Protect the solitude and quiet of Yellowstone National Park when winter visitors are gunning around on screaming snowmobiles? It can't be done. Snow machines and quiet cannot coexist. What's worse, pollution from snowmobiles far exceeds federal air standards. On some winter days, the air around the Old Faithful geyser can be more polluted than that of Los Angeles.
The National Park Service is drafting a plan for restricting snowmobile use in Yellowstone and its neighboring national park, Grand Teton. The best move would be to ban the machines altogether. But Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.) and others launched a stealth attack on the Park Service plan on the Senate floor last week. Thomas sponsored an amendment to the Interior Department appropriations bill that would have prohibited the department from spending any money to ban snowmobiles in the parks or reduce their numbers.
One of the few senators willing to speak against snowmobiles on the floor was Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada, who correctly termed the mechanical beasts "a clear and present danger to the beauty of America's national park system."
Thomas withdrew the amendment for apparent lack of support and yielded to Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, who said he supports efforts to protect parklands but also believes "we can provide this access [by snowmobiles] in a manner that is sensitive to the needs of the environment and those who go to the public lands in search of solitude and quiet." He asked Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to promise that all possible alternatives be given a full public airing.
The best compromise is to take visitors to Old Faithful from Yellowstone's western and southern entrances in 10-passenger coaches that move quietly over the snow without excessive air pollution. The more people the Park Service hears from, the more emphatic that message will be.
To Take Action: Go to http://www.doi.gov/secretary/ and click on e-mail, or write Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt at U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street N.W., Washington, D.C. 20240.