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Yellowstone Opens for Winter Season As Judges Duel for Jurisdiction

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The Bush administration’s 8-years of Yellowstone winter use meddling continues to the bitter end: after immediately overturning the Clinton-era phase-out of snowmobiles in the Park during the winter of 2001, it has, in its final month in office, issued a rule to maintain a 720 snowmobiles/day limit, after a year in which the Park Service proposed a long-term cap of 540, then lowered its proposal to 318 when a DC Federal Court tossed its plan as not protective enough.  I took my eye off this ball for a couple months, and it ricocheted around the country, through two Federal District Courts (just as the initial Bush rule did in the middle of this eight years of chaos) and through the businesses and bar-rooms of West Yellowstone, WY, continuing to boggle the journalistic mind to cull the madness into a readable narrative.  The bottom line for this winter appears to be a “limit” of 720 machines, which, if the past few years are any indication, is more than will want to enter the Park (thanks to rules that require all snowmobiles to be part of guided tours).  Read our best attempt at a summary below the fold, or see AEI’s Special Report: Yellowstone Winter Use for ten years of gorey details.

Yellowstone Snowmobile Season Opens with Little Snow, Amidst Return of the Dueling Judges – The winter season opened at Yellowstone this week with too little snow for snowmobile use, while Park managers once again found themselves scrambling to respond to dueling Federal Court opinions on their last proposal, released in November 2007. That “final” plan proposed a cap of 540 snowmobiles and was challenged in court by both environmental advocates (who said that number was too high) and the state of Wyoming (who said it was too low).

Bison stop traffic in Yellowstone Park, winter 2007
Photo Source: Bob Zellar, Billings Gazette

As with the previous Bush plan, both challenges succeeded, and contradicted each other. In a DC Federal Court, Judge Emmett Sullivan ruled that the 540 limit was “arbitrary and capricious” and called on the NPS to lower it; in November, the Park Service proposed an interim plan to allow 318 machines per day while they developed a long-term solution. But, before that plan was finalized, Wyoming District Court Judge Clarence Brimmer stepped into the fray, decrying (but not overturning) Sullivan’s ruling, saying that a local court should have jurisdiction, as well as that in his view the Park Service review had been sufficient and the 540-plan should not have been overturned. His ruling has been interpreted by the Park Service and Bush Administration to mandate a return to the previous interim limit of 720 snowmobiles per day while dealing with the Sullivan decision (a rule allowing 720 was announced in early December), though other observers suggest he left the Park Service with the power to set its own number. Yikes! In the real world of West Yellowstone winter tourism businesses, the expectation is that recent years’ low snowmobile numbers will continue. The actual number of snowmobiles entering the park averaged 296 per day last winter with the highest day seeing 557; see AEI’s Special Report for more on why numbers have been low for several years. “By the way the reservations are coming in, I decided against ordering more snowmobiles,” said Jerry Johnson, who’s quota of allowable rentals per day had fluctuated from 50 to 37 to 20, and then back to 50, over these tumultuous months. He estimated that reservations were running about 25 percent lower than this time last year. Sources: Billing Gazette, 12/1/08 [READ ARTICLE] Sources: Billing Gazette, 12/1/08[READ ARTICLE] Sources: Billing Gazette, 11/13/08 [READ ARTICLE] Sources: Greater Yellowstone Coalition Press Release 12/9/08 [READ ARTICLE]


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