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Snowmobile Phaseout Studied at Yellowstone

January 25, 2002|From Associated Press

BOZEMAN, Mont. — The National Park Service has drafted four alternatives for cutting snowmobile use in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, including one that would require riders to hire guides, an internal copy obtained by a Montana newspaper shows.

Two of the alternatives still would include the eventual elimination of snowmobiles within the two parks and on the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway, which connects them. The other two alternatives would allow snowmobile use to continue, but with limits and conditions.

The Park Service did not designate a preferred alternative among the four.

The internal draft of the Park Service's alternatives was obtained by the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

The document was to have been released this week as a supplemental environmental study of how the Park Service would manage snowmobile use within Yellowstone and Grand Teton in the future. But the agency delayed the release, saying it needed additional time to review it.

The Interior Department, which oversees the Park Service, agreed to the supplemental review as part of a settlement of a lawsuit filed by the snowmobile industry.

The industry sued when the Clinton administration proposed phasing out snowmobile use in the parks, citing concerns over the machines' effects on wildlife and the environment.

The Bush administration backed away from that plan and the Park Service has been reviewing other alternatives since.

The Clinton administration proposal, which called for phasing out snowmobiles by the winter of 2003-2004, is included as one of the alternatives.

But the study suggests its economic impact on the area would amount to about $21.1 million and cost 471 jobs.

A second alternative also calls for phasing out snowmobiles, but delaying the plan by at least a year.

A third proposal would allow recreational snowmobiling to continue within the parks, but would limit the number allowed in each day and would require that all the machines be "clean and quiet" varieties manufacturers are developing.

The agency said that alternative still could have a big economic effect, including the potential loss of 200 jobs in West Yellowstone alone. Much of the community's winter economy is based on snowmobile business.

The final alternative suggests limiting the number of snowmobiles even further, and requiring that those entering the park be accompanied by a licensed guide.

The agency is expected to make its study public Feb. 4. A 60-day comment period would follow before the agency made its recommendation. A final decision is expected in mid-November.

Tim O'Hair, natural resources advisor to Montana Gov. Judy Martz, said setting limits on snowmobile use in Yellowstone is reasonable, but should be done gradually.

"We've got to do something about the noise and the air pollution created by the snowmobiles as they are now," he said. "But don't just jerk the rug out from under the business owners and the general public."

Some environmentalists maintain a complete phaseout of snowmobiles is still the best option.

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