Wyoming, Montana, and a few real people that probably cast a vote or two
by jrflorida, Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 11:33:14 AM EST
I just got back from a snowmobile tour of Yellowstone National Park. You might wonder what this has to do with politics. I'll tell you. Its about the little people, real people. Its about a few small businesses and the many people that serve them and the towns that thrive or fail because of that connection. And since I'm a bit on the wordy side I'll leave the rest below the fold.
The EPA apparently tried to stop snowmobiling in the park a few years back. I remember hearing it on the news and that Cheney had some impact on the process. But thats all I remember. The complaint was that the snowmobiles were loud and the people were crazy. Based on the guides view that was a fact. A judge decided to halt all snowmobiling but it was reversed with a three year "study" on the impact of snowmobiles. Additional rules were put in place to require 4 stroke engines instead of noisy smokey two strokes and also limit traffic to guided tours only. Tours that have been in place for at least twenty years.
Now I am all for protecting the environment. I don't support drilling in ANWR, but at the same time I believe our parks and recreational areas are here to be used and I know how out of whack some people can get when trying to fix a problem. If it means paying for a better engine then do it. If it means guided tours to make certain people obey the rules, then so be it. But allow reasonable use of the parks and don't go crazy. The problem now is that some are still trying to kill these businesses.
The problem before was that private citizens would go to a city like Madison, MT and rent a snowmobile. The renter would tell them real quick where all the buttons were and then tell them to get back on time or there is a $20 per hour late fee. So what do people do? Well they try to see as much of the park as they can in as little time as possible. They break the speed limits, they dont know or use the rules of the road (just like a car or motorcycle) and they park willy nilly and act crazy around the animals because rangers aren't standing at every corner in the road. From what I've been told by the guide on the tour, there was a problem.
The guide said things have changed significantly and for the better (though he would like to see a few more snowmobiles allowed in on guided tours). I can't see a problem with a few more snowmobiles. Im sure the current limit is arbitrary. The problem is his business is still in jeopardy. The EPA and environmentalists are still wanting to shut them down. Note this guide cares about the environment, its his livelihood, he readily recognizes that what was going on in the park was dangerous. If snowmobiles are cut from the park, the only people then able to enter the park in the winter would have to take snow coaches (buses with skids and treads). Who benefits? Well mainly a large business called Xanterra that provides all the vending for the park and also runs a large percentage of the snow coaches. The head of that business has a huge house really close to Mammoth Springs. I wonder if he has some friends in high places?
Things have changed though, as I said. It now requires 4 stroke engines (quieter and cleaner) and a guide that is allowed a max of ten snowmobiles behind him. The guide makes sure people follow the rules or he could lose his permit. Rules range from recognizing speed limits, to how to pack to prevent Ravens and Cayote from getting in your packs for food (it happened and a ranger chewed oput the guest that let it happen), to making sure the snowmobiles don't endanger animals. By the way, the animals could not care less about the snowmobilers passing them. Often times you have to stop to let the bison pass you or to slow down and slowly pass them on the far side of the road because they use the roads as an easy way to navigate the park (better than pushing through all that snow). Cayote walk within feet, fox hunt mice within feet, Elk graze at the shoreline of the river barely looking up to care about passersby.
Now I'm not going to say that snowmobiles do not affect the environment around them. If I exhale am I not going to impact my environment in some way, even if quite small? They are as loud as a snowcoach and they do move down the road at a good pace. The animals do from time to time take notice of you. But I think that the impact is minimal and is weighed against fair and reasonable use of our national parks and the great education afforded. These parks are not set aside as wilderness areas never to be touched or seen. They protect the wild life and landscape but are also meant to be enjoyed by the people of this nation. They are an educational experience that in the end benefits wildlife through better knowledge of what they have to go through to get through the winter and the fees can't hurt in keeping their park up and running. The snow coaches do not do what snowmobiles do. Snowmobiles go beyond the confines of Old Faithful. They stay on the park roads but they go deeper than any snow coach ever would simply because those that ride them want to experience more of the park. They do so because the people riding them are their for an adventure, not just a ride down the street.
In our case we travelled from Jackson Hole, WY to Madison, MT and over to Gardener, MT (Mammoth Springs) and then to Cody, Wy and back to Jackson. Its a tour that takes you to small towns that depend heavily on snowmobile tourists for their winter livelihood. In fact in Cody the only reason the hotel was open was to serve us. Madison use to claim itself to be the snowmobile capital of the world before the restrictions severely impacted them.
