Conservation Groups Rally To Fight Denali Snowmobile Lawsuit
Court Suit Would Overturn Snowmobile Ban in Wilderness Core, Groups Fear
A coalition of eight local, regional, and national environmental groups intervened on the side of the National Park Service (NPS) in a lawsuit brought by the Alaska State Snowmobile Association (ASSA) and the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association (ISMA) to stop NPS regulations banning snowmobile use in the 2-million-acre wilderness core of Denali National Park.
“Federal law (ANILCA) directs the Park Service to permit the use of snowmobiles only during periods of adequate snow cover for traditional activities and for travel to and from villages and homesites,” says Chip Dennerlein, Alaska regional director of the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). “This access was designed to enable rural residents to continue traditional activities, such as hunting, fishing, and berry picking, while protecting resource values of the parks and wilderness areas. ANILCA was never meant to open parks to new motorized recreational use.”
Both federal law and public opinion support the ban. “The Park Service conducted an exhaustive public process that demonstrated overwhelming support for the agency’s final decision,” says Nicole Whittington-Evans, associate director of The Wilderness Society’s Alaska office. Of the thousands of comments received by NPS, 92 percent of Alaskans and 97 percent of total respondents supported the Park Service ban on snowmobiles in the Denali core. “The fact that those who seek to overturn the closure are represented by outside counsel and are funded by ISMA, a Canadian organization, tells you something about who is behind the push to open Denali wilderness to these noisy, polluting vehicles” says Dennerlein.
According to Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources, more than 95 percent of southcentral Alaska already is open to snowmobile use, leaving no shortage of regional places to ride snowmobiles. But landscapes where wildlife roam unfettered by machines and where families enjoy quiet winter recreation are in jeopardy. “There are places where we must say ‘no’ to snowmobiles, and surely Denali National Park wilderness is one of them,” says Cliff Eames, issues director for Alaska Center for the Environment.
Clients: Alaska Center for the Environment, Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition, Alaska Wildlife Alliance, Denali Citizens Council, National Parks Conservation Association, Natural Resources Defense Council, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, The Wilderness Society