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Wyoming won't try to block park snowmobile plan

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BEN NEARY | November 25, 2009 10:50 AM EST | AP


CHEYENNE, Wyo. — With less than a month to go before snowmobile season roars to life again in Yellowstone National Park, litigation continues to swirl over a new federal cap on the maximum daily number of machines.

Wyoming Attorney General Bruce Salzburg said Tuesday the state doesn't plan to seek an injunction against a new Park Service rule that limits the number of snowmobiles entering Yellowstone this winter and next to less than half what had allowed in recent years.

The Park Service issued a temporary rule on Friday limiting snowmobiles to 318 a day at Yellowstone starting next month and continuing through the next winter season. The agency had allowed up to 720 snowmobiles a day into the park over the past five winters but actual use has been far less.

The U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver on Tuesday dismissed a separate legal challenge in which Wyoming and various snowmobile groups had tried to block the Park Service from imposing the new snowmobile limits.

Wyoming had asked the appeals court to allow U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer of Cheyenne to rule whether the 318-machine cap violated the judge's earlier court order. However, the appeals court ruled that the issue became pointless when the Park Service issued its final rule on Friday.

The state and many tourist towns on Yellowstone's borders say snowmobile travel into the park is an important for winter tourism and that cuts are hurting the local economy.

Wyoming filed a new federal lawsuit against the new rule the day it was issued. However, Salzburg said Tuesday the state won't seek a court order to block the new rule before the Yellowstone winter season starts Dec. 15.

"The outfitters up in that area already are planning for that limit," Salzburg said Tuesday of the 315 daily cap. "It would be very difficult for us to support an injunction because we can't demonstrate irreparable harm."

Al Nash, spokesman for Yellowstone, said last week that the agency imposed the temporary plan as a way to continue to provide public access to the park while working on a new long-term plan.

Environmental groups have pushed for decades to limit snowmobile use in Yellowstone, saying the machines increase air pollution, disturb wildlife and cause too much noise.

The National Parks Conservation Association filed papers on Tuesday seeking to intervene in the federal lawsuit that the state of Wyoming filed last week.

"Yellowstone deserves the highest level of protection to ensure the preservation of its environment and wildlife," said Patricia Dowd, Yellowstone program manager with the NPCA.

James F. Davis, deputy Park County Attorney, said Tuesday that the county plans to file its own lawsuit challenging the 318 snowmobile cap.

"The reduction and limitations on snowmobile use at our entrances over the years had a major effect on the winter economy in Cody," Davis said. "Obviously, it's our belief that continuing numbers as they are is continuing to have an effect on the economy."