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SNOWMOBILE – Yellowstone Plan Approved, then Challenged in Two Lawsuits

December 20, 2004
Filed under Features

On Nov. 5, the National Park Service (NPS) announced a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the Temporary Winter Use Plans Environment Assessment for Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and the John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Memorial Parkway. The FONSI states that park resources are protected and allows the use of snowmobiles and snowcoaches in the parks on roads that automobiles use in the summer. This plan will be in effect through the winter of 2006-2007.
Well, on Nov. 12, two more legal challenges were filed against the National Park Service’s plan.
In one instance, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and others are asking a federal judge in Washington, D.C., to order the NPS to do the monitoring and “adaptive management” necessary to protect the park and its resources.
In another suit, filed Nov. 10, the Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association claims the federal government failed to provide a “reasoned explanation” for its decision requiring guided trips in Yellowstone and limiting the number of snowmobiles.
Beginning this winter, the rules allow 720 snowmobiles to enter Yellowstone daily, all led by commercial guides. This is substantially below the historic peak day use levels in the park and is lower than the level of access allowed during the last half of the 2003-2004 winter seasons. Commercial guides will not be required for the 140 snowmobiles per day allowed in Grand Teton National Park.
Abigail Dillen, an attorney for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, told the Associated Press that coalition groups aren’t seeking to have recently announced plans scratched, “But we want to make sure we’re not living with a park that’s too noisy and polluted for the next three years,” she said. “If we do see snowmobiles impairing the park this winter, we want the Park Service to put in place more protective measures next season.”
In its suit, The Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association contends that the government failed to look closely at the environmental impacts of letting people ride snowmobiles in the park without a commercial guide. The group asks that current rules remain in place while the Park Service deals with “legal deficiencies” in the temporary plan.
Under the plan to run through to 2007, all recreational snowmobiles entering Yellowstone National Park will be required to be four-stroke machines that meet the cleaner, quieter NPS “Best Available Technology” (BAT) standards. BAT snowmobiles will be required in Grand Teton National Park, with the exception of a short segment of the Continental Divide Snowmobile Trail (between Moran Junction and the east park boundary) and those originating in the Targhee National Forest and traveling on the Grassy Lake Road as far as Flagg Ranch.
The FONSI is available online at http://www.nps.gov/yell/planvisit/winteruse/winteruse-ea.htm.

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