By MATTHEW BROWN
Associated Press Writer
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) -- A cap on snowmobile use in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks would be lowered by 40 percent under a federal proposal released Monday in response to a judge's rejection of earlier plans.
Parks officials had proposed allowing up to 605 snowmobiles a day in the two parks, but U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan rejected that plan in September, agreeing with plaintiff environmental groups that it would increase air pollution, disturb wildlife and cause too much noise.
The new plan calls for a cap of 318 snowmachines a day in Yellowstone and another 50 in Grand Teton to the south. Park administrators said they expect it will be adopted by Dec. 15.
Yellowstone winter use planner John Sacklin said the new cap would meet Sullivan's concerns while park administrators again try to form a long-term plan for the machines. The cap would expire after three years.
Last year, an average of 294 snowmobiles a day entered Yellowstone. But the peak daily use was much higher -- there were 557 on one day in December.
Jack Welch with the Blue Ribbon Coalition, a snowmobile advocacy group, said the proposed restrictions are too severe.
"People will be turned away and consequently it's not fair," he said. "318, no matter how it's divided up, is not going to be adequate to allow for people to visit their national parks."
Sacklin defended the new plan as "falling right within the range of use that we have seen."
"We believe the impacts will be no more than moderate based on our analysis and based on looking at monitoring results for the last four to five winters."
The plan released Monday also requires that all Yellowstone snowmobile trips be commercially guided and would allow 78 multi-passenger snowcoaches in that park daily, five fewer than what would have been permitted under the rejected plan.
It's been 28 years since the National Park Service began trying to address how many snowmobiles are appropriate for Yellowstone and Grand Teton. A succession of proposals -- including an outright ban on snowmobiles sought by the Clinton administration -- have been scrapped or thrown out by judges.
Environmental groups have called for the machines to be eliminated entirely and replaced with a smaller number of multi-passenger snowcoaches. But Tim Stevens with the National Parks Conservation Association said his group recognizes a temporary measure was needed while the issue is resolved.
"This steps in a better direction," Stevens said. He said the Park Service had "acknowledged that its prior plan did not provide adequate protection."
The state of Wyoming and snowmobile advocates have filed a lawsuit seeking to increase the number of the machines allowed in the two parks. That litigation is pending.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)