WASHINGTON â€“ The National Park Service today banned recreational use of snowmobiles at nearly all national parks, recreational areas and monuments.
The only exceptions were parks in Alaska and the Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota, where Congress specifically allowed use of snowmobiles, and cases in which the vehicles are considered necessary to reach adjacent private lands or inholdings, the agency said.
The off-road vehicles have had "significant adverse environmental effect'' on the park system, the agency said.
The ban applies to 12 national parks from Acadia in Maine to Sequoia and Kings Canyon in California. It includes Yellowstone in Wyoming, where snowmobiling has been the focus of intense controversy.
Snowmobiling also no longer will be allowed in 17 national seashores, monuments, parkways, historic sites, recreational areas and scenic trails.
"The time has come for the National Park Service to pull in its welcome mat for recreational snowmobiling,'' Assistant Interior Secretary Donald J. Barry said. He called snowmobiles "noisy, antiquated machines that are no longer welcome in our national parks.''
"The snowmobile industry has had many years to clean up their act and they haven't,'' said Barry.
More than 180,000 snowmobiles are used in the national park system, and critics have complained that they account for significant air pollution, noise and damage to wildlife and the park environment.
The action came in response to a petition filed more than a year ago by the Blue Water Network and more than 60 other environmental and conservation groups. They contended that the National Park Service has not enforced its own regulations, dating to the 1970s, that require close monitoring of snowmobiles and other off-road vehicles in parks and a ban if they were found to harm the environment.
"The Park Service is finally waking up to the lasting harm motorized thrill-craft such as snowmobiles cause to parks,'' said Sean Smith of the San Francisco-based Bleater Network. He is a former park ranger at Yellowstone.
The Park Service acknowledged that for years it has failed to monitor snowmobile use and, in violation of its own regulations, failed to adequately monitor the impact of the popular recreational vehicles on the park environment.
For "years inattention to our own regulatory standards on snowmobiles generated the problem we have before us today,'' said Denis Galvin, the Park Service's deputy director.
Although word that the Park Service was planning to ban snowmobile use had surfaced earlier in the week, the agency provided details of the action in an announcement today.