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State: Reconsider snowmobile limit

State: Reconsider snowmobile limit

Mar 29, 2012 - By Ben Neary, The Associated Press

CHEYENNE -- Gov. Matt Mead said Tuesday he disagrees with an appeals court ruling that bars Wyoming from suing the federal government over a rule limiting the number of snowmobiles and other snow machines allowed in Yellowstone National Park.

Wyoming last week filed papers asking a three-judge panel at the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver to grant the state a new hearing.

The judges ruled in late February that the state, as well as Park County, had failed to show concrete economic losses from the limit on snowmobiles. The judges said a challenge on procedural grounds would be moot because park officials conducted a new analysis before extending the 2009 limits through this winter.

In its court filing, Wyoming argued it should be allowed to argue its case again, with state lawyers claiming judges incorrectly determined the East Entrance to the park was the only one at issue in the appeal.

"Wyoming is injured by the economic losses which occur within Yellowstone regardless of which gate the public is turned away from, and by the economic losses which occur outside the Park from lost snowmobiling opportunities in both Cody and Jackson," the state lawyers wrote.

The Park Service's 2009 rule had limited daily snowmobile traffic in Yellowstone to 318 machines while setting the limit on snow coaches, larger machines, at 78.

Mead, in an interview with The Associated Press, said Wyoming still has an interest in challenging the court's ruling on the 2009 rule even though the Park Service is developing a new winter use plan which will spell out limits on snowmobiles for the 2012-13 season.

Mead said Wyoming needs to preserve its standing in the event future challenges are required. He said he's hopeful the state will be able to work with the Park Service to reach an agreement.

"The court decision said that Wyoming didn't have standing to participate," Mead said. "I respectfully think we were right to ask for reconsideration of that because if any state has standing to have concerns about economic impact with regard to Yellowstone, it would be Wyoming.

"As everyone knows, Yellowstone is largely in Wyoming," Mead said. "And regardless of which entrance into Yellowstone may be impacted by the reduction of snow machines, it all has, I believe, an impact on the economics of Wyoming."

Mead said he didn't know what the daily snow machine limit in Yellowstone should be. However, he said he sees a danger that setting the limit at 318 snowmobiles a day would send the message that a prospective visitor doesn't stand a good chance of being able to get into Yellowstone on any given winter day.

Mead, who grew up in Jackson Hole, said he believes snowmobiling gives people a greater appreciation for Yellowstone. "It's really a special way to view the park," he said. "And the park is for the benefit of the public, and for the wildlife. And I think that opportunity to snow machine in there is a good one."

Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash said Tuesday the Park Service intends to develop a new winter use plan by this winter.

"There's no question that it is our desire to have this process result in a long term, winter use plan for Yellowstone," Nash said. "And we're working to present a broad range of alternatives to the public. We look forward to a robust discussion. And we're hopeful that we will be able to put forward a plan that addresses the variety of concerns that people have and ultimately provide access for visitors and protects the park and recognizes all the important interests in this issue."

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