As surely as winter follows autumn, Yellowstone National Park’s annual rite of tussling over snowmobile use has arrived just on time. After issuing a proposed 2-year winter use plan in September, and opening its arms to receive a round of public comments that likely mimic those received during the previous three attempts to settle this issue, the Park Service issued its interim rule on Friday, and on Monday, the State of Wyoming challenged it in federal court. With the winter season due to open in December, the now-unsettled situation is a familiar one. Improving the situation over previous years, however, Wyoming says it will not ask for an injunction to stop implementation of the new rule on the eve of the winter season, since outfitters are basically prepared for the lower numbers already.
This time, the number under dispute is 318. That’s how many snowmobiles the new interim rule calls for; the last full NPS EIS recommended the same in 2008, though the Bush administration intervened and proposed instead that 540 be allowed. That, of course, spurred environmental groups to challenge the rule, which was overturned by a DC federal court. The NPS is headed back to the drawing board, and is planning a 2-year EIS process to try to resolve the issue, with the current proposed interim rule to be in place for the next two winters. Wyoming has called for NPS to revert instead to a 2004 winter use rule that allowed 720 machines per day; this rule began a tradition of spurring dueling rulings from federal courts in DC and Wyoming—the DC court saying that the number is too high to fit with NPS science findings, and WY court saying that the limits are too low—which the 2008 EIS was trying to resolve. Yikes!
Rather than try to recount the whole sordid mess up to now, if you’re a glutton for punishment I invite you to peruse the AEIews archives or Special Report on the issue. For local news coverage of this round in the mother of all snowball fights, see this article in the Jackson Hole Daily, and this commentary by a local environmental group urging snowmobile advocates to turn their sights toward National Forest lands around Yellowstone where, in fact, winter snowmobile enthusiasts spend the vast majority of their motor-sled time. This AP article provides a concise history, up to this September when Federal Judge Clarence Brimmer decided that he had no standing to intervene to derail the new interim rule and impose the 2004 limit of 720 snowmobiles (in a legal thread separate from this week’s challenge, Wyoming has asked the regional Federal Appeals court to allow or urge Brimmer to address this claim UPDATE 11/24: The Appeals Court denied the appeal, agreeing with Brimmer that the original issue is moot now that NPS has issued its temporary plan). In the meantime, let’s all pray for snow and some modicum of sanity to quiet this decade-long dispute in the next couple of years!