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Snowmobile Ban Ambush

February 11, 2003

The administration keeps stumbling over its own snowshoes as it tries to convince the public that it's good to let snarling machines turn the silent winter wilderness of Yellowstone National Park into a noisy, polluted playground.

Declaring that new-model snowmobiles aren't so bad, the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service overturned a gradual ban on the machines imposed by the Clinton administration. But now it turns out the Park Service itself, in conducting a new $2.4-million environmental impact study, has concluded that the ban "best preserves the unique historic, cultural and natural resources" of the park. The change was to begin this winter.

A Yellowstone planning official says the park must study environmental alternatives but doesn't have to accept them. He added that "we look at the preferred alternative to strike a balance." The preferred alternative was the one to allow snowmobiles to continue to race around Old Faithful and other natural wonders. So why do they call it an "environmental" impact study? And what are they balancing the Yellowstone environment against? Obviously, it is the snowmobile industry and a few tourist businesses adjoining Yellowstone, primarily in West Yellowstone, Mont., and Jackson, Wyo.

The ban was backed by years of study and overwhelming public support. The Bush administration overturned it in response to protests from economic interests. The excuse was that the Clinton administration failed to adequately consult with local officials and business interests, which feared that shutting out snowmobiles would hurt the local economy. But the Park Service study, made public this month after a Freedom of Information Act request, also concluded that the ban would have a "negligible-to-minor" economic effect. To their credit, Park Service experts reached this conclusion even though they knew the administration wanted them to cave in to industry interests.

The administration repeatedly has rolled back environmental protections under the guise of helping the environment. The Yellowstone snow job is too blatant and transparent to fool anyone.

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