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Federal judge strikes down snowmobile ban in Yellowstone Park

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A federal judge has struck down the Clinton-era ban on snowmobiles in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, calling it a "prejudged, political" move.

The decision could clear the way for new rules that likely will allow the machines.

U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer ruled that the Clinton ban was invalid because it did not have adequate public participation and failed to follow federal law.

"The 2001 Snowcoach Rule was the product of a prejudged, political decision to ban snowmobiles from all the national parks," Brimmer wrote in an opinion released Friday.

A new rule governing snowmobile use in the parks is expected from the National Park Service next month in time for the coming winter season.

Cheryl Matthews, a spokeswoman at Yellowstone, said park officials are concentrating on drafting those temporary rules — to be in place up to the next three winters to help provide a measure of certainty to local businesses and visitors. The Park Service has proposed allowing up to 720 guided snowmobiles a day into Yellowstone.

She said it was not clear whether there would be additional legal action following Brimmer's ruling, but added, "The parks will be open."

"I'm incredibly pleased that Judge Brimmer recognized the fundamentally unfair nature of the ban and ensured that citizens will get to see their national park," Gov. Dave Freudenthal said Friday.

Snowmobile manufacturers, winter resorts and the states of Wyoming and Montana argued for the ban to be struck down, saying it would provide certainty for businesses that rely on winter use of the parks and prevent a federal judge in Washington, D.C., from resurrecting the ban a second time.

The Clinton rules went into effect in 2001. The Clinton rules were set aside under a settlement agreement negotiated, by the new Bush administration and new rules were drafted allowing limited numbers of snow machines into the parks.

However, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan in Washington overturned the Bush regulations last year and reimposed the Clinton rule. Sullivan's decision resulted in a severe cutback of snowmobiles in the parks for the 2003-2004 winter season.

Brimmer, acting on a separate lawsuit filed in Wyoming, issued an injunction in February, temporarily halting the Park Service from implementing the Clinton plan. He instead ordered the Park Service to write temporary rules for the remainder of last winter's season.

"Now both the 2001 Clinton snowmobile ban and the 2003 Bush administration plan have been struck down by federal courts," Wyoming Attorney General Pat Crank said. "I hope that the upcoming rule will be consistent with federal law and provide some certainty for the folks in and around Yellowstone that rely on winter tourism in the park to support their businesses."

The Park Service now is planning new regulations to cover the next three winters.

Freudenthal expressed concern that the new winter season was approaching and "neither the potential winter visitors nor the people who make part of their living helping those visitors have any certainty about what rules will govern winter use in Yellowstone."

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