STATEMENT OF FRAN P. MAINELLA, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, BEFORE THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON SMALL BUSINESS, CONCERNING LIMITATIONS ON SNOWMOBILE ACCESS IN YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK AND THE IMPACTS ON SMALL BUSINESSES.
Good morning, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. I am pleased to be here today to speak to you about the status of Winter Use Plans for Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway, and the National Park Service’s continuing partnership with our stakeholders in the Greater Yellowstone Area. As demonstrated by my previous experience as State Parks Director in Florida, I am committed to working with communities and factoring in their concerns when making determinations about park management. I appreciate the economic impacts that our decisions may have on communities, and at the same time, I recognize that we have a statutory mandate to conserve park resources and values while providing for their enjoyment by the people of the United States.
The world’s first national park—Yellowstone—was established in 1872, at which time Congress set aside more than one million acres as a “public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” Forty four years later, in 1916, Congress enacted the Organic Act which created the National Park Service and directed the Service to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for enjoyment of future generations.”
The National Park Service has managed winter use in Yellowstone, Grand Teton and the Parkway for several decades. However, with the number of winter visits to the three parks growing each year, managing winter use has become increasingly controversial. Now more than ever, winter activities have become both an integral part of the visitor experience and an important component of the region’s tourism industry. Land managers, constituencies, and users of public lands disagree about the appropriateness of certain uses, how often uses are allowed, and the impact of those uses.
In an effort to respond to these changes, a Winter Use Plan for the parks was completed in 1990, and in 1994 the NPS and U.S. Forest Service began work on a coordinated interagency report on Winter Visitor Use Management, entitled Winter Visitor Use Management: a Multi-agency Assessment. The final document, approved for publication in 1999, considered and incorporated many comments from the general public, interest groups, and local and state governments surrounding public lands in the Greater Yellowstone Area.
In May of 1997, the Fund for Animals and several other parties filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia alleging failures by the NPS to comply with the Organic Act, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and other federal laws and regulations in connection with winter use in the three national parks. The NPS subsequently settled the suit, in part, by an agreement to prepare a comprehensive environmental impact statement (EIS) addressing a full range of alternatives for all types of winter use in the parks.
A draft EIS was released on August 15, 1999 and the final document was completed on October 10, 2000. The Record of Decision was signed on November 22, 2000, calling for the elimination of the recreational use of snowmobiles in Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and the Parkway by the winter of 2003/2004, while continuing to provide access via an NPS-managed, mass-transit snowcoach system. In the FY 2001 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Bill, Congress passed and President Clinton signed into law language that explicitly prohibited the use of any funds until July 31, 2001 to promulgate or enforce a final rule to reduce the level of snowmobile use for the 2000/2001 and 2001/2002 winter seasons. To be consistent with this provision, the final rule implementing the Record of Decision, which was published in the federal register on January 22, 2001, phased in the restrictions on snowmobile use with no reductions from current use until the 2002/2003 winter season.
The Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Advocacy expressed concerns about the rulemaking process in a letter to Secretary Norton on April 16, 2001, and recommended that the NPS re-open the rulemaking. The SBA asserted that the NPS did not adequately address the issue of economic impact on small entities, did not sufficiently investigate if snowmobiles were having any adverse effects on the parks and surrounding communities, and had not adequately considered alternatives during the rulemaking process.
In December 2000, a lawsuit brought by the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association, the State of Wyoming, the Wyoming State Snowmobile Association, the Blue Ribbon Coalition, Incorporated, and other parties asked for the Record of Decision to be set aside. Like the 1997 lawsuit brought by the Fund for Animals, this litigation alleges violations of the Organic Act, NEPA, and the ESA. Additional issues addressed in the lawsuit were concerns that the NPS did not adequately consider new snowmobile technologies, did not give due consideration to all alternatives, and did not give the public enough opportunity to participate.
On June 29, 2001, the parties reached a settlement agreement. In the settlement, the NPS agreed to prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) and incorporate any significant new or additional information or data with respect to a winter use plan in the three parks. The settlement agreement provides NPS with an important opportunity to consider new information, including data on new snowmobile technologies and economic impacts to local communities. Working with the cooperating agencies, including the State of Wyoming, the U.S. Forest Service, the States of Montana and Idaho, Fremont County in Idaho, Gallatin and Park Counties in Montana, and Park and Teton Counties in Wyoming, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in preparing the SEIS, will result in a better informed decision. NPS also will benefit from the cooperating agencies’ environmental analyses and proposals, which will be used to the maximum extent possible in accordance with the settlement agreement.
We are quickly moving ahead with development of the SEIS. The alternatives considered in the SEIS include retaining the use of snowmobiles in the parks, deferring implementation of the existing decision, and implementing the existing decision as scheduled. We expect to release the document on the Internet in February, and a printed copy will be available this spring, which is when a 60-day public comment period will begin. A proposed rule also will be released for public comment this spring.
It has been my pleasure to have recently met with a number of local business owners and other stakeholders from the Greater Yellowstone Area. We are keenly aware of the potential for economic impacts in the communities surrounding the parks, and appreciate that any impacts could be highly significant to the snowmobile rental businesses and other small businesses in West Yellowstone and the other gateway communities. Secretary Norton and I fully understand that decisions we make have real economic consequences for people in this community and others in the Greater Yellowstone Area. Additional economic analyses will be conducted during the SEIS process.
I believe that the process we are now engaged in, the development of a supplemental EIS for winter use in Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and the Parkway, will guarantee that local communities, business owners, and others will have additional opportunities for meaningful input. I expect this process to be a model for the Secretary’s four C’s—consultation, cooperation, and communication, all in the name of conservation. Secretary Norton and I firmly believe that greater local input, new technology information, scientific data, economic analysis, and wider public involvement can only lead to better, more informed decisions.
Mr. Chairman, that concludes my testimony. I would be glad to answer any questions that you or other members of the committee may have.