Judge restricts Yellowstone use
May 5, 2004
Filed under Features
Within the course of one week, the final rules for snowmobile use in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway were published and a federal judge shut down snowmobiling in the parks for next season.
Five days separated the two decisions, and the order to halt snowmobiling within the park came just hours before the snowmobile season was to start at Yellowstone.
The ruling, made by U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, said the Bush administration erred in setting aside the Clinton-era plan to eliminate snowmobiles from the parks. For the 2003/2004 season, Sullivan restricted snowmobile access to commercially guided groups only. Next season, snowmobiles will be prohibited and only snow coaches allowed in the park.
The decision sets aside the rules from the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, sets a delay rule in motion, and requires the National Park Service (NPS) to respond to a 1999 petition to ban snowmobiles in all national parks by Feb.17.
“(The ruling) is not a surprise,” said Christine Jourdain, executive director of the American Council of Snowmobile Associations (ACSA). “But it’s not as bad as we thought it would be. It buys us some time and keeps snowmobiles in the parks for now.”
Appeals are in the works, she said.
The International Snowmobile Manufacturer’s Association (ISMA)in Haslett, Mich., filed on behalf of The Snowmobile Community for a stay the morning following Sullivan’s ruling. If a stay is not granted, an appeal will be filed. The Snowmobile Community includes individuals, small business owners in the Yellowstone gateway communities, snowmobile enthusiast organizations and snowmobile manufacturers through ISMA. The State of Wyoming and the National Park Service are expected to join the appeal, according to a statement from ISMA.
“The Snowmobile Community is confident that an appeal the NPS’ 2003 Plan will be sustained and the D.C. court exceeded its discretion in blocking the plan on procedural grounds,” stated the ISMA release.
Playing By New Rules
Yellowstone will still be open to snowmobiling this winter, though the rules have changed. The rules will revert to those proposed under the Clinton-era phase-out of snowmobiles in the park.
All groups will be required to have a commercially licensed guide. Groups who had planned to self guide will not be permitted in the park on snowmobile. The NPS will give refunds for their reservations.
A total of 439 snowmobiles will be allowed in Yellowstone daily, down from the SEIS number of 905. Grand Tetons National Park will allow 50 snowmobiles daily. By the 2004/2005 season, however, it will be a snowcoach-only policy.
The judge’s third requirement for the NPS response to the petition to ban snowmobiles in all national parks, Raap said, could have severe consequences on access to places such as Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota and the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan.
BAT Is Out
A major question addressed by the judge was whether new-technology snowmobiles that burn cleaner and are quieter than previous models were considered in the Clinton-era ban.
“The prospect of improved technology is not ‘new,’” he stated in his brief. “The possibility of improved technology was explicitly considered in the 2002 Record Of Decision and just as explicitly rejected as an inadequate solution for reducing the negative impacts of snowmobiling.”
With the 439 machines allowed in the park this winter, none are now required to meet the “best available technology” requirement set forth by the NPS. This has left some West Yellowstone, Mont., business owners with thousands of dollars in BAT-approved machines.