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Oohs, Aahs and No Roars

June 07, 2004

The Bush administration's zeal for shattering the winter calm of Yellowstone National Park with whining snowmobiles seems to know no bounds. To put it simply, there is no place for snowmobiles in Yellowstone for the same reason they are banned from Yosemite -- they bring noise and air pollution to places where most visitors go to get away from all that. This does not discriminate against snowmobile enthusiasts. They have millions of acres of national forest in which to scoot about. But the National Park Service and its parent, the Department of the Interior, are so determined to appease the snowmobile lobby that they have ordered a third study of the machines' effects on Yellowstone.

The Park Service studied the subject for 10 years before deciding in 2000 to phase in a ban, a decision that had overwhelming public support. When the Bush administration took office, it set aside the ban. When challenged in court, the administration conducted another study. Guess what? Both the Park Service and the Environmental Protection Agency again found the snow machines unacceptable on the basis of noise and pollution, even the new models that have quieter, less-polluting engines.

Still, the Park Service continued to allow snowmobiles in Yellowstone. That was halted late in 2003 by a federal judge in Washington who restored the Clinton administration ban. But his ruling was nullified by a federal district judge in Cheyenne, Wyo., who said a single judge from back East had no business making such a decision. Now the administration is asking the court in Cheyenne for time to do a new study for the 2004-2005 season, the Post-Register in Idaho Falls reports. Following that, it would do even more studies for subsequent years. Meanwhile, the uncertainty is causing the snowmobile industry to suffer.

A bill in Congress by Reps. Rush D. Holt (D-N.J.) and Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) to restore the Park Service ban is gathering steam. It has more than 153 co-sponsors from both parties, including 30 from California. All other California members should add their names to the list.

But the simplest way for the administration to avoid such ridiculous contortions, not to mention the cost of two more studies by the cash-strapped Park Service, is to do the logical thing: Send the snowmobiles elsewhere. Let Yellowstone visitors take quiet snow buses into the park to ooh and aah over Old Faithful in wintertime. It's even more spectacular without the background roar of hundreds of snowmobiles.

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