Quieting the Roar in Yellowstone
Sunday 21 December 2003
A federal judge properly blocks a plan to expand snowmobile use in the nation's premier national park.
With postcard views of bison, elk, swans and steaming geysers around every corner, riding a snowmobile into Yellowstone National Park is an unforgettable experience. It is also a noisy and damaging intrusion on Yellowstone's land, air and wildlife.
Last week a federal judge overturned the Bush administration's plan to expand snowmobile use of Yellowstone, and reinstated a phase-out of the machines ordered by former President Clinton. The judge was right to nix the Bush plan, which allowed 1,000 snowmobiles a day to buzz past wildlife in Yellowstone. Yet a complete ban on the machines seems unnecessary.
There is a way to balance limited snowmobile use and Yellowstone's conservation, but the Bush administration seems uninterested in making hard choices to protect national parks. Instead, the administration has sided with the snowmobile industry and Yellowstone-area businesses, and against the public, the advice of the National Park Service and compelling evidence that large numbers of snowmobiles harm Yellowstone and its wildlife.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan booted snowmobiles from Yellowstone because the Interior Department has failed to do its job, which is to conserve and protect national parks. Yellowstone is not a national forest open to multiple use. It is a national park, with a conservation mandate. It is not a place to throw open to virtually any and all comers, regardless of the effects on land, air and wildlife.
Federal agencies know that heavy snowmobile activity stresses wildlife and fouls the air. Winter air quality at Yellowstone sometimes deteriorates to the levels found in Los Angeles. Park rangers took to wearing respirators at crowded entrance gates at Yellowstone.
They know the public is opposed to heavy snowmobile use at Yellowstone. More than 90 percent of the comments the Interior Department received during the last comment period about snowmobiles expressed opposition to the machines in Yellowstone.
Snowmobiling has its place in the American outdoors. Snowmobile trails cover hundreds of miles on national forest and other public lands around Yellowstone. This newspaper opposed Clinton's effort to ban snowmobiles at nearly all parks and monuments, including Crater Lake National Park. That ban, since rejected, was an overreaction to problems that could be fixed without putting all the parks off-limits.
Yellowstone is different. It is obvious that too many snowmobiles are using the park. If the Bush administration is unwilling to craft a careful plan to severely limit snowmobile use in Yellowstone, Judge Sullivan is right to order them all out.
Tourists will not be locked out of Yellowstone during the winter. Anyone can still take snow coaches from West Yellowstone to Old Faithful, and still experience the incredible wildlife and beautiful winter scenery.
Snowmobile groups promise to appeal Judge Sullivan's decision. The Bush administration may join them. President Bush and his Interior Department still do not get their responsibility at Yellowstone. Their duty is to the park, not snowmobilers.
Jump to TO Features for Tuesday 23 December 2003