Federal Court Strikes Down Bush Administration Yellowstone Snowmobile Plan

Clinton-era rule phasing out polluting, noisy machines reinstated


Abigail Dillen, Earthjustice 406-586-9699

Late on Tuesday December 16, 2003, a federal district court in Washington DC struck down a plan by the Bush administration to allow nearly 1,000 snowmobiles to enter Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks each day. The ruling reinstates a Clinton era plan to phase out snowmobile use in Yellowstone and Grand Teton. Federal laws and regulations require the Park Service to preserve Yellowstone’s spectacular natural resources “for the enjoyment of future generations.” The ruling will begin the phasing out of private snowmobiles as outlined in the Clinton plan in favor of multi-passenger snowcoaches.

In the ruling, Judge Emmet Sullivan said the Clinton administration’s long-studied decision to phase out snowmobile pollution and noise in the nation’s first national park had been reversed for political reasons.

Judge Sullivan states:

“In 2001, the rulemaking process culminated in a finding that snowmobiling so adversely impacted the wildlife and resources of the Parks that all snowmobile use must be halted. A scant three years later, the rulemaking process culminated in the conclusion that nearly one thousand snowmobiles will be allowed to enter the park each day.

“…there is evidence in the Record that there isn’t an explanation for this change [from no snowmobiles to 1000/day], and that the SEIS was completely politically driven …”

“… NPS is bound by a conservation mandate, and that mandate trumps all other considerations.”

Park Rangers in Gas Masks

Snowmobile use in Yellowstone creates air pollution, haze at Old Faithful, engine noise, health problems for employees and visitors (last year park rangers resorted to wearing wear respirators just to welcome visitors at the Park’s entrance), and chronic harassment of wildlife that struggle to survive harsh winter conditions in the park. The National Park Service, based on six years of study, concluded repeatedly that phasing out snowmobiles in favor of quieter, less polluting snowcoaches that carry more people represents best balance between preservation and use of the parks. Conservation groups filed a lawsuit in March of 2003 challenging the Bush plan. Yellowstone’s snowmobiling season is set to open Wednesday, December 17.

Abigail Dillen an attorney for Earthjustice who argued the case said, “The opinion recognizes that conservation of Yellowstone’s clean air, natural quiet and wildlife must come first, yet over the past three years the Bush administration has been intent on accommodating the interests of snowmobile industry instead. That’s illegal – and that’s what the Court found.”

Earthjustice litigated the legal challenge to the Bush snowmobile plan on behalf of the following conservation groups: Greater Yellowstone Coalition, National Parks Conservation Association, The Wilderness Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Winter Wildlands Alliance, and Sierra Club.

Listen to an interview with Earthjustice attorney Abigail Dillen that aired on NPR’s “Morning Edition”.

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