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Park Service retreats on wider motor access

The National Park Service has backed off of a proposed management policy that would have allowed wider use of snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles in national parks.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The National Park Service has backed off of a proposed new policy that would have allowed expanded use of snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles on federal land.

The service Tuesday released a draft proposal for revising its management policy, scrapping one that had been criticized by environmentalists and some of its own employees.

The previous draft, authored by Assistant Deputy Interior Secretary Paul Hoffman earlier this year, proposed softened guidelines on what activities are allowed in parks. Hoffman’s proposal placed more emphasis on recreational use and less on preservation, the groups said.

Hoffman’s draft would have expanded the use of snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles on federal land. And it proposed that in order for activities to be prohibited in parks, they must be something that “irreversibly” harms the parks instead of only harming them.

Park Service officials said the new draft would leave current snowmobile and off-road regulations in place, and the word “irreversibly” has been removed.

Environmentalists said Tuesday they were still going through the new document, which is more than 200 pages. But most said they were cautiously optimistic that the new guidelines would be closer to current regulations and not as damaging to public lands as the Hoffman draft.

“On the surface it appears that the primary mission of the National Park Service, protection, has been restored in the new draft,” said Robert Arnberger of The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees.

The Park Service will receive comments on the policy for 90 days. Agency Director Fran Mainella said the changes will clarify the agency’s policy in light of increased population pressures on parks, new technology and a desire for increased civic engagement and public involvement.

“We are trying to do things in a more businesslike way,” Mainella said.

The policy changes were drafted by both political appointees and career agency employees, Mainella said. Officials said many of the changes would give more leeway to individual park managers, clarify how the agency approaches public-private partnerships and increase public involvement in agency decisions.

Kristen Brengel of The Wilderness Society says there is still confusion in the environmental community over why Park Service policy needed to be revised at all. The new policy should be compared to current regulations and not the Hoffman proposal, she says.

Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado, a Democrat, said he would review the changes with a watchful eye.

“In light of the recent Hoffman rewrite of the National Park Service management policies, I will be carefully reviewing this new document with an eye toward the long-term preservation of the nation’s parks,” he said Tuesday.

The new policy will be reviewed by the Senate Energy Subcommittee on National Parks Nov. 1.