Wyoming challenges Yellowstone snowmobile rules

AP News
Posted: Nov 20, 2009 8:31 PM

The state of Wyoming filed a federal lawsuit Friday seeking to block the National Park Service from further restricting snowmobile numbers in Yellowstone National Park.

The Park Service issued a temporary rule on Friday that would allow up to 318 snowmobiles and 78 snowcoaches per day into the park starting next month and continuing through the next winter season.

The Park Service had allowed up to 720 snowmobiles a day into the park over the past five winters but actual use has been far less.

Gov. Dave Freudenthal issued a statement on Friday saying that the Park Service's interim rule continues the federal agency's "unacceptable pattern of limiting public access to the public's lands," a common argument among snowmobile advocates.

Snowmobiles have long been a point of controversy in the park, with environmental groups arguing that the machines increase air pollution, disturb wildlife and cause too much noise.

Al Nash, spokesman for Yellowstone, said the agency imposed the plan as a way to continue to provide public access to the park while working on a new long-term plan.

"On the big picture, no matter the issue, our continuing job as stewards of Yellowstone is to find ways to protect what is special about Yellowstone, while providing visitors the chance to experience this unique place," Nash said.

Freudenthal charged that the Park Service itself has determined that Yellowstone could accommodate more snowmobiles without harm. He said snowmobile traffic into Yellowstone is a major element of winter tourism in the state.

"Wyoming deserves a compelling reason before the federal government does something to limit visitors to our state, especially in this challenging economic environment," Freudenthal said.

The state's lawsuit is assigned to U.S. District Judge Alan Johnson of Cheyenne. The state asks for the judge to reinstate the 720-snowmobile limit until the Park Service promulgates an acceptable permanent rule.

In addition to the lawsuit the state filed on Friday, Wyoming also has a request pending with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver seeking to block the new snowmobile limits.

The state has asked the appeals court to allow U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer of Cheyenne to rule on the issue of whether the lower daily snowmobile limit would violate an earlier court order that he entered. The National Parks Conservation Association has opposed the state's request.