March 5, 2001

Public Interest Comment on the National Park Service's Proposal to Amend Snowmobile Use Regulations in Rocky Mountain National Park

  • Randy Simmons

Key materials
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Rulemaking:

Proposal to Amend Snowmobile Use Regulations in Rocky Mountain National Park

Stated Purpose:

Repealing the designations of all routes except the North Supply Creek Access Trail is necessary to comply with the requirements of the applicable Executive Orders and NPS's general regulation on snowmobile use, to protect park resources and values, and to meet park management objectives

Comments on Rule by Secretary Norton:

Secretary Gale A. Norton issued the following statement in reaction to a Federal court ruling that struck down a Clinton-era ban on public snowmobile access to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and the John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Memorial Parkway:

"As Secretary of the Interior, I believe in the balanced and responsible enjoyment of our national parks. In Yellowstone and Grand Teton, I have advocated a common sense solution for snowmobile use that protects resources while also allowing appropriate access for enjoyment by the public. I also believe we must work cooperatively with states and local communities when making decisions that have significant impacts to their economies."

"This decision overturns the plan set in motion by the previous administration that was rejected by a bipartisan majority of the U.S. House of Representatives."

"Having received this Court's preliminary injunction last February, we anticipated this outcome. With that knowledge, and with the direction of a separate federal court, the National Park Service has been developing interim regulations that strike a common sense balance for the coming winter season. The public comment period for the regulation closed days ago and we are on our way to address any remaining concerns which may arise from this decision."

"We are committed to allowing responsible winter access through cleaner operating 4-cycle machines, restricting snowmobiles to the same paved roads that are used by vehicles in the summer months. Visitors and wildlife will remain under the watchful eye of experienced guides."

Summary of RSP Comment:

The National Park Service (NPS) proposes to close Rocky Mountain National Park to snowmobiles except for a 2-mile stretch of the North Supply Access Trail. Currently, 18 linear miles of snowmobile trails exist within the 414 square miles in the Park. The NPS justifies this proposal with Executive Orders 11644 and 11989, which state that recreational snowmobile use should be disallowed within a national park if it causes adverse impacts on park resources. However, the NPS does not present any data on adverse impacts to justify the prohibition. Instead, the proposal seems driven by a conflict between use by snowmobiles and non-motorized recreationists.

The park was created in 1915 "for the benefit and enjoyment of the people of the United States with regulations being primarily aimed at the freest use of said park for recreation purposes by the public and for the preservation of the natural conditions and scenic beauties..." (38 Stat. 798). (Emphasis added.) EO 11644 also requires agencies to minimize conflicts among competing users of public lands. Eliminating one type of use from the park seems to violate these requirements.

The NPS should conduct a better benefit-cost analysis that takes into account all of the park's constituents, not just the non-motorized users. In addition, the NPS might consider requesting authority from Congress to charge differential fees based on the type of use so that there could be a market test of the value of "noisy" and "natural quiet" days in the park. At the very least, the Park should experiment with ways of reducing conflicts between users instead of simply claiming one set of users is superior to another set.