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Restricting Snowmobile Use in Yellowstone National Park

The 2003-2004 Yellowstone-Grand Teton snowmobile season ended with the official end of winter on March 19. While the last few months have been a legal roller coaster, the net effect has been that the two parks enjoyed a substantial reduction in snowmobile visitation, benefiting wildlife, Park Service employees, and many visitors.

Briefly, to recap: The Clinton administration, after thorough study and extensive public input, decided to phase out use of the noisy, smelly machines and provide winter access to the parks on cleaner, quieter snowcoaches that can carry many passengers. The snowmobile industry challenged the phase-out decision in federal court in Wyoming, and the incoming Bush administration agreed to settle the case. In 2003, the administration came up with a new plan to allow increased snowmobiling over historic averages. Earthjustice challenged the new plan in federal court in D.C., on grounds that anticipated impacts from continued snowmobiling -- toxic levels of air pollution, haze at the landmark Old Faithful geyser, more pervasive engine noise across the parks, and ongoing wildlife harassment -- were unacceptable in a national park. On December 16, 2003, Judge Emmet Sullivan reinstated the phase-out plan, which the Park Service has identified repeatedly as the best way to provide broad public access to Yellowstone without compromising the parks' natural integrity.

In the wake of this decision, industry went back to court in Wyoming and persuaded the judge to prohibit implementation of the snowmobile phase-out ordered by the D.C. court. Under cover of the Wyoming cour';s order, the Park Service reverted to essentially the same snowmobiling plan that had been found illegal just months before. However, given the late date in the winter season, actual snowmobile visitation remained relatively low in the park. While litigation continues both in D.C. and Wyoming, Earthjustice is making every effort to ensure that the interests of Yellowstone, not the snowmobile industry, are served next winter season. We'll keep you posted.