- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 4, 2002

Four environmental groups sued the Bush administration yesterday to block changes that would allow more people to ride snowmobiles in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, asks a federal judge to block a recent Interior Department decision that would undo a Clinton administration ban on snowmobiles in the popular Western parks by next winter.
The environmental groups want the judge to keep the Clinton rule in place. That would mean snowmobile use would be sharply limited this winter and banned outright next year.
Under a proposal released last month, the Interior Department would not limit snowmobiles this winter. Starting next winter, however, it would allow no more than 1,100 snowmobiles a day in the parks and a portion of the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway connecting them.
Environmental groups argue that snowmobiles pollute the park, create unacceptable noise and endanger the health of Yellowstone workers stationed at park entrances.
"These problems have been so severe that Yellowstone now supplies fresh oxygen to employees working near snowmobiles, and this winter these workers will be fitted with special devices to protect against hearing loss," the lawsuit noted.
Snowmobiles also harass and hurt wildlife, according to the lawsuit. More than 200 bison, for example, were killed last year after they followed snowmobile trails out of the park.
The parks have had an average of 840 snowmobiles being used daily during the winter but up to 1,650 a day during holiday and other busy weekends for the past decade.
The Interior Department's proposal is set to be completed next spring. That leaves open the chance the final rules will be less restrictive than what's currently on the table, said Howard Crystal, an attorney for the environmental groups.
"There's nothing to prevent them from saying, 'You know what? We've decided there's going to be no limits, ever,'" Mr. Crystal said.
Although it could change, National Park Service regional spokesman Rick Frost said he expects the final rule will be "very much like" the current proposal.
Mr. Frost said National Park Service officials had not seen the lawsuit and couldn't comment on it.
The case was filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the Fund for Animals, the Bluewater Network and the Ecology Center.
An environmental-impact study of the Interior Department proposal is due in February, with the final rules to be set in March.
Mr. Frost said the proposal was based on advances in snowmobile engines that make them quieter and less polluting, while taking into account environmental concerns.
Pollution and the effect on wildlife would be monitored and the caps could be adjusted to "allow us to protect the resource as well as accommodate some limited snowmobile use," he said.
"It was a balanced approach to the issue of snowmobile use in the parks," he said.

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