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Ruling scraps Bush plan, limits snowmobiles in Yellowstone

BILLINGS, Mont. -- Just hours before the first snowmobiles of the season were to rumble through Yellowstone National Park, a judge left park officials scrambling to comply with Clinton-era entry rules that the Bush administration had scrapped.

The decision, issued late Tuesday by US District Judge Emmet Sullivan in Washington, D.C., cut sharply the level of snowmobiles allowed to enter Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks each day in order to reduce pollution.

The International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association Inc. and the Blue Ribbon Coalition asked for a stay in Sullivan's decision yesterday. They said the move was necessary because Sullivan's ruling would "prevent thousands of visitors from seeing Yellowstone National Park this winter."

The ruling allows a limited number of snowmobiles this winter, but all must be part of commercially guided trips. Under the proposed Bush administration rules that Sullivan scrapped, some snowmobilers would have been able to go into the park alone.

The new rules stipulate that 493 snowmobiles are permitted each day in Yellowstone and 50 each day in Grand Teton and on the parkway that connects the parks. Next winter, only mass-transit snow coaches would be allowed. Attorney General Pat Crank of Wyoming said he planned to file an appeal, asking that Yellowstone be allowed to operate under the Bush administration rules.

"We think the rule adopted by the Park Service is the correct rule," Crank said. "It balances the ecological concerns of Yellowstone with regard to wildlife, with folks being able to use Yellowstone National Park during the winter season."

Historically, snowmobiles had been allowed in Yellowstone and Grand Teton with little regulation, other than requirements that riders stick to groomed trails and avoid conflicts with wildlife. The Clinton plan called for a gradual phaseout of snowmobiles, beginning last winter. Under the Bush plan, the Park Service wanted to let snowmobiling continue but to cap the number of snowmobiles allowed and permit only cleaner, quieter models. The plan would have allowed a total of 1,140 snowmobiles a day for the parks and parkway.

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