Thursday, June 19, 2003

National parks: Snowmobiles

Lifting ban is bad policy

The Bush administration has decided to allow snowmobiles - along with their exhaust fumes, loud engines and high speeds - back into Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks.

Only a change of heart by the Interior Department of an act of Congress can reverse the decision. We hope for one or the other. There are no good reasons to let snowmobiles back onto our national treasures, and plenty of reasons not to.

The move is the result of a two-year examination of an executive order to phase out snowmobiles issued by former President Clinton. As part of settling the snowmobile industry's lawsuit challenging the order, Bush's Interior Department studied the environmental effects of snowmobiles, and asked for public input.

They got it. By a 4-to-1 margin, Americans responding to the call supported the ban. A February report from the National Park Service also providedconvincing evidence that snowmobiles have an adverse affect on the parks' wildlife and environment.

Despite this, Interior Secretary Gale Norton decided in March to lift the ban, but restrict the number of snowmobiles allowed in the parks at one time. She said improved snowmobiles pollute less than old models so an outright ban was unnecessary.

But national parks are specifically designed to protect lands from any lasting environmental harm. Snowmobiles always have been allowed in national forests, which don't have the same stringent environmental protections as national parks.

Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and Russ Holt, D-N.J., have sponsored legislation that would reflect the good science and popular support for the ban.

Congress should support their proposal. As long as the Interior Department won't, it is our only chance.

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