Enviromental Pollution

Over the past 15 years, snowmobile use in Jellystone National Park has gradually increased. Last year, an average of 1,800 snowmobiles entered the park each day, mostly in unsupervised groups of one or two. A network of 180 miles of roads and trails was groomed nightly, but snowmobiles were not restricted to those trails. Snowmobiles use internal combustion engines, which produce air pollution and noise and can frighten wildlife. There is also some evidence that groomed trails alter the behavior and travel patterns of several species, including the Jellystone bison. However, the expansion of snowmobile use has brought significant tourist dollars to the local community in the winter, traditionally a very slow season.

Until now, the park has not regulated snowmobile use. This year, the park decided to formally evaluate snowmobile use. The park supervisor announced the park’s intention to strike a workable balance between facilitating public access to the park and protecting its resources.

After preparing an environmental assessment (EA), the park decided to limit the number of individual snowmobiles allowed to enter the park to 900 per day and to require that snowmobiles stay strictly to the groomed trails. Unlimited numbers of snow coaches (the snowmobile equivalent of buses) will be allowed on the groomed trails. Snow coaches are slower and less comfortable than snowmobiles, and the view from snow coaches is limited. The extent of the market for snow coach tours is unknown. The park has promised to reexamine snowmobile use next year.

The EA considered the alternatives of no action, total closure of the park to snowmobiles, and the proposed action. The park determined that no environmental impact statement (EIS) was required because snowmobiles would not create significant environmental impacts during the one year for which the decision would apply. It did not consider possible long-term impacts of continued snowmobiling. While the EA was being prepared, the park began taking reservations for the upcoming snowmobile season. Reservations are always made “subject to changes in park management.”

Fund for Jellystone (an environmental group consisting of members who regularly use the park) and the Jellystone Area Chamber of Commerce (a coalition of local businesses) have both challenged the decision under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Fund for Jellystone argues that an EIS was required and should have considered the long-term impacts of snowmobile use in the park. The group also claims that the EA was impermissibly biased because the decision had already been made. The Jellystone Area Chamber of Commerce agrees that an EIS was
required. The chamber further argues that the discussion of alternatives should have included guided group snowmobile trips, restricting access to new four-stroke snowmobiles (which are quieter and cleaner-burning than the two-stroke models), restricting access to particularly sensitive areas, or other steps that would limit the environmental impacts of snowmobiles without removing them from the park.

You represent Jellystone National Park. Advise park officials of the prospects of success against the NEPA claims raised by Fund for Jellystone and the Jellystone Area Chamber of Commerce. For the purposes of this question, do not consider the effects of any other statutes. Assume that all issues were raised during public comment opportunities.

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