Press Release –
The first round of what is likely to be a busy fall of litigation regarding snowmobile access to Yellowstone this winter (2008-2009) has finished.
On September 15, 2008, District Judge Emmett Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia vacated the National Park Service’s December 13, 2007 Winter Use Rule, which provided for recreational access to Yellowstone National Park by up to 540 best available technology snowmobiles per day.
He vacated the entire Winter Use Rule, apparently including the snowcoach provisions as well as the snowmobile provisions. He did not put any substitute rule in place and remanded the rule to the National Park Service, which can consider whether to adopt a new rule.
Judge Sullivan’s ruling is only the latest in a long history of litigation surrounding the Park Service’s Winter Use Rules for Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, and the John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Memorial Parkway. A second related case, challenging the Winter Use Rule as being too restrictive of snowmobiling, is ongoing in the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming.
While the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association – ISMA, the American Council of Snowmobile Associations – ACSA, and the Blue Ribbon Coalition – BRC strongly object to Judge Sullivan’s ruling, they recognize that this ruling is not the last word on Yellowstone winter use.
Judge Sullivan’s ruling does not replace the vacated rule with any other rule for the upcoming winter season, leaving open the issue on whether and how much snowmobile access will be allowed. Oral argument in the related Wyoming litigation took place before District Judge Clarence Brimmer in Cheyenne, Wyoming on the same day Judge Sullivan issued his Order.
ISMA, ACSA, and BRC are parties to that litigation as well, and intend to ask the Court to reinstate the temporary rule that preceded the 2007 Winter Use Rule and allowed for up to 720 recreational best available technology snowmobiles per day in Yellowstone.
Judge Sullivan’s ruling may ultimately result in there being no snowmobile or snowcoach use in Yellowstone this winter, depending on the Park Service’s response, a possible appeal of Judge Sullivan’s ruling, and the Wyoming litigation.
At any rate, Judge Sullivan’s ruling represents a radical departure from established legal principles and interpretations of governing statutes. His broad-ranging and novel interpretations of the National Park Service Organic Act and the Yellowstone National Park Act prohibit the Park Service from approving nearly any visitor activity causing impacts to Natural Park resources.
This has the potential to bar a broad range of visitor activities in National Parks year round, including car, truck, RV, motorcycle, and other motorized vehicle access during the Spring, Summer, and Fall months. It also has the potential to do so throughout the Park System, not just in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.
Finally, Judge Sullivan’s ruling ignores the long history of broad discretion for the Park Service to balance conservation with visitor use and enjoyment in its management of the Park System. By second-guessing the Park Service’s methodology for evaluating the impacts of the rule, it also departs from the well-established legal principles requiring courts to defer to governmental agencies’ scientific and technical judgments.
ISMA, ACSA, and BRC are dedicated to preserving snowmobilers’ access to federal lands, including units of the National Park System. ISMA, ACSA, and BRC will continue to pursue recreational snowmobile access to Yellowstone National Park.