Montana's Sen. Burns Trying to Make Snowmobiles a Yellowstone Fixture
Ya gotta love politics and politicians. Or not.
Take Senator Conrad Burns of Montana. The Republican, better known these days for his incredibly close ties to scandalized lobbyist Jack Abramoff, now is on the way to gaining fame for derailing science and public opinion when it comes to Yellowstone and snowmobiles. All in the name of the economy of West Yellowstone. Never mind the health of the park, its animals, visitors, even those who live and work in West Yellowstone.
It's somewhat ironic that earlier today I posted about how opponents of snowmobiles in Yellowstone and Grand Teton couldn't take comfort in the recently revised edition of the National Park Service's Management Policies. Soon after the electrons stopped colliding and formed the letters of that post, I heard about Burns' ploy.
You'd think he would know better, but then, Burns has been identified as the member of Congress who took the most from Abramoff, nearly $150,000 in contributions.
So what's Burns trying to do with the Yellowstone snowmobile issue? In a way he's trying to bullet-proof the park from a determination that snowmobiles are not in Yellowstone's best interests.
In a nutshell, Burns last week attached a provision to an Interior Department appropriations bill that, if approved, could keep Yellowstone open to snowmobiles at least through 2010.
If you've been keeping track, currently there's a temporary rule in place that allows 720 snowmobiles to enter Yellowstone each day of the winter season. At the same time, park researchers are studying whether snowmobiles "impair" Yellowstone's ecosystem. That study -- the third full-blown environmental impact statement conducted on that question since 2000 -- could wend its way to conclusion as this fall. Oh, and those two previous EISes? Both concluded that snowmobiles are not in the park's best interests, as did a 2004 Environmental Assessment.
Yet Burns seems bullish that this study will conclude that snowmobiles and the park are compatible. But, and this is where his rider comes to play, he doesn't want environmentalists to tie up such a finding with lawsuits.
The rider, which passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee last week, says that if environmentalists win such a challenge, the 720-snowmobiles-per-day limit would remain intact for up to three years, according to a story carried by Greenwire.
Burns told the environmental news service that his language protects "the winter-use season from frivolous lawsuits and liberal judges." He added that his provision "brings some certainty to business and tourists in West Yellowstone. We know the winter business is just as important as the summer business."
What we need is legislation that protects the parks and science from meddling politicians.
You'd think Burns would be more concerned about getting booted out of Congress for his connections to Abramoff and all those thousands of dollars that wound up in his campaign chest.
You'd think he would have taken a look at the three previous environmental studies -- the two EISes and the EA -- and realized that snowmobiles are not good for Yellowstone.
You'd think being a U.S. senator from Montana with an interest in what goes on in Yellowstone that he'd be aware that during scoping for the latest EIS more than 90 percent of the 33,000 comments the Park Service received on the question of snowmobiling in the park supported a complete ban.
And, you'd think he'd realize that Yellowstone, its wildlife, visitors and employees, could be better protected by the snowcoach movement that is drawing more and more visitors to the park.
Over at the National Parks Conservation Association, Blake Selzer, the organization's legislative director, says Burns should butt out of the snowmobile study.
"This appears to be an example of political interference in our parks," says Selzer. "One senator is interfering with a public process already under way at Yellowstone."
If you'd like to let Burns know where you stand on this issue, you can reach him via this link.