Wyoming Can Fight Snowmobile Rule Again | Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, November 29, 2023
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Wyoming Can Fight Snowmobile Rule Again

(CN) - The 10th Circuit will hold another hearing to determine whether Wyoming can challenge federal snowmobile regulations covering Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.

The legal battle over snowmobiles in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks goes back 15 years when environmental and recreational groups tried to limit the number of snowmobiles permitted to enter the parks.

Over the last decade, proponents of snowmobile use in the parks waged their legal war through a Wyoming federal court, while their opponents fired volleys through a Washington, D.C., federal court.

In 2008, the National Parks Service prepared an environmental assessment for snowmobile use in the parks and proposed allowing 318 snowmobiles per day in Yellowstone and 50 a day in Grand Teton. The proposal also imposed a commercial guide requirement for Yellowstone snowmobilers.

Though the parks service permanently adopted the rules for Grand Teton, it decided to promulgate temporary Yellowstone rules for the 2009-10 and 2010-11 winter seasons pending a long-term plan.

The parks service intended to have a permanent Yellowstone rule in place for the 2011-12 winter season, but it didn't meet its goal. Instead, the agency implemented a one-year rule for the 2011-12 winter season that substantially mirrored the 2009 temporary rule that had just expired.

Wyoming and Park County filed separate federal petitions seeking review of the 2009 rules, which they claim violate the National Park Service Organic Act, the Administrative Procedure Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and other statutes.

The National Parks Conversation Association intervened and moved to dismiss the case, arguing the state and county did not have standing.

Park County claimed that it had standing because the 2009 rules would diminish the sales tax it collects, thereby decreasing tax revenues to its general fund that pay for public services. It also said that its roads and land would feel the environmental impact from the displaced Yellowstone snowmobilers.

Wyoming said the rules affect its tourism industry. The daily limit on snowmobiles, commercial guide requirements and uncertainty as to future seasons reduce the number of snowmobilers to the parks and hurt profits, the state claimed.

Wyoming also argued that displaced snowmobilers would flock to the national forests, which increases maintenance work for its state-run trails program.

Finding that the state and county did not allege any increased environmental harm risk from a supposedly uninformed agency decision, a Wyoming federal judge dismissed the petitions for lack of standing.

The court also found that the allegations of losses to tourism and tax revenue were speculative and hypothetical economic interests.

In late February, the Denver-based federal appeals court mostly affirmed. The three-judge panel vacated one portion of the lower court's decision as moot, ordering dismissal on remand.

Though the substantive issues of the petition were not moot, the panel agreed that the state and county lacked standing. The court rejected claims about the entities' sovereign or proprietary interests.

Local businesses will experience adverse results from snowmobile restrictions, but Wyoming and Parks County will not notice harmful economic effects, according to the decision. And the county and state concede that they cannot bring a suit on behalf of local business owners.

Wyoming and Park County can also continue to promote tourism, and there is no evidence that the trails program will feel the weight of displaced snowmobilers.

The court withdrew this decision on April 5, however, granting a petition for rehearing. An amended version of the February decision is attached to the order.

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