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Admiring his view

A federal judge's decision to curb snowmobiles in Yellowstone can be seen as a thing of beauty.

September 18, 2008

The original "Organic Act," signed in 1916, imbued the newly created National Park Service with a farsighted mission: "... to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."

A federal judge rightly invoked the goal of that law this week when he https://ecf.dcd.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/show_public_doc?2007cv2112-71 the Bush administration's plan to allow up to 540 polluting snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park each winter day. The determined push to loose more snowmobiles on the park, which has involved millions of dollars worth of studies that generally found it was a bad idea, has been around practically since the moment President Bush took office.

Studies found that even the new generations of quieter, less-polluting snowmobiles are still unacceptably noisy and dirty. One reported that when snowmobile use in Yellowstone declined during a two-year period because of bad weather, the park's air quality improved markedly.

Yet Yellowstone is still too polluted to meet national park standards, which should have park service administrators scrambling to enact clean-air measures, not inviting more snowmobiles into the park.

Unlike national forests and property controlled by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which were always intended for mixed use, the mission of the national parks demands conservation over commerce and recreation except when necessary. So it was reassuring to note the reason given by U.S. Judge Emmet G. Sullivan for rejecting the snowmobile plan: "In contravention of the Organic Act, the plan clearly elevates use over conservation of park resources."

Not that the ruling ends the stubborn run of a bad idea. The snowmobile industry has vowed to appeal, and a separate lawsuit by the state of Wyoming and one of its counties seeks to raise the number of snowmobiles to more than 700. It's understandable that businesses and state and local governments view the park in terms of its economic value. But Yellowstone, our oldest national park, is a treasure with a higher meaning to the country. Though Bush has refused to see this, perhaps a new administration will.

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