WASHINGTON -- The National Park Service must revive a plan, scrapped by the Bush administration, to ban snowmobiles from Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, a federal judge ordered Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan said the Bush administration should not have set aside a Clinton administration plan that would have banned snowmobiles in favor of mass-transit snow coaches.
A limited number of snowmobilers will be allowed to enter this winter.
The Bush administration plan would have allowed 950 snowmobilers per day in Yellowstone and 400 in Grand Teton, although most would have to ride the less environmentally harmful machines.
The Park Service called the administration plan a balance between its duty to protect the park and its responsibility to allow the public to visit and enjoy it.
In a lawsuit, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition of Bozeman, Mont., argued that the Park Service had ignored its own studies that show a ban on snowmobiles and the use of snow coaches would best protect the park's natural resources.
The group argued that unacceptable pollution and health risks to workers would have continued even with the new emission and entry limits on snowmobiles.
The Park Service had argued that the new plan is based on a generation of cleaner snowmobile engines that weren't considered when the earlier ban was drafted.
Sullivan rejected that argument.
"The prospect of new technology is not 'new,"' the judge wrote, noting that less-polluting machines were considered and rejected when the Clinton administration was deciding how to reduce the harmful effects of snowmobiling.
In separate claims, the Fund for Animals and other environmental groups challenged the practice of grooming snow-covered roads for snowmobile and snow coach use.
Those groups claimed the Park Service dismissed studies indicating groomed roads harm bison by creating unnatural corridors for them to move within and outside of Yellowstone.
Bison that leave Yellowstone in winter can be rounded up or killed under certain circumstances because many carry a disease ranchers fear could be spread to their cattle.
The Fund for Animals wanted Sullivan to order the Park Service to stop grooming most of the roads in Yellowstone -- a ban that would effectively stop snowmobiling in those areas.
Sullivan did not do so. Instead, he ordered the Park Service to give an answer to a 1999 petition filed by one of the groups, the Bluewater Network, that sought rules prohibiting trial grooming in all national parks.
The judge did not direct a particular answer, although he said the Park Service must respond to the petition by Feb. 17.
On the Net:
Yellowstone National Park: http://www.nps.gov/yell
Greater Yellowstone Coalition: http://www.greateryellowstone.org
International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association: http://www.snowmobile.org/