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Outgoing superintendent fears for future of Yellowstone

MAMMOTH HOT SPRINGS, Wyo. - The departing superintendent of Yellowstone National Park says he believes the future of the nation's first national park is in serious danger.

Encroaching development, exotic species, severe funding shortages and swelling visitor numbers all threaten Yellowstone, Michael Finley told the Livingston (Mont.) Enterprise on Wednesday.

Finley said he will relay that message to Interior Secretary Gale Norton, who visits the park beginning Thursday.

"I think the public should know this park is at severe risk," said Finley, who left Friday to join the Turner Foundation in Atlanta. "Unless something occurs to mitigate that risk, we're going to have a diminished Yellowstone in the future."

Finley, 53, has been superintendent at Yellowstone since 1994, a period during which some of the most tumultuous changes occurred, including the reintroduction of wolves to the park and a snowmobile ban now being phased in.

The Bush administration announced recently that it will re-examine the snowmobile ban in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.

Finley said that is Interior Secretary Gale Norton's prerogative. But he said he believes the issue has been studied exhaustively and subjected to extensive public review.

"The way winter use was managed in my mind was not only illegal, but not in the best interests of future visitors and wildlife," he said.

Finley said he is proud of the changes that occurred during his tenure, but acknowledged that more work is needed to protect the park.

"I've tried to make decisions that will withstand the test of time," he said. "Yellowstone should be here for your grandchildren. That's the mission."

Finley said he believes little regard is being paid to the park's capacity for visitors.

"At some point, you just can't keep dumping thousands of people into the park," Finley said.

"The park's mission is not to sell more motel rooms in an adjacent community or more rubber tomahawks," he added.

Finley spent 32 years in the Park Service, starting as a seasonal firefighter in Yellowstone. He has also served as superintendent of Yosemite and Everglades national parks.

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