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Gazette Opinion

Though nothing has really changed – yet – last week’s news regarding the ban on snowmobiles in Yellowstone Park triggered emotions at both end of the spectrum – glee on the part of the tourism industry, outrage on the part of environmentalists.

The Bush administration on Friday signed an agreement with snowmobile manufacturers who had challenged the plan to ban snowmobiles from Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. The plan would reduce snowmobile use during winter 2002-2003 by 50 percent.

All snowmobiles would be banned beginning in winter 2003-2004, to be replaced by mass-transit snowcoaches managed by the National Park Service.

The agreement stays the suit filed in Wyoming District Court by the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association. The snowmobile association said an analysis of new, cleaner technologies will show that snowmobiles can operate in the parks in an environmentally acceptable manner. Therefore, the machines should not be banned, they say.

The proposed ban remains in place. That hasn’t changed.

moreinfo Timetable for study The National Park Service will publish a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) on snowmobile use by Jan. 21, 2002. It will publish in the Federal Register any proposed modifications or changes to existing regulations by March 15, 2002. A final SEIS will be issued by Oct. 15, 2002. Final regulations would be implemented by Nov. 15, 2002.

But the government agreed to further study.

“The settlement guarantees that local communities, business owners and others who have told us their voices weren’t sufficiently heard during the rushed snowmobile ban rulemaking process will have an opportunity to comment,” said Mark Pfeifle, Interior Department press secretary, in announcing the agreement. “This administration feels strongly that greater local input, new information, scientific data and economic analysis and wider public involvement can only lead to better, more informed decisions.”

For environmentalists, the agreement changes everything.

“What Yellowstone needs is relief from the damage caused by snowmobiles, not more study,” Jon Caatton of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition told the Gazette. “That’s what the Park Service has said, that’s what the EPA has echoed in the strongest terms possible, and it’s what tens of thousands of citizens have communicated to the government in a three-year public process that could not have been more thorough.”

The Park Service conducted 22 public hearings during its three-year study. Many testified that the noise and engine exhaust of more than 60,000 snowmobiles entering the park each winter is unacceptable, polluting the pristine wilderness air and disturbing wildlife.

Business leaders in gateway communities dread the thought of a complete ban. They say the region stands to lose $16 million and 400 jobs if the ban goes through.

We struggle to grow our economy and support healthy businesses. We fight to protect our environment. We agonize over these two priorities when they seem to be in conflict. Now given the order to conduct further study, we urge all parties to see if there is a middle ground, a compromise, in this contentious debate.