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Published: Friday, 6/15/2007

No yield on Yellowstone

FOR some reason - pressure from the recreational industry? - the Bush Administration is again proposing to open the gates at Yellowstone National Park to a nearly three-fold increase in snowmobile use. Years of public, scientific, and environmental opposition to the idea apparently don't count.

Recently another public comment period on the administration's proposal to expand its controversial snowmobile policy ended the same way previous public hearings have concluded:

Nature-loving Americans do not want noisy, polluting snowmobiles mucking up cherished national treasures like Yellowstone.

And another study on the environmental impact of the noise and air pollution associated with snowmobile traffic will undoubtedly yield the same conclusions of prior studies on the subject. The vehicles erode the air quality in the park, adversely affecting the health of visitors, employees, and wildlife.

The noise levels, also unacceptably high, shatter the quiet splendor of the park in winter. So far the government has reportedly spent about $10 million to produce nearly 100,000 pages of documents saying the same thing over and over again.

Loud snowmobiles that emit harmful exhaust gases into the air should be banned in national parks. And yet, for some reason, like mollifying snowmobile-related businesses, the administration is prepared to ignore public and scientific opinion and act unilaterally to implement its snowmobile policies.

The hope that heralded the appointment of Dirk Kempthorne as U.S. Interior Secretary was as short-lived as his encouraging decision a year ago to scrap plans for more snowmobiles and greater commercialization in the national parks.

We should have seen it coming. Secretary Kempthorne's dramatic pledge to preserve and protect the nation's wildlife, cultural, and historical resources seemed too good to be true - and it was.

Apparently the Kempthorne philosophy reasserting the prominence of preservation and conservation has morphed into a business plan to keep tourist dollars flowing and 720 snowmobiles per day whizzing through Yellowstone.

It's another example of the administration's propensity to say one thing and do another.

But when it comes to conservation, and one of the country's most magnificent natural wonders, Americans cannot allow Yellowstone to be surrendered to lobbyists and commercial interests.

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