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Fund for Animals v. Norton

ELR Citation: 34 ELR 20010
Nos. No. 02-2367 (EGS), (D.D.C., 12/16/2003)

The court remands the National Park Service's (NPS') record of decision (ROD), supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS), and 2003 final rule allowing snowmobiling and trail grooming to continue in the Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Teton National Park, and the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway. The 2001 snowcoach rule, explicitly citing the negative environmental impacts of snowmobiling on the resources and wildlife of the national parks, mandated that snowmobiling be phased out in favor of snowcoaches. Three years later, at the exact time this phaseout was to be complete, it was replaced with a new rule that allows 950 snowmobiles to enter the parks each day. This dramatic change in course, in a relatively short period of time and conspicuously timed with the change in administrations, represents precisely the "reversal of the agency's views" that triggers an agency's responsibility to supply a reasoned explanation for the change. The NPS has not met this obligation. The NPS claimed that the decision to now allow snowmobiling is based on the availability of "cleaner, quieter snowmobiles," yet the prospect of improved technology is not new. The possibility of improved technology was explicitly considered in 2000 and just as explicitly rejected as an inadequate solution for reducing the negative impacts of snowmobiling. The NPS also posits that the use of guided group tours will mitigate snowmobiler interaction with wildlife, and that limiting entries to 950 snowmobiles per day will greatly reduce the negative impacts of snowmobiles. However, these mitigation measures are significantly flawed. Thus, the SEIS and the ROD were remanded to the agency for further consideration. In addition, the decision, codified in the 2003 ROD and the final rule, to continue to pack the road system without even considering trail closures and without putting forth a clear rationale for this failure, renders the SEIS flatly inadequate under the National Environmental Policy Act. Last, the court ordered the NPS to respond to a 1999 petition to ban snowmobiling and trail grooming throughout the National Park System. In light of the NPS' clear charge to protect the wonders of the national parks, coupled with the fact that during the ongoing delay snowmobiling—which is acknowledged by the NPS as "not in conformity with applicable legal requirements"—continues unabated, the agency's delay is unreasonable.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Katherine A. Meyer
Meyer & Glitzenstein
1601 Connecticut Ave. NW, Ste. 450, Washington DC 20009
(202) 588-5206

Counsel for Defendants
Charles W. Findlay
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000