park. The town has built its winter economy around
snowmobiling tourists, and the Chamber of Commerce estimates that
snowmobilers keep 80 percent of the businesses open while the town waits for
summer tourism to resume. The town collects about half a million dollars in
taxes from winter sports.

Their opponents, the environmental groups seeking limits on snowmobiles, say
they don't want to keep the Primeauxs or anyone else from enjoying the park;
they just want them to leave some quiet for cross-country skiers and others
who come to get away from machines, and to avoid harming wildlife.

As it stands now, 140,000 people visit Yellowstone each winter. Most ride
snowmobiles or the tracked snowcoaches that travel among them,although there
is some access by car in the park's extreme north. It was a much quieter
place in the early 1970s before road grooming began. Then only the bravest
snowmobilers plowed through the powder to Old Faithful.

The transition to snowmobile highway has gone too far, some say. D.J.
Schubert, a wildlife biologist for the Fund for Animals, said he doesn't
have anything against snowmobilers, but doesn't want them in the park. He
just thinks there are plenty of places for noisy two-stroke engines in
national forests and elsewhere.

''People from Florida who simply go to Yellowstone and get on snowmobiles
because it looks like fun - they don't know any better,'' Schubert said.

The bigger issue is grooming roads for the masses. The Fund for Animals says
machine-packing snow on the roads for snowmobile traffic gives bison an easy
migration route to slaughter. Because ranchers and politicians fear bison
moving outside the park will mingle with cattle and spread disease, bison
that leave the park are killed.

The other side <

A number of national and regional groups are pressing for snowmobile
restrictions. They have used the bison slaughter - more than 1,000 of the
animals were killed last winter - as their vehicle. But Schubert
acknowledged that the slaughter is part of a broader aesthetics question.

The Fund for Animals took the lead last week by filing a lawsuit in
Washington, D.C., in an attempt to force the National Park Service to close
at least one section of road to study bison movement and decide whether more
closures are necessary.

The group is asking a federal judge for the closure to see whether bison are
less likely to travel to the park's boundaries through the deeper snow.

The lawsuit grows out of another legal battle with the Fund for Animals and
the Biodiversity Legal Foundation, which the Park Service settled earlier
this winter. Yellowstone officials agreed to consider closing a 14-mile
stretch in the park's interior, from Fishing Bridge to Canyon. The Park
Service says it considered that action, then decided it was enough for now
to monitor bison along that stretch for the next three winters before
deciding whether a closure is necessary.

''The Park Service completely changed their direction,'' Schubert said. He
blamed the inaction on political pressure.

Yellowstone Assistant Superintendent Marv Jensen acknowledged that local
governments in the area and congressional representatives expressed concern
about any closure. But, ultimately, the Park Service decided it made no
sense to interrupt existing bison-monitoring studies and start over with a
complete snowmobile ban from Fishing Bridge to Canyon, Jensen said. Once the
bison migration study is completed in 2000, the Park Service will decide
whether a closure is necessary or could provide additional useful
information, he said.

The research began at the start of this winter. Rangers on foot and in the
air are watching to see how changes in weather affect migration.

Jensen said he believes the Park Service lived up to the court settlement
with the Fund for Animals because it seriously considered an interim closure
for the 14-mile stretch, and will continue to consider more far-reaching
closures if the next three years of research show that's necessary.

''We did not agree that we would, in fact, close that road,'' he said.
''Only that we would analyze ... the possibility.''

But he agreed that unchecked growth in winter use would lead to summerlike
traffic jams and frustrated visitors, and eventually might require limits on
the number of people who can be at one place at one time.

Schubert said people could enjoy Yellowstone without snowmobiles. As
evidence of growing support for a quieter Yellowstone winter, he pointed to
a USA Today newspaper editorial on Thursday that advocated a ban on
snowmobiles.

''People want to experience peacefulness,'' he said. ''They want to enjoy
serenity in national parks. They want to see wildlife. I'm not sure they
want to see wildlife in a traffic jam at Yellowstone National Park.''

For a growing group accustomed to the Yellowstone snowmobile culture,
though, getting there is half the fun. And getting there by snowmobile is
the only way to go.

Snowmobiles are the best way to see Yellowstone in winter, said Matt Moeller
of Denver. He covered 120 miles in one day.

The manager of the cross-country ski shop at Old Faithful said he sees the
split between die-hard snowmobilers and quiet-seeking skiers every day. But
after seven years in the park, he's used to the noise.

''To me, it's always seemed to have been a part of it. (Snowmobiles) are
loud, they stink, people lose their minds and do dumb things on them. That's
just the way it's always been.''

LOAD-DATE: March 6, 1998

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