WASHINGTON (AP) -- The National Park Service today issued a broad ban on recreational use of snowmobiles at nearly all of the national parks, recreational areas and monuments. The off-road vehicles have had ''significant adverse environmental effect'' on the park system, the agency said.
The only exceptions to the ban were parks in Alaska and the Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota, where Congress specifically allowed use of snowmobiles, and in cases where the vehicles are considered necessary for access to adjacent private lands or inholdings, the agency said.
The ban applies to 12 national parks from Acadia in Maine to Sequoia and Kings Canyon in California. Snowmobiling also no longer will be allowed in 15 national seashores, monuments, parkways, historic sites, recreational areas and scenic trails.
Decisions on applying the ban to Yellowstone National Park in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming and to Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming were delayed until November because of continuing snowmobile studies at the two parks.
''The time has come for the National Park Service to pull in its welcome mat for recreational snowmobiling,'' Assistant Interior Secretary Donald J. Barry said. He called snowmobiles ''noisy, antiquated machines that are no longer welcome in our national parks.''
''The snowmobile industry has had many years to clean up their act and they haven't,'' said Barry.
More than 180,000 snowmobiles are used during winter months in the national park system and critics have complained that they account for significant air pollution, noise and damage to wildlife and the park environment.
The action came in response to a petition filed more than a year ago by the Bluewater Network and more than 60 other environmental and conservation groups. They claimed the National Park Service has not enforced its own regulations, dating back to the 1970s, that required close monitoring of snowmobiles and other off-road vehicles in parks, and a ban if they were found to harm the environment.
''The Park Service is finally waking up to the lasting harm motorized thrill-craft such as snowmobiles cause to parks,'' said Sean Smith of the San Francisco-based Bleater Network. He is a former park ranger at Yellowstone.
''Snowmobile use is hurting parks and discouraging visitors. People want to enjoy the parks free from noise and pollution,'' added Kevin Collins, a spokesman for the National Parks and Conservation Association, a private park advocacy group.
The Park Service acknowledged that for years it has failed to monitor snowmobile use and, in violation of its own regulations, failed to adequately monitor the impact of the popular recreational vehicles on the park environment.
For ''years inattention to our own regulatory standards on snowmobiles generated the problem we have before us today,'' said Denis Galvin, the Park Service's deputy director.
Although word that the Park Service was planning to ban snowmobile use had surfaced earlier in the week, the agency provided details of the action in an announcement today.
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