Yellowstone one of three parks not be affected
BOZEMAN - Citing Yellowstone National Park as an example of the harm snowmobiles can cause, the Department of Interior Thursday announced what amounts to a ban on the machines in federal parks around the country.
"The time has come for the National Park system to pull in its welcome mat for recreational snowmobiling," said Donald Barry, assistant secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks. "Snowmobiles are noisy, antiquated machines that are no longer welcome in our national parks. The snowmobile industry has had many years to clean up their act and they haven't."
Although the national controversy over allowing the machines in Yellowstone is what prompted Thursday's announcement, Yellowstone is one of three parks that will not be affected by the action. Snowmobiling in Yellowstone - which officials there have said they favor eliminating - is being addressed in a separate process with a final decision expected in November.
The other two exemptions are in Alaska and Minnesota, where there are provisions for snowmobile use.
While Interior officials haven't banned snowmobiles from the 39 other park areas - including Bighorn Canyon in Montana and Wyoming parks - they announced that they will enforce regulations in the parks. Snowmobile use is governed by regulations dating back to the late 1970s that allow off-road vehicle use only if monitoring is in place and there are no adverse effects on resources.
On Thursday, officials admitted that they have failed to enforce those regulations.
Last year, in response to calls from environmentalists to ban snowmobiles, the Park Service sent surveys on the practice to the 42 areas that allow snowmobiles to see if regulations were being followed.
"Quite frankly, we were surprised and disturbed by the results of the snowmobile survey," said Park Service Deputy Director Denis Galvin. "The surveys graphically demonstrated that years of inattention to our own regulatory standards on snowmobiles generated the problem we have before us today."
While stopping short of saying snowmobiles will be banned, officials said enforcement of existing regulations "puts the brakes on escalating snowmobile use."
"It's unfortunate that a lack of vigilance by the Park Service has allowed these natural treasures to become noisy, polluted and stressful places for people and wildlife," said Bob Ekey of the Wilderness Society. "But it's a hopeful sign that the Park Service is finally reaffirming its responsibility to uphold laws and regulations that it has failed to follow."
While environmentalists praised the decision, Montana's Republican congressmen, Wyoming Gov. Jim Geringer and an Idaho-based snowmobiling group restated their opposition - which is based partly on the economic effect towns surrounding Yellowstone will suffer if a ban is enacted.
Snowmobile proponents have conceded that the machines are loud and smelly, but contend that those problems can be fixed.
Adena Cook, spokeswoman for snowmobilers belonging to the Blue Ribbon Coalition, said: "I just am really surprised at the suddenness and the top-down arrogance that the Clinton administration has displayed."
Snowmobile bans on National Park Service lands
National park units where snowmobiles are being banned immediately, according to the National Park Service:
€ Acadia (Maine)
€ Gunnison National Park (Colorado)
€ Crater Lake (Oregon)
€ Mount Rainier (Washington)
€ North Cascades (Washington)
€ Olympic (Washington)
€ Rocky Mountain (Colorado)
€ Sequoia and Kings Canyon (California)
€ Theodore Roosevelt (North Dakota)
€ Zion (Utah)
€ Pictured Rocks (Michigan)
NATIONAL SCENIC RIVERS AND TRAILS
€ Appalachian National Scenic Trail (multistate)
€ Saint Croix National Scenic River (Wisconsin)
NATIONAL RECREATION AREAS
€ Bighorn Canyon (Montana and Wyoming)
€ Curecanti (Colorado)
€ Delaware Water Gap (New Jersey and Pennsylvania)
€ Lake Chelan (Washington)
€ Ross Lake (Washington)
NATIONAL HISTORIC SITES
€ Herbert Hoover (Iowa)
€ Perry's Victory (Ohio)
€ Blue Ridge (North Carolina and Virginia)
€ John D. Rockefeller Jr. (Wyoming)
€ Cedar Breaks (Utah)
€ Dinosaur (Colorado and Utah)
€ Grand Portage (Minnesota)
Final decisions on applying the ban to Yellowstone National Park in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming and Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming were delayed until November after completion of winter-use studies at the parks.
Joe Kolman is a reporter for the Billings Gazette.