Since its inception in 1916, the Park Service has had two sometimes conflicting mandates for its management of the parks.
One is to conserve the scenery, wildlife, nature, and historical artifacts.
The other is to "provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."
The new policy shifts this balance away from recreation, charges Greg Mumm, executive director of the BlueRibbon Coalition. The group has advocated for snowmobile access to Yellowstone National Park, which straddles the borders of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming (Yellowstone online travel guide).
"It looks like it's reverting to the 2001, Clinton-era policy, which was not good for recreation," Mumm said.
"It's a sad day for recreation. There is a big difference between conservation and preservation. Conservation is for the public. Preservation is from the public."
It's not yet clear which parks will be most affected by the new policy, but certain changes are considered likely.
Possible New Conservation Measures
Greater restrictions on personal watercraft use (Jet Skis, WaveRunners, Sea-Doos, et cetera)
Stronger limits on beach driving
Closing of some remote four-wheel drive routes
In deciding how to regulate these and other activities, the new guidelines pointedly require park supervisors to preserve "the atmosphere of peace and tranquility and natural soundscapes."
In other words, said the Wilderness Society's Brengel, "If you're going to allow a certain activity in a national park, you're going to have to prove that the activity isn't just going to [not] damage resources, but not disrupt the visitor atmosphere."
The proposed policy guidelines aren't final, so environmentalists aren't yet certain of victory.
"There could be some tinkering," Brengel notes.
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