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November 28, 2008 3:33 am

Long-term plan needed for Yellowstone winter use

Written by Tribune Staff

For the average Park County resident, following Yellowstone National Park's winter-use plans easily could induce a headache.

As usual, Yellowstone's plans for the upcoming winter season were stuck in convoluted litigation.

Until an early-autumn ruling, Yellowstone leaders planned to allow up to 540 snowmobiles in the park each day. A district court judge in the District of Columbia voided those plans in September, prompting the U.S. park Service to create a temporary plan for only 318 machines per day. In early November, a Wyoming district court judge ordered the park to revert to a 2004 temporary ruling of a 720-per-day limit of snowmobiles.

For local winter enthusiasts, it's good news. For environmental groups, such as the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, it's a disappointing setback.

Grappling over winter use is nothing new — various winter-use plans have been fashioned and scrapped for a decade. Yet the back-and-forth litigation and shifting limits are time-consuming and costly, not to mention frustrating.

It's certain that environmental groups will continue to pursue options to reduce the limit of snowmobiles in Yellowstone, and it's inevitable that others will counteract such attempts.

What is also certain: A long-term plan for winter use is necessary. Yellowstone is a beloved park for many, environmentalists and winter enthusiasts alike. A long-term plan that strikes a balance between protecting the park and enjoying it in winter months needs to be established — one that will stand for years to come.