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Snowmobile ban in national parks overturned

A federal judge struck down the Clinton-era ban on snowmobiles in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks Friday, clearing the way for new rules that will likely allow continued use of the machines.
Snowmobilers paused to watch passing bison near Norris Junction in Yellowstone National Park in 2002.Nati Harnik / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

A federal judge struck down a ban on snowmobiles in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks Friday, calling it a “prejudged, political” move.

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

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

The rule was “the product of a prejudged, political decision to ban snowmobiles from all the national parks,” Brimmer wrote in an opinion.

National Park Service officials are already drafting new rules for the next three winters. The tentative plans call for up to 720 guided snowmobiles a day in Yellowstone this winter and 140  a day in Grand Teton and the highway that connects the two parks.

Interior Secretary Gale Norton said Friday that she expected Brimmer’s ruling and her agency would continue working toward a “common sense solution” for snowmobile use.

“We are committed to allowing responsible winter access through cleaner operating ... machines, restricting snowmobiles to the same paved roads that are used by vehicles in the summer months,” she said in a written statement. “Visitors and wildlife will remain under the watchful eye of experienced guides.”

Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal praised the judge’s decision, saying it recognized “the fundamentally unfair nature of the ban and ensured that citizens will get to see their national park.”

The ban, which was adopted during the Clinton administration and was set to take effect last winter, was set aside in early 2003 by the park service to settle a lawsuit filed by snowmobile makers. Under the agreement, new rules were drafted to allow a limited number of snowmobiles in the parks.

Brimmer’s Washington colleague U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan later overturned the regulations and ordered the ban to begin this year. Brimmer set aside Sullivan’s decision in February.