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National parks raise snowmobile usage limits

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2 national parks raise snowmobile usage limits
By Tom Kenworthy, USA TODAY
DENVER - Officials at Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks hurriedly cobbled together a plan to increase snowmobile use for the rest of the winter season after a federal judge in Wyoming blocked a ban imposed two months ago by another federal court.
Under the directive announced Wednesday, officials said they will increase by about 70% the number of machines permitted in the parks each day. That will mean 780 snowmobiles per day in Yellowstone and 140 in Grand Teton and on a nearby federal parkway.

For winter tourists and commercial snowmobile businesses, the new court order is another confusing turn in a season full of uncertainty and legal wrangling.

"It makes it better, but it's debatable how much it will increase volume because it's so late in the season," said Clyde Seely, co-owner of a lodging and snowmobile rental business in West Yellowstone, Mont.

Yellowstone, the USA's first national park, has become the center of a burgeoning winter economy in a region that draws visitors from across the nation. It is also a rallying point for environmentalists trying to limit motorized recreation on sensitive federal land.

Michael Scott, executive director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, a conservation group, called the new order "profoundly disappointing."

The decision by U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer in Wyoming bars the National Park Service from implementing a ban that was first ordered at the end of the Clinton administration.

The Bush administration had overturned the ban - and instituted a system of daily limits, guided tours and less-polluting machines - to settle a lawsuit that was brought by the snowmobile industry and the state of Wyoming.

In December, however, environmentalists who support the removal of snowmobiles persuaded federal Judge Emmitt Sullivan in Washington, D.C., to reinstate the Clinton ban.

Sullivan's decision reduced snowmobile use this year and would have phased it out completely by next year. But snowmobile manufacturers and the state of Wyoming petitioned the Wyoming court to reopen their dormant lawsuit against the Clinton plan. That led to Tuesday's order.

Environmentalists said Wednesday that they will appeal Brimmer's ruling. The Bush administration and others have already appealed Sullivan's decision.

Asked why the Park Service had decided to abide by the latest court directive instead of the earlier ruling by Sullivan, Yellowstone Superintendent Suzanne Lewis said: "I have a court order in front of me. Until such time as I receive additional direction from the Department of Justice or another court, that is the ruling I have to implement."

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