Despite overwhelming public opposition, and a 10-year study warning of serious noise and air pollution, President Bush is throttling up a plan that will allow significantly more snowmobiles into Yellowstone National Park.
The administration's plan, which it cunningly calls a “compromise,” would reverse the outright ban imposed by Bill Clinton for Yellowstone and adjacent Grand Teton National Park, set to begin during the winter of 2003-04.
Still to be finalized by the Interior Department, the plan would allow fewer snowmobiles each day through Yellowstone's popular west entrance, where rangers already wear respirators to ward off engine exhaust and this year are being equipped with hearing protection.
But critics point out that traffic would simply be shifted elsewhere in the park and the net effect would be a 35 percent increase in the number of the machines in use. Last winter, some 70,000 snowmobiles varoomed through Yellowstone's 2.2 million acres.
The ban had been supported by a recommendation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and 80 percent of the public who commented on the issue.
But one vote outweighed all the rest, that of the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association, which successfully lobbied the administration for unlimited use in the two parks.
The resulting plan, really no compromise at all, is a dangerous precedent.
As Steve Bosak, of the National Parks Conservation Association, put it, “If they can go in and meddle with a decision that was founded on years of scientific research and based on laws that defend our parks - and was well supported by the majority of the American public - who's to say they won't favor a special interest that will mess up another park?”
This is no idle fear. The folks who control the White House have a well-documented history of soft-peddling threats to our natural resources, including arsenic in drinking water.
Set aside by Congress in 1872, Yellowstone was this country's - and the world's - first national park. It is one of America's crown jewels, but like Yosemite National Park and others in the system, it is in danger of being loved to death.
The federal park system, some 84 million acres in all, is for the public to enjoy. While we acknowledge that this priceless property cannot be protected from every encroachment of man and machine, reasonable steps can be taken to reduce the threat.
Banning snowmobiles is one of them.