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Snowmobiles cause concern in Yellowstone

Snowmobiles are common sights in Yellowstone in the winter.
Snowmobiles are common sights in Yellowstone in the winter.

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(CNN) -- Yellowstone National Park was recently named among the top 10 most endangered parks by the National Parks Conservation Association. One factor in that designation: the prevalence of snowmobiles in the park in winter.

CNN's Paula Zahn spoke with correspondent David Mattingly, in West Yellowstone, about the problem and efforts to address it.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Paula.

People who come to the park this time of year say that winter is the absolute best time to see Yellowstone, because the crowds are smaller, the wildlife seems a little more accessible, and the landscape is absolutely spectacular, covered in snow.

But this time of year is also, for obvious reasons, the most difficult time to get into the park. Many roads are closed, except for vehicles like snowmobiles. And this being a holiday weekend we will see hundreds of them zipping through here at the gates later today.

People tell us, critics of these vehicles say that they may be small, but they are doing some very big damage to the environment.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTINGLY (voice-over): On peak weekends, there are thousands of them, buzzing across the landscape, spewing out bluish clouds of smoke. At times, so much pollution, that the air in Yellowstone National Park almost violates federal standards, worse than most cities.

JON CATTON, GREATER YELLOWSTONE COALITION: We think the law needs to be upheld and Yellowstone needs to be protected, and you need to phase out snowmobiles.

MATTINGLY: The Clinton administration solution was to ban snow mobiles from Yellowstone altogether, but the ban never happened. It was immediately met with a lawsuit from manufacturers. So the Bush administration came up with a new plan, one that limits, but allows, snowmobiles and encourages cleaner-burning machines.

JOHN SACKLIN, YELLOWSTONE NATL. PARK: We see that people will be able to enjoy the park and the park resources will be protected.

MATTINGLY: The compromise pleases Jerry Johnson, mayor of West Yellowstone, a town that depends on winter tourism dollars from snowmobilers. At his rental shop, he explains how newer, cleaner models that burn ethanol instead of gas and oil, will make a big difference.

JERRY JOHNSON, WEST YELLOWSTONE MYR.: The park services asked for A 75 percent reduction in emissions. I'm not a scientist, but it'll be at least 75 percent.

MATTINGLY: But some environmentalists argue the new snowmobiles aren't clean or quiet enough. Video from the Greater Yellowstone Coalition shows bison scattering off a park road, agitated by snow mobiles.

CATTON: Even with the newer snowmobiles, there is going to be a haze of exhaust at Old Faithful, continuing respiratory problems for people with sensitive respiratory systems, and harm to Yellowstone's wildlife.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTINGLY: Critics say pound for pound, snow mobiles do pollute more than automobiles, the millions of automobiles coming through here seemingly greater than the 85,000 snow mobiles that come into Yellowstone in the winter. Paula.

ZAHN: David Mattingly, thanks so much.


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