One of the Bush administration's highest-profile and most-contested national park decisions came from their desire to increase snowmobile usage in Yellowstone. Despite the obvious environmental drawbacks, they succeeded in introducing buzzing herds of snowmachines to the winter landscape of our first national park.
But on Monday, Federal Judge Emmet Sullivan struck down plans to increase the number of snowmobiles in Yellowstone to 540. Along with his ruling, Judge Sullivan including scathing comments noting the National Park Service's failure to abide by the data produced by their own scientists and researchers in creating their new Winter Use Plan.
"According to NPS's own data, the (plan) will increase air pollution, exceed the use levels recommended by NPS biologists to protect wildlife, and cause major adverse impacts to the natural soundscape in Yellowstone. Despite this, NPS found that the plan's impacts are wholly 'acceptable,' and utterly fails to explain this incongruous conclusion."
The current Winter Use Plan violates several federal laws, including the National Park Service Organic Act, which holds that the "fundamental purpose of the national park system is to conserve park resources and values." NPS officials must now revise and rewrite the Winter Use Plan so as to not conflict with established conservation law.
The numerous conservationist groups representing over two million people who filed the original class-action lawsuit are hailing this ruling as a big win for the environment and for the National Park system during a particularly dark period.
Companies that operate snowmobile tours in the park have already started converting to environmentally-friendly snow coaches instead. This ruling should encourage them to complete the switch.
Lately, the Bush administration has shown that lame-duck status won't keep them from going to the mattresses over conservation — let's just hope they don't return with an alternate plan involving helicopters or Hummers.
— Ted Alvarez