The snowmobiles of Yellowstone

Observing the actions of the Bush administration over the years, you'd think the Wyoming snowmobile industry was the economic glue holding the country together. National Park Service managers have pressed relentlessly to allow as many of the noisy, polluting recreational machines into Yellowstone National Park as possible, no matter what the public wanted (public comments were overwhelmingly against it), what park preservation laws stated or what the agency's own scientific research found.

That's an old, old story for the Bush presidency, and one of many reasons we're glad to see its days waning. But the latest action on snowmobiles so disregards the courts, science and good reason, it's startling even for this administration, and that's saying a lot.

After a federal judge in Washington ruled in September that the 540 snowmobiles a day sought by the Park Service was too high a number, the agency's staff issued an environmental report agreeing that so many machines would bring about "major adverse impacts" to Yellowstone. While the staff worked on a new long-term plan, expected to take a couple of years, Yellowstone Supt. Suzanne Lewis announced that the temporary limit would be set at 318 a day.

Zero would be better for Yellowstone, where air quality routinely falls below park standards, but the compromise might have been the best possible right now. Then, last week, Lewis suddenly more than doubled the number to 720 machines a day for this winter season, which begins Dec. 15. Lewis said that a second judge's order, upholding the first decision, called for her to boost the numbers, but it is clear that the intent of the court rulings was to allow fewer snowmobiles into the park, not more.

These shenanigans deserve early reversal by the new administration. It's not that a month or so of too many snowmobiles will cause irreparable damage. It's that President Bush, who could be using his last days in office to leave a legacy or two worth recalling with pleasure, seems bent instead on wreaking as much environmental damage as possible, and making sure that what we remember most is his administration's disdain for the law, science and the public, as long as industry lobbies were satisfied.

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