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Greater Yellowstone Coalition v. Kempthorne

April 24, 2008

GREATER YELLOWSTONE COALITION, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DIRK KEMPTHORNE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
NATIONAL PARKS CONSERVATION ASSOCIATION, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF INTERIOR; NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Emmet G. Sullivan United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Litigation concerning the use of snowmobiles in Yellowstone and other national parks has been ongoing in this Court in various forms since 1997. The instant cases represent the latest in a series of challenges to the regulations promulgated by the National Park Service ("NPS") concerning winter activities in the National Parks. The regulations currently at issue propose new restrictions on recreational snowmobiling in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway (collectively "the parks"). Specifically, the new Winter Use Plan promulgated by Defendants allows 540 recreational snowmobiles to enter Yellowstone National Park every day. Plaintiffs allege that this number is so high as to render the plan arbitrary and capricious in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA") and procedurally flawed in violation of the National Environmental Protection Act ("NEPA").

Pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Transfer this case to the District of Wyoming where similar litigation has also been filed. Upon consideration of the Motion, the responses and replies thereto, the applicable law and the entire record of this long-running litigation, the Court DENIES Defendants' Motion. Also pending before the Court is the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association's Motion to Intervene as Defendants and to assert cross-claims. For the reasons stated herein, the Motion to Intervene is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.

I. BACKGROUND

A. History of Snowmobiles Litigation

This Court's involvement in the ongoing series of cases regarding Yellowstone's winter management began in 1997 and has continued nearly without pause to the present day. See Fund for Animals v. Norton, 323 F. Supp. 2d 7 (D.D.C. 2004)("FFA II"); Fund for Animals v. Norton, 294 F. Supp. 2d 92 (D.D.C. 2003)("FFA I"); Fund for Animals v. Babbitt, 97-cv-1126 (EGS) (filed May 20, 1997). Over the years, environmental and recreation groups have challenged the Park Service's restrictions on the use of snowmobiles in the parks, with the more recent controversies growing out of a year 2000 Record of Decision which found that the use of snowmobiles at present levels so harmed the integrity of the parks' resources and values that it violated the NPS Organic Act. See Record of Decision, Winter Use Plans for the Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and John D. Rockefeller Jr., Memorial Parkway ("2000 ROD"), 65 Fed. Reg. 80,908, 80,916 (Dec. 22, 2000). In light of this finding, in 2001, NPS published a Final Rule calling for the eventual phase-out of personal snowmobiles in the parks, and instead recommended continued winter access through the use of a snowcoach mass transit system. FFA I, 294 F. Supp. 2d at 100. The "phase-out rule," promulgated by the Clinton administration, was published the day after President George W. Bush took office, and was immediately stayed pending a review of the Rule by the new administration. Id. In response to litigation brought by snowmobiling interest groups, NPS prepared a Supplemental EIS ("SEIS") in 2003. The SEIS proposed a dramatic change of course. In place of the planned phase-out, NPS set a new limit of 950 snowmobiles per day in Yellowstone. Id. at 101. Following two lawsuits in this Court and one in the District of Wyoming, NPS put into effect a "Temporary Winter Use Plan" which allowed a daily limit of 720 snowmobiles, subject to "best available technology" standards and some commercial guide requirements. This temporary plan was to be in effect for three winter seasons, from 2004 through 2007, and then replaced with a long-term winter use plan in 2007/2008. It is that long-term plan which is the subject of the instant case.

B. The Instant Suit

On September 24, 2007, NPS published its Winter Use Plans Final Environmental Impact Statement ("FEIS"). The complete plan was published in a November 20, 2007 Record of Decision ("2007 ROD"). The 2007 ROD claims to address "this Court's various concerns regarding the winter use 2003 Supplemental EIS" and allows 540 recreational snowmobiles per day, subject to "best available technology standards," commercial guiding, and a requirement that all snowmobilers travel in groups of eleven or less. 2007 ROD, p. 3, 8, 13-15. On November 20 and 21, 2007, two lawsuits were filed in this Court challenging the FEIS and ROD. The Greater Yellowstone Coalition Plaintiffs were the first to file suit and consist of conservation organizations that "take an active interest in maintaining the integrity of the National Park System." This group includes the Sierra Club, the Winter Wildlands Alliance, the Wilderness Society and the Natural Resources Defense Counsel (collectively "GYC"). GYC Compl. ¶ 7. The second suit was brought by plaintiff National Parks Conservation Association ("NPCA"), the largest national organization in the United States dedicated to the protection and enhancement of the National Park System. NPCA Compl. ¶ 8. Both suits allege that the FEIS and 2007 ROD in this case failed to comply with the National Environmental Protection Act ("NEPA") and the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA"). On December 18, 2007, NCPA amended its complaint to include a challenge to the 2007 Final Rule, which was published on December 13, 2007. In addition to NEPA and the APA, NPCA contends that the 2007 Final Rule violates the National Park Service Organic Act, and governing Executive Orders and NPS Regulations. The GYC plaintiffs likewise amended their compliant on January 11, 2008 to also challenge the Final Rule bringing similar claims. The cases were consolidated by Order of this Court on March 19, 2008.*fn1

Defendants are the National Park Service, Dirk Kempthorne, in his official capacity as the Secretary of the Interior, Mary Bomar in her official capacity as Director of the National Park Service and Mike Snyder in his official capacity as Director of the Intermountain Region of the U.S. National Park Service (collectively "NPS").

C. The Wyoming Litigation

On December 13, 2007, the State of Wyoming filed a petition for review of agency action challenging the FEIS, 2007 ROD, and 2007 Final Rule, alleging that those actions violate NEPA, the APA, the Organic Act, the Yellowstone National Park Act, and the United States Constitution insofar as they (1) impose daily limits on snowmobile access to Yellowstone National Park ("Yellowstone"); (2) impose a commercial guide requirement; and (3) impose a new management scheme for Sylvan Pass. Defs.' Mot. at 9. On January 2, 2008, the Board of County Commissioners of the County of Park filed a nearly identical petition. Id. The two Wyoming Cases were consolidated by Order dated February 19, 2008. Id. On February 22, 2008, the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association, the American Council of Snowmobile Associations, the Blue Ribbon Coalition, and Terri Manning (collectively "ISMA") filed a motion to intervene as plaintiffs in the consolidated Wyoming Cases, challenging the 2007 Final Rule's reduced limit of 540 snowmobiles per day in Yellowstone and the commercial guide requirement. Id. ISMA's motion was granted the same day.

II. DISCUSSION

On March 25, 2008, Defendants filed a Motion to Transfer this case to the District of Wyoming. Defendants contend that transfer is warranted because of the risk of inconsistent verdicts between the two Federal Courts presently entertaining challenges to the 2007 Final Rule and supporting documentation. Defendants also argue that the "localized nature" of this controversy and the public interest in judicial economy warrant transfer. Plaintiffs counter that substantial deference is due to their choice of forum in this Court, that this Court's history with this litigation counsels in favor of denying transfer, that this issue is of national significance, and that the principle of comity requires any similar cases to be transferred to this Court because the first challenge relating to the 2007 Final Rule was filed here.

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), district courts in their discretion may transfer a case to any other district where it might have been brought "[f]or the convenience of the parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice." 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Under this statute, the moving party "bears the burden" of establishing that transfer is appropriate. Flynn v. Veazey Constr. Corp., 310 F. Supp. 2d 186, 193 (D.D.C. 2004). See Sec. and Exch. Comm. v. Savoy Ind., Inc., 587 F.2d 1149, 1154 (D.C. Cir. 1978) ...


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