BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) -- Hoping to protect wildlife and the natural sights and sounds of Yellowstone and Grand Teton, the National Park Service has decided to phase out the use of snowmobiles in both parks.
The ban, which had been expected, drew harsh words from congressional leaders and business owners in Montana and Wyoming concerned about the economical impact. Conservation groups praised it.
"Whether or not you are a snowmobile user, it is not overstating things to say that the recreational and use rights of everyone to access public lands are at stake when a federal agency makes no real effort to accommodate them," said Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo.
Recreational use of snowmobiles is already limited at nearly all national parks, recreational areas and monuments. Teton and Yellowstone, the nation's first park, had been exempt until now.
Snowmobile use will be phased out beginning next year and will be banned by the winter of 2003, when the only motorized recreational access to the parks will be by snowcoach, Park Service regional director Karen Wade said Wednesday. The coaches usually carry eight to 10 passengers.
"Our obligation in managing winter use in these parks is to ensure that public activities we allow conserve park resources and values for future generations," she said. "Unfortunately, snowmobiles have been shown to harm wildlife, air quality and the natural quiet of these parks."
Researchers from the Park Service issued a report last year that said snowmobiles produce nearly all the air pollution in Yellowstone. Snowmobiles emit 100 times as much carbon monoxide and 300 times as much hydrocarbons as do automobiles, according to the report.
"This is a viable option, both economically and as a way to see the park," Yellowstone spokeswoman Marsha Karle said.
More than 62,500 snowmobiles entered Yellowstone from last December to March, Karle said. Banning snowmobiles is expected to cost the region $16.5 million and about 400 jobs.
"Not to say we won't be able to see a way to make it work over time," said Fred Rice, the operations manager in West Yellowstone. "But, unfortunately, the mandated time frame ... doesn't give us the flexibility we need to try to make up those lost revenues."
GOP Sen. Conrad Burns of Montana said the Park Service "has chosen to ignore common sense, avoid public input and adopt a radical policy shift."
On the Net:
NPS announcement: http://126.96.36.199/release/Detail.cfm?ID96
Bluewater Network, supporter of ban: http://www.earthisland.org/bw/
BlueRibbon Coalition, opponent of ban: http://sharetrails.org/
National Parks Conservation Association: http://npca.org/flash.html
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