Yellowstone's buzz: The new Congress should cut snowmobile use

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As with a short-sheeted bed, or a tack placed on a colleague's chair, the Bush administration, facing a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress, likes to leave little reminders to environmentalists that the reins of executive power are still in Republican hands.

The National Park Service, charged with preservation of America's most important scenic and historical sites, has released a draft plan that would allow up to 720 snowmobiles a day in Yellowstone National Park, an increase of almost three times the number that have been allowed to enter the park during the last three winters.

The park service is now working on its fourth scientific analysis of the effect of snowmobiles in Yellowstone Park, the nation's oldest, which teems with wildlife for which the sounds of mechanized equipment must serve at least as a major annoyance. More than $8 million has been spent on the three previous studies, which concluded that snowmobiles emit harmful exhaust gases into the air and produce unacceptably high noise levels.

For good measure the plan would allow 140 snowmobiles a day to enter Grand Teton National Park and the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Parkway, which connects the two parks, both among the crown jewels of the park system.

Air quality has improved in the Yellowstone region, mainly because actual snowmobiling has averaged about one-third the number allowed. Moreover, many winter visitors to the parks have been riding in snow coaches, special vans equipped with treads.

The snowmobiles have contributed greatly to noise pollution in what should be an area dedicated, in the winter season, to use by visitors seeking to experience the solitude of the off-season.

The National Park Service may have a bit of trouble realizing that control of Congress changed on Election Day, 2006. Lawmakers should make it one of their early items of business to insist that less snowmobiling, not more, should be the governmental ethic for protecting Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks.

The park service appears to be trying to appease the snowmobilers and the industry, but the parks are surrounded by hundreds of thousands of square miles of terrain, some privately owned, some publicly owned, over which the snowmobilers can practice their sport.


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