Washington, D.C. --U.S. Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., says there may be something rotten in Yellowstone, but he's not talking about the bubbling, smelly sulfurous mineral pools.
Enzi is questioning steps taken, or not taken, by attorneys defending the Park Service in a recent suit brought against it by the Fund for Animals and other environmental groups seeking to stop snowmobiling in Yellowstone National Park.
Enzi has learned that the attorneys charged with defending the Park Service in the suit may have violated court rules by not disclosing the existence of related ongoing court cases in Montana. At least two of the government's attorneys are actually the same attorneys defending the Park Service in another related court case. This case, which also addresses winter use in Yellowstone, is before Judge Charles Lovell in Helena, Montana District Court.
According to the rules of the District of Columbia federal district court, the court where the snowmobiling lawsuit settlement is currently being reviewed, plaintiffs and defendants are required to notify it of other related cases pending in other courts. The purpose of the rule is to eliminate wasteful legal duplication, lessen the possibility of confusion and contradictory court rulings and put similar issues in a court that is familiar with the particular situation.
"The thing I've been advocating from the earliest rumblings of this lawsuit is a fair fight. These new discoveries further suggest one side isn't getting one," said Enzi. "The very same government attorneys requested a change of venue from D.C. to Montana in a related case, but for whatever reason in this snowmobiling case they didn't. It appears they even went against the rules and kept from the court the knowledge of other related cases."
Has the Montana court proven too favorable to the government's position for the government's own defenders? Are groups making an end-run around the courts and the public to implement their own personal agenda for winter use in Yellowstone? Who's helping them, if that's the case? These are serious questions that Enzi said are begging for an answer.
In early August Enzi became concerned Park Service officials and the parties bringing the suit against them might have the same goals of eliminating snowmobiling and other forms of winter use in Yellowstone. He was also concerned about the possible exclusion of the views of members of the public on the other side of the issue.
Enzi wrote a letter to Park Service Director Bob Stanton outlining Enzi's concerns and requesting the best possible defense against the lawsuit. Stanton assured Enzi the best possible defense would be mounted. Later Enzi was assured that a settlement would not include a shutdown of winter use while any environmental studies were being conducted, but under the settlement proposed by the Park Service and the Fund for Animals, at least 14 miles of trail are being targeted for closure. This has already caused area businesses economic hardship in the form of tour group cancellations. One lodge owner says he may go out of business.
Enzi said the deal has served to heighten his fears that Park Service officials', charged with representing the public at large, have bought into a special interest agenda that is a mirror image of what the Fund for Animals is advocating. The group's spokesman, D.J. Schubert, was reported as saying in a recent newspaper article that its agenda includes closing the park to all snowmobile traffic and will put park visitors at the end of the line.
"This lawsuit has serious implications for Wyoming park users and people from around the world, for communities surrounding the park that depend on it for their very livelihood and the wildlife in the park," said Enzi. "For the court to come up with a fair solution that will stick, there can be no question that everything was done above board and that the correct process was followed. That's what I'm trying to ensure here."