In the 1990s and early 2000s, extreme environmental groups were building up all sorts of steam for their theory that snowmobilers were ruining Yellowstone National Park. Listening to their stories, you would have assumed the nation’s first national park had become a polluted cesspool, with despondent animals trapped under a smog blanket and more stressed out and nervous than Brittney Spears at a family reunion. And snowmobiles were solely to blame!
Never mind that summer traffic in the park was 100 times great than winter visitation. Forget the fact that snowmobile engines were getting notably cleaner. They had their story and they were sticking to it. “BAN SNOWMOBILES!” they cried, and had college kids who couldn’t even identify Montana on a map going door-to-door in the suburbs across the country, seeking signatures on petitions.
Somehow with all of that stress and disinformation going on, snowmobiles were not banned but were limited within the park. And now that more time has passed, it’s becoming more and more evident that maybe seeing the park via our favorite mode of winter transportation isn’t so bad after all.
The latest evidence was unearthed in a story from the Billings Gazette (an article that, oddly, we found in the Spokane Spokesman). The story stated that managers at the park are proposing ending winter monitoring of the interaction between park animals and snowmobiles/snow coaches because, frankly, the animals just don’t care about us that much!
According to the summary report cited in the story, 95 percent of animals within 500 feet of a snow-covered road that was serving as a trail showed “no response or a ‘look and resume’ response” to snowmobiles and snowcoaches. The bison didn’t get into extended discussion over the virtues of one brand of sled over another, the elk herds scatter at the sight of a helmeted person slowly motoring past. The vast, vast majority of critters either didn’t do anything, or at most glanced up for a moment and then went back about their business – not unlike if a crow had flown past. You can read the rest of the story here.
Frankly, we don’t expect the Park Service to throw the doors open the gates to vast numbers of snowmobiles in the near future, nor do we expect them to move away from the “Best Available Technology” sled requirements when it comes to emissions. But the study does further prove that maybe – just maybe – snowmobilers and our machines might not be marauding nuisances as we were once portrayed.
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