Banning the Better Alternative

Report Government Regulation

Banning the Better Alternative

August 2, 2004 4 min read
Erin Hymel
Senior Policy Analyst

On June 17, the House defeated an amendment to the Interior Appropriations bill (H.R. 4568) to ban snowmobiles from Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. The amendment, sponsored by Reps. Rush Holt (D-NJ), Christopher Shays (R-CT), Timothy Johnson (R-IL), and Nick Rahall (D-WV), would have banned all use of snowmobiles in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in order to reduce air and noise emissions. In essence, this amendment would have effectively reinstated a since-repealed Clinton-era rule banning snowmobiles in these parks. Limited snowmobile use in these areas provides recreationists a chance to see the splendor of the parks in the winter and allows residents in related "gateway" communities to maintain their livelihoods. The Senate should follow the commonsense lead of the House and reject any proposals that would ban responsible use of snowmobiles.


Recreation, Tourism, Livelihood

Nearly 65,000 snowmobiles enter Yellowstone per year while approximately 1.8 million motor vehicles-including vans, buses, trucks, RV's, SUV's, automobiles, and motorcycles-enter the parks every year during the non-winter months.[1]


Additionally, 75 percent of winter visitors utilize snowmobiles in Yellowstone, as the park is inaccessible during the winter without these vehicles. "Gateway" communities near the parks offer lodging and amenities, and welcome a vibrant tourist industry. Winter conditions in these areas require snowmobiles for basic transportation. West Yellowstone, Montana, for example, calls itself "the snowmobile capital of the world." Many residents in these communities earn their livelihoods through snowmobile-related tourism.


There is some question as to whether snowmobiles are the big polluters their opponents allege. In 2003, the National Park Service (NPS) revised the rules to limit rather than ban the use of snowmobiles and to require the vehicles achieve a 70 percent reduction in carbon monoxide emissions and a 90 percent reduction in hydrocarbon emissions by 2005. In a separate but related move, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a rule in 2002 limiting emissions for all snowmobiles. While litigation continues in federal courts over snowmobile access to these parks, the NPS issued temporary winter use plans and new rules are being considered for the 2004-2005 winter season. As Rep. Don Sherwood (R-PA) explains, "The new snowmobiles have about the same technology as the cars and emit about the same amount of hydrocarbons as the cars."[2]


Rep. Sherwood also asks a sensible question: "[W]hy would we eliminate 65,000 snowmobiles and allow 1.8 million cars?"[3]


No Substitute

Banning snowmobiles would harm local economies and small business owners, as well as block most public access to the parks during the winter. The Wyoming Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources reports that a ban on snowmobiles could cost Wyoming as many as 938 jobs and $11.8 million in lost labor income per year. In context, that would be equivalent to 67,743 lost jobs in California, 37,952 lost jobs in New York, or 12,698 lost jobs in Massachusetts.[4] Given these stakes, the National Park Service, local communities, and experts in the West who are familiar with Yellowstone and Grand Teton are better qualified to make decisions that would have such a major and localized impact. Yet the sponsors of the failed House amendment to ban snowmobiles represent states in the eastern and mid-west portions of the United States.


To ameliorate the affects of banning snowmobiles, the Holt amendment promotes the use of snowcoaches. But snowcoaches do not address issues of air and noise emissions. Studies show that the newer, more efficient four-stroke engine snowmobiles produce significantly less carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon emissions than snowcoaches-as well as trucks, vans, and the older model two-stroke engine snowmobiles.[5] As a substitute for snowmobiles, snowcoaches would not improve air quality. And not only are snowmobiles cleaner than snowcoaches, they also afford riders a closer, unobstructed view of the parks in the winter months.


Snowmobiles are an integral part of the economy of the Yellowstone and Grand Teton areas. Snowmobiles provide a way of life for residents in the parks' "gateway" communities-providing economy, jobs, and mobility-and give visitors a unique opportunity to enjoy the wintertime splendor of our nation's parks. Banning snowmobiles would be a catastrophe for the many who enjoy and depend on them. Allowing limited use of newer, reduced emissions snowmobiles is a reasonable and responsible solution that would allow Americans to continue to enjoy the winter magnificence of our national parks.                    

Erin M. Hymel is a Research Assistant in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

[1] Congressional Record, Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2005, pg. H4449, June 17, 2004.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., pg. H4448.

[5] Kate Neely, "Are Snowcoaches the Answer to Cleaner Air?," Sublette Examiner, May 23, 2002.


Erin Hymel

Senior Policy Analyst