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Heed the Parks' Protectors

June 07, 2003

Five former directors of the National Park Service and two past superintendents of Yellowstone National Park have mounted an extraordinary protest of the Bush administration's pending decision to allow snowmobile riding to continue in Yellowstone and neighboring Grand Teton National Park.

They wrote Secretary of the Interior Gale A. Norton, urging her to reinstate a ban imposed by the Clinton administration. "To do otherwise would be a radical departure from the Interior Department's stewardship mission," the group said.

Their cry needs to be heeded. The former chiefs and one former deputy director represent Republican and Democratic administrations going back to Lyndon B. Johnson. "If ever there has been a statement of concern issued by so many retired leaders of the National Park Service, I cannot recall it," said Denis P. Galvin, deputy director under three presidents.

The betting is that Norton and President Bush will ignore this letter, just as they have ignored the overwhelming public support for the ban, as well as its backing by Park Service experts. Instead, the administration yielded to pleas by a few in the snowmobile industry and tourist businesses that profit from snowmobile traffic, mostly in West Yellowstone, Mont., and Jackson, Wyo.

The former park chiefs said the decision was "a choice between upholding the founding principle of our national parks ... or catering to a special interest" in a way that would damage the park environment and threaten public health because of the exhaust fumes. They rightly said it marked a defining moment for America's parks.

As the nation's first national park, created in 1872, Yellowstone "is an irreplaceable national treasure, a symbol of our country" that should not be marred by the snarling machines, the former park directors said.

These men know the parks like no one else. They know what's needed to preserve their natural wonders for the appreciation of generations of Americans to come. They know that snowmobiles don't belong in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. Millions of Americans know that too. They need to come together to persuade just two people of that: Norton and Bush.

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