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Protect a Precious Place

July 04, 2002

On the centennial of the establishment of Yellowstone National Park in 1972, President Nixon observed, "Parklands and wilderness become more precious to us with each passing year, and the forces that mitigate against them intensify."

Thirty years later, it's the government doing the mitigating. In late June, the Bush administration announced it would almost certainly roll back the ban on driving snowmobiles in Yellowstone that was scheduled to start in late 2003. Commerce and machines triumph over nature.

The decision will not be final until this fall, but National Park Service officials announced a tentative plan to permit the use of snowmobiles with newer, quieter and less-polluting engines. The details, including how many machines to allow, still have to be worked out. But forget the details. Tourists have no more business tearing through our first national park on snowmobiles than they do skateboarding down the halls of Congress with boomboxes on their shoulders.

Last Thursday, 127 members of the U.S. House rallied on the Capitol steps in favor of imposing the ban by legislation. Senators followed. Among the leaders are Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday July 26, 2002 Home Edition California Part B Page 14 Editorial Pages Desk 1 inches; 61 words Type of Material: Correction
Quote on parklands--An editorial July 4 quoted Richard M. Nixon's 1972 statement on the centennial of Yellowstone National Park. Nixon said, "Parklands and wilderness become more precious to us with each passing year, and the forces that militate against them intensify." The editorial erroneously said " ... mitigate against them .... "

Each winter, as many as 63,000 snowmobilers roar over more than 200 miles of road, mainly on the routes to Old Faithful from West Yellowstone and the south entrance. The Clinton administration approved the ban in 2000 after more than 10 years of study, which, the Environmental Protection Agency said, represented an "extremely thorough and credible body of human health, environmental and wildlife science."

The Bush administration promptly declared that the ban was based on poor science and failure to consult with local officials and businesses.

In the review the administration ordered, the public again overwhelmingly supported the ban, and so did the EPA. No matter. The outcome was rigged from the start in favor of the snowmobile folk, a few businesses and a handful of local politicians.

Someone needs to remind President Bush of the second word in "Yellowstone National Park." Americans expect their government to understand that such places are precious to people in all 50 states and to stand up to the forces that would shatter their increasingly rare serenity.

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