The danger is that the EPA and as the guide said, Democrats, will stop snowmobiles from using the parks. The guide specifically feared Dems were after his business. I am not familiar enough with the politics of it all to say yes or no to that. Mind you, this was a really good guy that seemed to have a good view of the world. It disturbed me greatly to hear his distaste for Dems. He is an avid hunter so I suspected he was a Republican. Though I question personally why that should matter being pro-gun and pro-hunting (even if I don't hunt) myself. I just hope it isn't true. I believe the real reason is to allow a big company to have a larger share of the traffic by guaranteeing snow coaches are the only way into the park. Xanterra would benefit greatly from a near monopoly on the winter business. The downsides are people no longer truly experiencing the park in the winter, hotels and restaurants closing in the winter because travelers simply wont do any long excursions in the park to require their services. Its not just about hotel owners, its about bartenders, waitresses, cooks, housekeepers, gift shop owners and receptionists. I took this trip in the winter for the snowmobiles, not to sit in a crowded bus for a day in a precanned tour.
My issue here is what I heard from the guide and what I remember from the past controversy. The guide was 31 years old and had been doing this since he was 18. His dad also serves as a guide, so its in his family blood. Despite the fact that the desire to pull snowmobiles from the park occurred in a Republican administration, he fears Democrats getting control in the White House in 2008. Real people's lives are at stake here. Folks in small towns in Wyoming and Montana that border the park. People that have already suffered from the current restrictions and people that talk to one another about their perceived enemies. A town that use to have regular snowmobile traffic now gets three or four groups a day, if that. Restrictions I feel could be eased a bit (as long as riders follow well established rules..and I dont know how to do that outside of severe financial penalty and oversight).
I would like to see and hear of Democrats getting to know these people so that instead of them fearing Democrats they learn to work with them. It would be a nice experiment to show other people that have similar needs what they could expect from a party that truly cares about working people. I'm not suggesting that it really does. I suspect now that most politicians give lip service to issues more than really caring. If politicians care about the voters in that region they will attempt to experience it first hand. I personally believe based on only a brief experience with these people that the company Xanterra is using the issue to drive them out of business. It would make sense with dealing with a Republican administration and they are happy as hell that the blame goes to Dems (then again they may deserve it). Of course Cheney is a snowmobile fan that probably pulled strings to save them with this three year trial period. So that little theory may not pan, not that I plan on investigationg it. At least thats what I remember when I saw all of this on the news a year or so back. These small business are worried that next year will be the last year they will have tours in the park. A full 80+% of their business.
If anyone is out there from Montana or Wyoming or even the national level, and you care about real people, please contact the snowmobile operators and association in Jackson Hole, WY. Watch as this issue comes to a head in the next year or so. Teach them that Democrats know how to balance the environment with free enterprise and dispell the myths. At least I hope they are myths.
Everytime someone wants to deal with global warming or stop pollution what is the first thing Bush brings up? He says it will hurt business. Well here is an example.
As I left the tour the guide said to hand out brochures and get the word out because next year might be the last year if Dems take control. I came close to telling him I was going to vote Dem anyway despite my appreciation for his cause (too many other issues at stake). But really I was thinking that it would be nice to believe the Dems were really on his side and that if only someone would reach out to him he could be converted. I hope there are reasonable people willing to listen and experience.
In closing, as a shameful plug, I will recommend Old Faithful Snowmobile Tours, http://www.snowmobilingtours.com. They have really knowledgeable guides that respect the environment, recognize that there was a problem that needed to be fixed before, and that desperately want attention in hopes of saving and improving their industry. This trip was the most amazing vacation I have ever had in my life. I saw Bison (Buffalo), Elk, Moose, Cayote, Fox, Bald Eagles, Big Horn Sheep, Raven, Wolf, Swan, some kind of robber finch or something, and a Bobcat attack a goose by jumping off a log onto his back in freezing cold weather (he failed, poor guy...a Mutal of Omaha moment that I saw first hand). I'm farily certain none of them will remember me. People in small towns, real people (have I already said this? Good) are counting on elected officials to save their livelihood. I hope their saviors are Democrats.
On a related note, did you know that this administration is trying to sell off park land? Some of it supports Elk migration. They have driven this country deeper and deeper into debt and one solution is to sell off our park lands. They claim its expensive to manage (I doubt it makes a difference if a park ranger manages 1 acre or 100...it just may not be managed all that well) You better pay attention or there won't be any park land left as the ywhittle away. At present I believe the desire to sell land off is up to public review and comment...but its not like they are going to broadcast that information to the world. Thats just one more thing some of the locals of Wyoming and Montana are upset about. Not being one, only a visitor, the best I can do is take a moment to spread the word.