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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of March 27 - April 2, 2002

  Opinion Column

Nausea ad nauseam in Yellowstone

Commentary by DICK DORWORTH

The Bush administration and its Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton have the environmental ethics and sensibilities of a two-stroke engine.

Yellowstone is our original National Park, and it is rightfully known as the Crown Jewel of the National Park System. It provides many services to our world, including that of a somewhat safe refuge for bison, elk, wolves, grizzly bear, bald eagles, trumpeter swans and a wide variety of other creatures. Yellowstone also provides a refuge for human beings from the ills and cacophony of modern civilization. Like every National Park during tourist season(s) (like the earth itself) Yellowstone suffers from an influx of too many people for its fragile environment to handle without damage.

But Yellowstone in winter is an environmental disaster, a befouled jewel. The Bush administration, not surprisingly, completely supports this disaster and the resulting degradation of Yellowstone and the animals and birds that live there. More, the Bush administration has spent a great deal of our tax money to aid in the continuation of the ongoing destruction of the Yellowstone ecosystem and environment.

The Bush administration and its Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton have the environmental ethics and sensibilities of a two-stroke engine.

As mentioned, Yellowstone is our National Park, but in the Bush leagues it makes a certain perverted kind of sense to waste our tax money to destroy it. I refer, of course, to the $2.4 million the Bush administration recently spent on an unnecessary second study to learn that the National Park Service was justified in its intention to phase out snowmobiles from Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks by 2004, as a first study had also determined was the right thing to do. But the Bush administration, and everybody else who was aware of the first study, already knew that. The first study, five years in the making, concluded that because of the pollution they spread, the noise they generate, and the wildlife they harass, displace and sometimes drive to exhaustion and death, concluded that snowmobiles donít belong in national parks. Anyone who has been to West Yellowstone on a winter weekend during the past several years knows that. In just three months each winter some 66,000 snowmobiles enter Yellowstone. Though the numbers of automobiles in summer are far more, snowmobiles account for 68 percent of the total carbon monoxide released into the park and 90 percent of total hydrocarbon emissions.

Snowmobiles need to be banned from Yellowstone, Grand Teton and all the other National Parks. All the science, a distinguished panel of biologists who thoroughly studied the issue, common sense, the physical senses of anyone who has been to West Yellowstone in winter and all the animals in Yellowstone say so. Snowmobiles as recreational toys do not belong in the National Parks. Itís that simple.

However, the Bush administration is not impressed with science, the environment, the overwhelming support for a snowmobile ban from people who have commented on this issue at both a regional and national level, the effects of snowmobiles on winter stressed animals or the clouds of unhealthy blue air from snowmobile exhaust fumes at the park gates. The latter, a combination of dangerous to breathe levels of benzene, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and other particulates, have for years been causing nausea, headaches, sore throats, dizziness and fatigue among Yellowstone rangers working at the west entrance and patrolling the 30 mile corridor to Old Faithful geyser. To protect their health, park rangers this year began wearing gas masks on the job, a move snowmobile enthusiasts term "grandstanding."

But taking care of personal health is not grandstanding. One park ranger was quoted in Sports Illustrated as saying that before he started wearing a respirator to work, "it would be rare that I would go home without a headache or some signs of dizziness. Now I have the energy to go backpacking or cross-country skiing." If the air you breathe at work sends you home with nausea and headaches and not enough personal energy to enjoy your life, something is wrong with that environment. If that environment is Yellowstone, the nausea extends all the way to Washington D.C.

Energy, of course, is exactly the issue. Not the human energy that comes from living well, breathing good air, exercising regularly in a clean environment like, for instance, a National Park where untrammeled nature could rejuvenate a spirit and a mind could hear itself think. No, not that. The energy that is the issue is the sort that leaves clouds of benzene, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and other unpleasant and unhealthy substances floating in the air for all without respirators to breathe, and, eventually, to work their way into the water table and web of Yellowstone life. The energy is that of the oil industry and one of its satellites, The International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association, which, along with the state governments of Idaho and Wyoming, pressured the Bush administration to overturn his predecessors plan to phase snowmobiles out of national parks by 2003-04. Bush, with the help of Vice-president Dick Cheney, of course, allowed the oil industry to write the nationís energy policy behind closed doors. Even (or, perhaps, especially) in the wake of Enron, the Bush administration wonít reveal how the policy was reached or who the advisors were. Many suspect special interests. If so, itís nauseous.

The Bush administration has ordered this second environmental impact study. By law, this includes public comment. Anyone who wishes to comment or learn more can write: Winter Use Draft SEIS Comments, Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, P.O. Box 352, Moose, WY 83012.

Meanwhile, Yellowstone in winter continues to be a nauseous and nauseating environmental disaster.


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.