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Don't Be Snowed by Lobbyists

May 07, 2000

The overseers of Yosemite National Park handled the snowmobile issue the right way and early on. There would be no snowmobiles in any part of the park from 1974 on. That should have been the case as well in Yellowstone, Grand Teton and other parks across the country. But the Park Service winked at an executive order to limit snowmobiles dating back to 1972 and allowed the noisy, highly polluting beasts anyway. Now they have become such a problem--spooking wildlife and creating freeway-like smog--that the Department of the Interior has ordered an end to their recreational use in the parks, with some important exceptions.

There is noisy opposition, and Interior officials need to be strongly urged to stick with this action. If the federal order can be pushed back, separate actions to deal with snowmobiles in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks--where the most serious problems exist--may also be at risk.

The order from Assistant Secretary Donald J. Barry does not directly address Yellowstone and Grand Teton because those parks already were conducting a review of the machines' impact and their appropriateness. A Yellowstone-Teton decision is expected in November, and it almost certainly will be to phase out the machines in 2002-2003.

Yellowstone will be a battleground. Western senators and House members are planning hearings late this month at which they are expected to raise an uproar over the order. They will support protests by snow machine associations and business owners from West Yellowstone, Mont., and Jackson, Wyo., who rent machines and conduct tours into the park.

In its winter recreation plan, Yellowstone officials were leaning toward a compromise that fell short of a ban. But the Environmental Protection Agency said its analysis of the Yellowstone-Teton situation "clearly and convincingly demonstrates" that snowmobiles are not compatible with park values, such as the quality of the air.

The snowmobile forces will complain about being locked out of public lands. Yet they have hundreds of thousands of acres of national forest lands surrounding both Yellowstone and the Tetons to crash through snowbanks and roar through the forest as much as they like. Commercial Sno-Cat services will still be available to take visitors to see park features in winter.

What snowmobiles should not be allowed to do is to spoil the national park experience as it was meant to be: crisp, clear air, wildlife in a natural setting and, ahhhh, silence.

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