Snow falling on snowmobilers

• Today, watch for oncoming traffic in the backcountry

What is Secretary of the Interior Gail Norton allowing to occur at Yellowstone National Park? Letting snowmobiles run rampant? Are these people crazy? ("Snowmobile deal in the works for national parks," Times, News, Feb. 16).

It's bad enough snowmobiles have been allowed on Yellowstone roads in the wintertime to begin with, but now our government is allowing them free rein across Yellowstone, at the exact moment when the environment there is coping to get through the wintertime, when animals and plants are hibernating and unable to counter the choking exhaust and disconcerting noise pollution of machines in the backcountry.

Shall I expect snowmobiles to be making their way up the meadows of Paradise at Mount Rainier, down the valleys of the Shenandoah and tumbling across Tuolomne Meadows at Yosemite? Aren't off-road vehicles already annoying and polluting in Joshua Tree and Big Bend National Parks and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument?

With the myriad of bountiful, plentiful acreage administered by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management in the American West already open to mechanized, wintertime sports, why is it that the microscopic sliver set aside for complete protection at Yellowstone is being reduced to little more than a snowmobile lobbier's racetrack? Is this the best way to manage national parks, which were specifically set up to keep this kind of abuse from occurring?

National parks are just that: parks, reserves... areas where the course of nature is allowed to continue without interference from man. They are not intended to be anything-goes tourist destinations. What's next? Rock concerts in Kings Canyon? A new freeway across the Olympics? A golf course on Wizard Island in Crater Lake? Motorcycle races along the Garden Wall at Glacier?

Gail Norton and those at the Interior Department know mechanized backcountry travel in national parks is wholly damaging and counterproductive, and they know it is wrong for the environment. Shame on them.

Our national parks should be the envy of the world, not an asterisk-laden cautionary tale of poor management.

Tommy Hough is a former Seattle radio personality.