Published on Thursday, December 5, 2002 by the San Francisco Chronicle
It's the Environment, Stupid
by Ruth Rosen
SOMEDAY, PEOPLE will look back at President Bush's environmental record and shake their heads in disbelief. This administration has waged a relentless war against environmental protections supported by the vast majority of Americans.
Maybe folks don't worry all that much about shrinking glaciers. And perhaps we can't follow debates about arcane EPA regulations. But in every poll, Americans reveal how strongly we desire clean air and water, oppose oil drilling and treasure pristine wilderness. If Democrats want to stand for something and attract all kinds of voters, they should make the defense of the environment one of their guiding principles.
They might start with our national parks. Despite a deluge of protest from the public, the Interior Department has decided to permit snowmobiles in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. (But it banned off-road vehicles in Florida's national parks, where brother Jeb Bush, next in the dynastic line, governs.)
The Clinton presidency left quite a different legacy, which, on a recent visit to the Southwest, I had a chance to observe up close.
The first thing I noticed in Zion National Park -- aside from the soaring walls of magenta sandstone -- is how well the National Park Service has reduced congestion and pollution. As recently as 1999, long lines of cars choked the tiny town of Springdale, Utah, right outside the park. Inside Zion, cars used to squeeze through the narrow canyon, spewing a haze of pollution into the air and filling the cathedral-like walls with sounds of idling motors and impatient honking.
No more. Gone are the cars -- their noise, pollution and traffic jams. In their place are clean, free shuttle buses that stop every few minutes in Springdale and bring you to the visitors' center. From there, propane-fueled shuttle buses carry you through the canyon, dropping off enthusiastic sightseers and picking up exhausted hikers.
In Bryce Canyon National Park, I discovered yet another oasis of sanity. Instead of driving your own car, you take shuttle buses to any of the vista points that look down on the park's famous cylindrical spires, carved from the rock by erosion and tinted with colors too subtle to name.
The park service has even tamed the congestion and pollution that has ruined many a visit to the Grand Canyon. Today, the best way to visit the canyon's South Rim is to arrive, park your car, and then just hop on one of the frequent shuttles that circle the village and carry visitors to the lodges, restaurants and laundries.
The park service has mercifully banished cars along the South Rim road as well. If you want to enjoy the great chasm's scenic grandeur or hike the trails that meander below the South Rim, you simply take one of the frequent buses that stop at each vista point and trailhead.
On one hike through a dense forest, I sat on a rock and could actually hear the distant roar of the rapids of the Colorado River. In splendid silence, I gazed at migrating hawks and watched the changing play of light and shadows as the sun moved across the endless sky.
I've only visited a handful of the national parks, but these recent changes, begun during the Clinton years, reveal how well the National Park Service has learned to balance the preservation of our nation's natural wonders with public access.
Democrats should wake up and realize that the public's desire for environmental protections transcends ideological and political allegiances.
Snowmobiles in the Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks? Future generations will be flabbergasted. I already am.
©2002 San Francisco Chronicle