Yellowstone Snowmobile Case Back in Court

Liberty Matters News Service


The state of Wyoming and snowmobile manufacturers are back in court asking for an injunction to block a last-minute decision by a Washington D. C. judge to limit use of machines in Yellowstone National Park. December 16, 2003, the day before the snowmobile season was to start, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan ordered a phase-out of snowmobiles this winter and a complete ban by next winter. "I don't see any reason why a judge 2,000 miles from here ought to be deciding things that affect the people of Wyoming," said U. S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer. Judge Sullivan's decision tossed out the 2001 settlement between the Bush administration and the state and snowmobile groups that reduced the number of snowmobiles in the park, but did not totally ban them. Wyoming Attorney General Pat Crank said the Washington judge's decision has caused financial hardship for business people dependent upon snowmobilers and has interfered with the state's sovereignty. Crank asked Judge Brimmer to either reinstate the National Park Service plan to allow the operation of cleaner machines, an option favored by the U.S. Department of Justice, or return to unlimited access enjoyed before the Clinton-era ban.


Wyoming judge rails at counterpart in Yellowstone case

Associated Press Writer

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - A federal district judge from Wyoming railed at a counterpart in the nation's capital Friday for seizing jurisdiction in a dispute over whether snowmobiles should be banned from Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.

''I don't see any reason why a judge 2,000 miles from here ought to be deciding things that affect the people of Wyoming,'' U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer said of a ruling last month by U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan in Washington, D.C.

Sullivan ordered a phase-out of snowmobiles Dec. 16, the day before the snowmobile season was to start, beginning this winter and a complete ban by next winter. The opinion threw a wrench into plans by rangers, tourists and businesses that rely on the sleds.

Brimmer's comments came during the first day of a hearing in which he will consider a request by the state of Wyoming and snowmobile makers for an injunction blocking Sullivan's ruling, which would allow only mass transit snowcoaches in the parks by next winter.

The state has asked Brimmer to revive a case originally filed in 2000 that challenged a Clinton administration ban of snowmobiles.

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 but did not ban the machines.

In reopening the earlier case, Brimmer agreed with the state that the National Park Service took too long to develop its latest plan to allow snowmobiles. He also said that Sullivan's decision tossed out the settlement, opening the door for the case to be litigated again.

Wyoming Attorney General Pat Crank asked Brimmer to consider two options: ordering reinstatement of a National Park Service plan issued March 25 allowing the machines to continue with certain restrictions, or returning to virtually unlimited snowmobile access that existed before the Clinton-era ban.

Doug Honnold, an attorney for Earthjustice representing several environmental groups, questioned whether Brimmer could overturn Sullivan's ruling.

Brimmer interrupted: ''I have no intent of reversing Judge Sullivan's order. I may ignore it, but I might not reverse it. I don't think I can.''

When Honnold suggested the state was only venue shopping because it lost in Sullivan's court, Brimmer broke in again, saying, ''Kind of like you folks did. You did an end run to Washington.''

In asking for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction, Crank said the effect of Sullivan's ruling was causing ''catastrophic, irreparable harm'' to businesses that relied in good faith on a ruling from the Park Service allowing the machines in the parks.

The issuance of the rule came five days before Sullivan overturned it.

Crank also said Wyoming is suffering due to lost tax revenue, interference with its sovereignty and lost ability to manage fisheries at Jackson Lake because of the sled ban.

''I'm going to be frank, your honor, this winter season is probably trashed,'' he said. Crank said he is hoping a favorable ruling will help businesses recover from this year's losses and prepare for next winter.

Andrew Emrich, an attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, told Brimmer that the Park Service prefers the 2003 rule because it took into account new technology that resulted in cleaner, quieter machines. But he also said there is legal precedent for Sullivan reverting to a 2001 rule that called for the eventual ban.

Various business owners also took the stand Friday to outline their losses since Sullivan's ruling.

Bob Coe, owner of Pahaska Teepee Resort near Yellowstone's east entrance, said he had to lay off 12 employees on Christmas Eve and three more Jan. 1. His resort is now closed three days a week.

''It's been devastating,'' he said.

Revenues for Jan. 1-20 were off $49,400 from the same period in 2003, Coe said.

Selling his snowmobiles and purchasing snowcoaches would be too costly and impractical because of the danger of going over Sylvan Pass, which is more traversable by snowmobiles, he said.

Clarene Law, who operates four hotels in Jackson, said that from Dec. 20-Jan. 22, business was off $122,200 compared to last season. She said the snowmobile ruling is likely the main reason.

The hearing is expected to resume Monday.

In Washington, the state has appealed Sullivan's decision.


On the Net:

Yellowstone National Park:

Greater Yellowstone Coalition:

Snowmobile Manufacturers Association:


Chronology of events in Yellowstone snowmobiling case

By The Associated Press

Timeline of litigation and federal decisions regarding snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park and adjacent areas.

-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.

-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 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: U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer in Cheyenne agrees to reopen the 2000 case at the request of state officials, who said the Park Service took too long in developing the plan allowing snowmobiles in the parks.

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



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