National Park Service to issue new rules for snowmachines in Denali

Posted: Friday, June 09, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The National Park Service is once again taking steps to ban snowmachines from the core of Denali National Park.

The agency lost a battle in federal court last year to keep snowmachines out of the 2-million-acre heart of the park.

The Park Service said Thursday it is issuing new regulations that ban snowmachines in the area. The regulations will be published Monday in the federal register.

The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, passed in 1980, added 10 new parks in Alaska, expanded Denali's boundaries and allowed snowmachine use in wilderness areas of Alaska for ''traditional activities.'' But the law did not define what constitutes a traditional activity.

In a decision issued last November, U.S. District Judge John Sedwick said the Park Service did not clearly define what constitutes ''traditional'' use of the park when it issued an emergency ban on snowmachine use within the original park boundaries.

Under the new regulations, the Park Service says recreational snowmachine use does not constitute a traditional activity in the area that was once known as Mount McKinley Park.

The ban does not apply to the 4 million acres added to Denali in 1980 nor to other federal parks in Alaska.

Park officials studied the Congressional Record for a clearer idea of what Congress intended when it drafted ANILCA, John Quinley, spokesman for the National Park Service.

The agency's interpretation of the record was that lawmakers saw a need to protect traditional activities, such as hunting, trapping and fishing, not recreational activities.

''Traditional activities were seen as consumptive in nature and those kinds of activities didn't occur in what was then Mount McKinley National Park. Hunting, trapping and snowmachine use was illegal.''

Even though snowmachining has been illegal in the heart of the park, the Park Service reinforced that policy by enacting a formal, temporary ban in February 1999.

The Alaska State Snowmobile Association sued to overturn the ban and won its case in federal court. A message left for the Alaska State Snowmobile Association Thursday seeking comment on the new regulations was not immediately returned.

Park officials think this definition will stand up to a likely court challenge from snowmachine groups, Quinley said.

''If you can push away all of the legalisms and hairsplitting, you've got this international treasure that is sitting in the heart of Alaska that's been undisturbed by motorized activities forever. That's the spectacular sort of resource that we're in the business of protecting,'' he said.

The Park Service received 6,000 comments in response to its proposal to ban snowmachine use. Ninety-six percent of those comments favored the ban.

''About 40 percent of the comments came from Alaskans and the percentages are roughly the same,'' Quinley said.

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