BILLINGS, Mont. -- The National Park Service will phase out snowmobiles from Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks over the next three years to protect wildlife and the parks' natural beauty, the agency ruled Wednesday.
Beginning in the winter of 2003-2004, the only motorized recreational access to the parks will be by multipassenger snowcoaches, Regional Director Karen Wade said in a statement.
''Our obligation in managing winter use in these parks is to ensure that public activities we allow conserve park resources and values for future generations,'' she wrote. ''Phasing out snowmobiles while allowing access by snowcoaches will help us fulfill our responsibilities to future generations while ... providing a reasonable level of affordable access for winter use.''
Wednesday's announcement was not unexpected. Phasing out snowmobile use was the preferred alternative the Park Service suggested earlier this year following an extensive environmental review.
Gateway communities to the park in Montana and Wyoming have argued a ban on snowmobiles will be a major blow to their local economies.
Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., said Wednesday he was disappointed with the decision, saying alternatives short of a ban were not considered.
''The National Park Service has chosen to ignore common sense, avoid public input and adopt a radical policy shift,'' he said. ''I couldn't be more disappointed.''
Conservation groups hailed the decision. Mike Clark, of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, said future generations will thank the Park Service for making what he called a law-abiding decision.
In her decision, Wade concluded that snowmobile use in Yellowstone and Grand Teton ''so adversely affects air quality, wildlife, natural soundscapes, and the enjoyment of other visitors'' that it needed to be eliminated.
Snowmobile use will continue as normal this winter, Wade said. Next winter, limits on snowmobile use would be imposed, with all use phased out by the winter of 2003-2004.
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