Yellowstone Snowmobile Ruling Returns To Court

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By Mark Wilcox
Wyoming Business Report


Denver - Yellowstone snowmobiling is tracking its way back to court-again. After striking down the rights of the state of Wyoming and counties on lack of standing to challenge federal snowmobile regulations in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, a Denver-based federal appeals court last week withdrew its decision and will rehear the case.

The court's original decision came through on Feb. 29, declaring that while Wyoming and Park County do lose sales tax revenue based on the federal snowmobile limitations, "the alleged injuries were not only generalized grievances, but also speculative and hypothetical economic interests not sufficient to demonstrate an injury to concrete interest."

The appellants-Park County, the state and the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association Inc.-requested the rehearing by petition, stating they have a right to influence rules because the federal ruling affected local economics. 

This marks the latest phase of a court battle which dates to the Clinton administration. The controversy about how to manage snowmobile access to the national parks has volleyed between state courts, federal courts and appeals courts. Opponents say snowmobile access harms wildlife, infrastructure and air quality in the parks. Proponents disagree, declaring a negligible impact in such categories while offering tourism and tax revenues a boost. 

As it stands currently, Yellowstone allowed a temporary snowmobile access rule for the 2011-2012 season to eclipse in March, which allowed 318 professionally guided, pollution-controlled snowmobiles into Yellowstone daily. The rule was substantially a mirror image of a 2009 temporary rule that had just expired. Yellowstone plans to have a permanent rule in place by the next season.

Wyoming and Park County filed separate federal petitions seeking review of the 2009 rules, which they claim violate several acts and statutes. Park County claimed that it had standing because the 2009 rules would harm sales tax collections, thereby decreasing tax revenues to its general fund that pay for public services. 

The state said the daily limit on snowmobiling, the commercial guide requirements and the future season uncertainty bred by the temporary rules negatively affect winter tourism. Additionally, Wyoming argued that snowmobilers unable to go to Yellowstone would instead lay tracks through national forests, which ups maintenance costs for state-run trails programs.

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