Federal judge overturns ban on snowmobiling in Yellowstone

February 11, 2004

The Missoulian

CHEYENNE, WYOMING - A federal district judge issued a temporary restraining order Tuesday setting aside a pending ban on snowmobiling in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.

U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer ruled that without the order, companies that rely on snowmobiling in the parks would suffer irreparable harm due to lost business.

He also ordered the National Park Service to develop temporary rules for the remainder of the 2004 season that would be fair to snowmobile owners and users, businesses and the environmental community, including use of cleaner, quieter snowmobiles.

Gov. Dave Freudenthal welcomed the news.

"The people that are suffering under the move toward banning snowmobiles are the small-business owners in and around the parks," he said in a statement. "They relied upon one rule only to find out the day before this season opened that they would be forced to operate under a much stricter rule, which has already cost the state dearly in terms of impacts on its tourism industry."

Michael Scott, executive director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, a conservation group, called the ruling "terribly unfortunate."

"Yellowstone was clearly on a path to a better future, to cleaner air, to healthier wildlife and I think this ruling potentially puts that in jeopardy. And that's a sad day for the future of Yellowstone," he said.

David McCray, a snowmobile-business operator in West Yellowstone, Mont., said his concern now is the potential confusion the ruling may cause, particularly approaching the President's Day holiday weekend.

Chronology of events in Yellowstone snowmobiling case

May 1997: Fund for Animals and other groups file suit against National Park Service for grooming snowmobile trails in Yellowstone National Park, which the group says leads bison to follow them out of the park and to eventual slaughter.

September 1997: Settlement reached in which Park Service agrees to study effects of snowmobiling in the parks as part of broader winter-use analysis.

August 1999: Park Service issues draft environmental impact statement for winter use in Yellowstone calling for plowing road from West Yellowstone to Old Faithful to allow shuttle vans and bus traffic. Snowmobiling would remain at other entrances.

October 1999: Environmental groups call for ban of snowmobiles in parks, citing pollution, noise and stress on wildlife.

March 2000: Park Service announces that ban of snowmobiles in Yellowstone is likely.

November 2000: Clinton administration opts to phase out snowmobiles from Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks by winter of 2003-04 in favor of mass transit snowcoaches.

December 2000: International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association and the Wyoming State Snowmobile Association file suit in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne contesting the plan.

January 2001: Clinton administration issues final rule on snowcoaches and implements snowmobile phase-out.

July 2001: Settlement reached giving the Park Service, now under the Bush administration, until Nov. 15, 2002, to gather more research on new snowmobile technology and implement a revised plan.

November 2002: Park Service releases plan setting daily limits on numbers of snowmobiles in parks and standards requiring cleaner, quieter machines.

December 2002: Environmental groups sue over proposed plan, asking a federal judge to reinstate the Clinton-era ban.

Dec. 11, 2003: Park Service issues final snowmobile rule, allowing limits on numbers and requiring most snowmobilers to travel on cleaner, quieter machines and in guided groups.

Dec. 16: U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan in Washington, D.C., reverses the rule and reinstates 2001 Clinton-era ban beginning in the winter of 2004-05. This winter's snowmobile numbers are drastically cut back. The case is now headed to the Washington, D.C., U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Jan. 5, 2004: U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer in Cheyenne agrees to reopen the 2000 case at the request of state officials, who challenged the validity of the ban.

Jan. 23: Attorneys present arguments in the state case before Brimmer.

Feb. 10: Brimmer grants injunction overturning 2001 ban and orders temporary rules for remainder of 2003-04 snowmobiling season.

"To once again change the rules for this year - if there's any advantage for West Yellowstone businessmen, it's going to be negligible," he said.

Bill Dart, executive director of the BlueRibbon Coalition, a Pocatello, Idaho-based recreation group, said he had not yet seen the order.

"We support the use of cleaner, quieter machines in the park, in reasonable numbers, and that sounds like a wise decision," he said.

Messages left for a spokeswoman at Yellowstone National Park Tuesday evening were not immediately returned.

Brimmer's ruling seems to conflict with a Dec. 16 order by U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan in Washington, D.C., but Brimmer said otherwise in his own order.

Sullivan reinstated a 2001 Clinton-era phase-out of snowmobiles the day before the 2003-04 season was to start. A complete ban would be imposed by next winter. The opinion disrupted plans by rangers, tourists and businesses that rely on the motorized sleds.

Sullivan's ruling allows only mass-transit snowcoaches in the parks by next winter.

Following issuance of that order, the state of Wyoming and snowmobile manufacturers asked Brimmer to revive a case filed in 2000 that challenged the Clinton administration ban.

That case led to a settlement in 2001 between the Bush administration, and the state and snowmobile groups. The settlement reduced the number of snowmobiles allowed in the parks and the Rockefeller Memorial Parkway connecting them and required cleaner-burning machines but did not ban the sleds outright.

"Effects from the 2001 Snowcoach Rule are felt by a large portion of the population, from local businesses and concessionaires, to citizens all over the country who visit the Parks throughout the winter," Brimmer wrote.

He said the matter should be left to the National Park Service, not the courts.

"A single Eastern district judge shouldn't have the unlimited power to impose the old 2001 rule on the public and the business community, any more than a single Western district judge should have the power to opt for a different rule," he said.

"Rather, these issues should be left in the care of the (Park Service), the administrative agency into whose hands the public has entrusted this matter."

The Greater Yellowstone Coalition had argued that the Wyoming court does not have jurisdiction to grant an injunction because it would directly conflict with the order of the D.C. court.

"This Court wants to make clear that the issue in this case is not the validity or the wisdom of the D.C. District Court's December 16, 2003, Judgment and Memorandum Opinion," Brimmer wrote. "The issue in this case is the validity of the 2001 Snowcoach Rule, a matter over which this Court has had jurisdiction since December 6, 2000. These two issues are separate and distinct and there are no issues of judicial comity presented by this Court deciding the validity of the 2001 Snowcoach Rule."

"Comity" is defined as the informal and voluntary recognition by courts in one jurisdiction of the decisions of another.

Brimmer said that the doctrine of judicial comity has no application unless an identical complaint is filed in two different federal courts, "which no one contends is the case here."

The Cheyenne-based judge also said the D.C. court was aware of the pending litigation in Wyoming over the validity of the 2001 snowcoach rule, "but still asserted jurisdiction over the issue of the 2003 Rule."

RELATED STORY:Environmental group fights park's snowmobile policy

Billings Gazette


Wyoming - An environmental group is asking a federal court in Washington, D.C., to determine whether the National Park Service should be held in contempt of court for allowing more snowmobiles into Yellowstone National Park.

The Fund for Animals filed the motion Thursday, one day after Yellowstone officials on advice from the U.S. Department of Justice agreed to increase the daily limit of snowmobiles from 493 to 780 for the rest of the winter season.

Park officials made the move in response to a decision by a federal judge in Wyoming on Tuesday that put on hold a plan to ban snowmobiles from Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.

Lawyers for the conservation group said the Park Service should not have increased the daily cap on snowmobiles because a federal judge in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 16 said that only 493 should be allowed, pending "further order of the court."



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