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U.S. bans snow vehicles in parks

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WASHINGTON — The Interior Department Thursday put snowmobiles on ice in nearly all national parks, banning them as "antiquated machines" that cause too much noise and pollution.

In Utah, Zion National Park and Dinosaur and Cedar Breaks national monuments had allowed snowmobiling. Nearby Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks had long been considered meccas for snowmobilers.

"Generally, there will be no future for these antiquated polluting vehicles in our National Park System," said Donald J. Barry, assistant Interior secretary for fish, wildlife and parks.

"Like a messy, noisy house guest that has left a trail of dirty clothes and dishes, recreational snowmobiling has worn out its Park Service welcome and is not getting its invitation renewed," he said. "The snowmobile industry has had many years to clean up their act, and they haven't."

Snowmobilers will fight it, said Glen Zumwalt, former president of the Utah Snowmobile Association.

"It's based on emotion and pressures from national organizations, and the (Park Service) bypassed the public process," Zumwalt said. "Banning snowmobiling in areas that has been traditional the last 30 years and telling the public they no longer can go on public lands is not legitimate."

The action comes after a petition seeking it last year by the Bluewater Network and 60 other environmental groups — and lawsuits over snowmobiling in Yellowstone and Grand Teton. They contended the Park Service was not enforcing its own environmental rules and not monitoring snowmobile effects.

In response, the Park Service sent a questionnaire to the 42 parks that permit snowmobiling to see if they followed existing rules allowing it only if it does not hurt soils, vegetation, wildlife and historic resources.

"In almost every instance, our administrative records were incomplete or inadequate to allow snowmobiling in parks to continue," said Park Service deputy director Denis Galvin.

The survey said that Cedar Breaks and Dinosaur had not monitored the effects of off-road snowmobile use. It said Zion allowed use only on the state-maintained Kolob Terrace Road — but also did not monitor effects.

Capitol Reef National Park reported frequent illegal snowmobiling and said it had not monitored effects.

"This past history of non-enforcement, while regrettable," Barry said, "is nonetheless understandable since . . . there has never been high-level political encouragement or support for enforcement of its snowmobile regulations — until now."

Barry said the two-stroke engines of snowmobiles allow up to one-third of the fuel entering the engine to leave the tailpipe without being burned. Also, lubricating oil is mixing in the fuel and thus expelled as part of the exhaust.

He said snowmobile engines also have poor combustion that result in emitting 36 times more carbon monoxide and 98 times more hydrocarbons per passenger mile than an automobile. Also, he said noise from snowmobiles is "bombarding the peace of mind" of park visitors.

With that, Barry said in almost every park where snowmobiling occurs, "it is not an essential or the most appropriate means of appreciating park resources in winter."

Snowmobiling will still be allowed in Alaska national parks and in Voyageurs National Park, Minn., because legislation that created them specifically protected snowmobiling there.

Barry said a few other exceptions may be allowed where snowmobile use is deemed necessary to provide access to adjacent private lands or inholdings within a park.

"There has been a growing concern within the Park Service recently regarding the appropriateness of recreational snowmobiling as a winter use in national parks," Galvin said.

"This concern has been triggered in part by the ongoing winter use planning effort currently under way for Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, which has focused on the significant environmental effects generated" by snowmobiles there, he said.


Deseret News staff writer Donna M. Kemp contributed to this report.