Bush Administration Muffles New Findings on Snowmobile Noise in Yellowstone

April 26, 2004

The Bush Administration is actively seeking to reopen Yellowstone National Park to snowmobiles. The administration not only overturned a Clinton-era ban on these vehicles in Yellowstone, but also appealed a court ruling that reinstated the ban.

The federal judge in that case called the administration's policy "completely politically driven" at the expense of sound science, at odds with the National Park Service's own findings on the machines' impacts on air quality and wildlife.

Now, an internal report prepared by Yellowstone staff shows that four-stroke snowmobiles emit enough noise to cause hearing damage. The study findings were finalized last month, but are as yet unreleased.

The Bush Administration is championing four-stroke snowmobiles in its ongoing attempt to reverse the snowmobile ban. It has not commented on the new findings publicly or in court. Instead they were revealed to the public last week by the Coalition of Concerned National Park Service Retirees, a group of 230 retired employees of the National Park Service.[1]

At a weekly staff meeting on January 27, Yellowstone's safety officer reported, "four-stroke snowmobiles are almost as loud as two-stroke machines for the operator."[2] In 18 out of 20 noise tests at Yellowstone, rangers operating four-stroke snowmobiles and employees working close to snowmobiles were found to be exposed to noise levels over 100 decibels, louder than a pneumatic drill.

Yellowstone's snowmobile noise standard mandates a maximum of 73 decibels at full throttle. Yellowstone's Park Safety Office instructed park staff to wear hearing-protective earplugs when exposed to noise levels above 85 decibels. No such warnings have been issued to park visitors operating the same machines.[3]

The Coalition's Bill Wade told BushGreenwatch that the full findings from the Yellowstone snowmobile noise tests suggest that park staff working with visitors at entrance stations to Yellowstone may be at risk as well, due to exposure to damaging levels of noise.[4]

"It seems incongruous to us to have machines that require hearing protection in the country's first national park, which should be a flagship for natural preservation and natural quiet," said Wade. "The presence of this kind of noise contradicts the very values of the park. These machines have no place in Yellowstone."

National Park Service management policies make specific mention of "natural quiet," sometimes called "natural soundscapes," as a resource to be protected in national parks.[5] The NPS web site extols this subtle quality: "The natural soundscape is a component of any park setting that is intended to be managed or appreciated as natural, such as wilderness areas...sounds made by wind, birds, geysers, elk, wolves, waterfalls, and many other natural phenomena are associated by visitors with unique features and resources of parks they hold dear."[6]

The Coalition of Concerned National Park Service Retirees is demanding that the Bush Administration be honest with the public about conditions in America's national parks. In addition to the unreleased data on snowmobile noise, the Coalition recently revealed instructions from the Interior Department to park managers, suggesting options for budget-trimming service cuts and how to hide them from the public and the media, as reported by BushGreenwatch March 18.

Email Bush and the Department of Interior to let them know you want the truth about environmental and health impact in America's parks.

[1] Coalition of Concerned National Park Service Retirees press release, Apr. 14, 2004.
[2] Yellowstone Staff Meeting Minutes, Jan. 27, 2004.
[3] Coalition of Concerned National Park Service Retirees press release, Apr. 14, 2004.
[4] Yellowstone National Park Snowmobile Exposure Survey, Noise Dosimetry.
[5] National Park Service Soundscape-Related Policies.
[6] National Park Service Natural Sounds page.


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