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Judge OKs Park Snowmobiling

An already confusing winter for snowmobilers in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks got even more complicated when a federal judge blocked severe restrictions on the use of the machines enacted just as the season began.

The move was cheered Tuesday by Gov. Dave Freudenthal and the businesses that rely on renting snowmobiles to visitors, but jeered by environmentalists, who fear an increase in pollution, noise and damage.

U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer in Wyoming issued a temporary restraining order Tuesday against the Clinton-era restrictions and ordered the National Park Service to develop temporary rules for the rest of the 2004 season including use of cleaner, quieter snowmobiles.

It was not immediately clear what the next legal step would be, or what rules would be in effect for the 2005 season.

In December, just before the snowmobile season in the parks, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan in Washington, D.C., reinstated the Clinton administration plan to ban snowmobiles in favor of less-polluting mass-transit snow coaches.

Sullivan's ruling allowed a limited number of snowmobiles in the parks this winter, but all had to be part of commercially guided trips. The ruling called for a complete ban next winter and blocked the Bush administration's attempt to scrap the rules in favor of cleaner machines.

Snowmobile manufacturers and Wyoming officials appealed Sullivan's ruling, saying the phase-out plan would devastate communities that rely on winter tourism.

Environmental groups support the ban, arguing that snowmobiles create air and noise pollution in the parks and endanger the health of park workers. They also contend that the snowmobiles harass and hurt wildlife.

Although Brimmer's ruling seems to conflict with Sullivan's decision, Brimmer said he was ruling on the Clinton administration's rule, while Sullivan ruled on the Bush administration's version.

David McCray, a snowmobile-business operator in West Yellowstone, Mont., said his concern now is the potential confusion the latest ruling may cause, particularly approaching the President's Day holiday weekend.

"To once again change the rules for this year - if there's any advantage for West Yellowstone businessmen, it's going to be negligible," he said.

Messages left Tuesday evening for a spokeswoman at Yellowstone National Park and for the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association were not immediately returned.

In welcoming the ruling, Freudenthal said in a statement that, "The people that are suffering under the move toward banning snowmobiles are the small-business owners in and around the parks."

But Michael Scott, executive director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, a conservation group, called Brimmer's ruling "terribly unfortunate."

"Yellowstone was clearly on a path to a better future, to cleaner air, to healthier wildlife," he said. "I think this ruling potentially puts that in jeopardy."

By Robert W. Black

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