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Snowmobilers and all-terrain vehicle enthusiasts will have a tougher time getting permission to ride in national parks under a new government plan announced recently.
According to an Associated Press report, the plan stresses that conserving natural and historic places will be the parks’ predominant job. A draft of the new policy announced by Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne reverses a controversial proposal that would have shifted the parks’ priorities toward recreation and put less emphasis on preservation.
Conservation “is the heart of these policies and the lifeblood of our nation’s commitment to care for these special places and provide for their enjoyment,” Kempthorne said.
The new parks policy will become final in a few weeks, officials said. It is one of Kempthorne’s first moves after resigning as Idaho’s governor to take over the Interior Department less than a month ago.
Critics, including some members of Congress, had chided former Interior Secretary Gale Norton and the Park Service for proposing wide-ranging changes they said would benefit recreation and commercial interests at a cost to conservation.
The 2005 plan by Assistant Deputy Interior Secretary Paul Hoffman would have placed more emphasis on recreation and expanded the use of snowmobiles and ATVs on federal land. It proposed that in order for activities to be prohibited in parks, they must be something that “irreversibly” harms the parks instead of only harming them.
Park advocates and wildlife and environmental groups said the new guidelines revert to policies in place since 2001 that explicitly say the Park Service’s top mandates are conservation and preventing harm to natural resources.
“They have turned back a blatant attempt to undermine the national park values,” said Rob Arnberger of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees.
The new draft emphasizes that when deciding whether to allow cell towers, ATVs, jet skis or other motorized vehicles, a park supervisor must consider whether any new use would damage not only the air, water, land and wildlife but also “the atmosphere of peace and tranquility and natural soundscapes” in parks. It specifies that lands eligible for wilderness designation should be free from snowmobiles, ATVs and other motorized vehicles.