Feds bail on snowmobile ban

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After nearly two years of pressure from the Bush administration, on Nov. 12 the National Park Service finally abandoned its plan to ban snowmobiles from Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. Instead, beginning in the winter of 2003-04, the number of snowmobiles will be capped, and the winter after that, all snowmobiles must have four-stroke engines that run cleaner and quieter than traditional two-strokes.

"It's a cave-in to the snowmobile industry," says Jon Catton of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, the leading environmental group on the issue (HCN, 4/1/02: Move over!).

The caps imposed in the final environmental impact statement are intended to spread the traffic more evenly. About 840 snowmobiles enter the parks on an average day, but on a peak day, the total hits 1,650, with 1,200 coming through the most popular gate, in West Yellowstone, Mont. Those numbers would be capped at 1,100 total, with 550 allowed through West Yellowstone's gate per day.

If traffic does rise to the 1,100 per day cap, it will mean as much as a 30 percent increase in the number of total snowmobiles each winter. Still, snowmobile businessmen in West Yellowstone say the daily cap will hurt revenues in the short run, as traffic is limited during peak days.

Catton points to an avalanche of public comments favoring the ban. The Park Service's own studies indicate that even the new generation of snowmobiles would still cause problems such as noise pollution and stress on wildlife; spreading out the traffic means impacts will be harder to avoid.

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