Snowmachiners willing to make deal on Denali lawsuit

Posted: Sunday, April 22, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Snowmachiners are willing to drop their lawsuit over a snowmachine ban in Denali National Park and Preserve if the Bush administration is willing to deal.

The group is willing to withdraw the suit against the National Park Service for a change in the proposed ban in the wilderness portion of the park.

Snowmachiners want access to attractive riding areas near Cantwell.

''All we ever wanted is to ride snowmobiles in the southeast corner of the Alaska Range,'' said Joe Gauna, a spokesman for the Alaska State Snowmobile Association, a plaintiff in the case.

The snowmachiners' attorney, Bill Horn, also is talking with Bush officials about settling two other motorized-access lawsuits. One contests a snowmachine phase-out in Yellowstone National Park; the other objects to off-road riding restrictions in Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida.

Doug Burdin, who works with Horn at the Washington, D.C., office of the law firm of Birch, Horton, Bittner and Cherot, said the two have met with Interior and Justice department officials.

''We are discussing the possible settlements of each of those cases but have not yet come to any resolution,'' Burdin told the Anchorage Daily News.

Christine Romano, a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., would not comment.

In late 1998 the Park Service began planning to turn a long-standing informal ban on snowmachines inside the old park into a permanent rule. Though a temporary ban in February 1999 opened a small part of the old park to snowmachine riding, the final Park Service rule last June closed all of the old park.

At the heart of the issue is a key term in federal law that governs motorized access in the park. Under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, snowmachines shall be allowed in the park for ''traditional activities.''

Snowmachiners argue that recreational snowmachining is a traditional activity. Park officials and environmentalists say it is not.

Snowmachining is allowed in the remaining 4 million acres of the park and preserve.

Environmentalists say that allowing snowmachines in a wilderness area would set a damaging precedent.

''This is not just about the parks in Alaska,'' said Allen E. Smith, Alaska director of the Wilderness Society. ''This could open up all national parks to recreational snowmachining.''

Eight conservation groups intervened in the lawsuit to support the Park Service ban. Their attorney, Bob Randall with Trustees for Alaska, said none of the groups have been invited to participate in the negotiations. Park Service officials have been consulted by telephone but have not been directly involved, said John Quinley, a National Park Service spokesman in Alaska.

Chip Dennerlein, Alaska director of the National Parks and Conservation Association, said he thinks Horn will succeed in settling the case. He notes that Horn worked with Interior Secretary Gale Norton when they both worked for the Interior Department under President Reagan. Horn also served on the Bush transition team.

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