Snowmobile wars heating up again

The battle over where snowmobiles should be allowed may heat up again, if the past experiences at Yellowstone national park are any indication.

But this time the debate circles around the nation's forests. 

The U.S. Forest Service this week announced it is looking to draw up a map of what trails and roads are open to snowmobile traffic, reopening an issue that had drawn fierce lobbying from environmental groups up until last year.

The Forest Service said the rules are necessary to make sure snowmobiles don't interfere with other people on these trails who may be hiking, backpacking, fishing, hunting, or photographing birds. The use of snowmobiles increased by more than 150 percent from 1982 to 2009, the agency reported.

This comes after the National Park Service (NPS) struck a deal with snowmobile operators and environmental groups last October, ending what had been a 15-year battle between tourism agencies that wanted to show visitors around on snowmobiles and environmentalists who said they caused too much pollution and noise.

The compromise allows no more than 480 snowmobiles per day to ride through Yellowstone. The rules will also eventually include pollution and noise reduction requirements from these snowmobiles. 

This comes in sharp contrast to what some say was about 2,000 snowmobiles per day roaming through Yellowstone in the 1990s. In 2004, NPS limited the number of snowmobiles to 720 per day.

Now, the Forest Service is proposing to move forward with its own plan to establish routes where snowmobiles are allowed and other routes where they are prohibited. The Forest Service's proposal will not affect the Yellowstone agreement that the National Park Service put in place last year.

UPDATE: This story was corrected to explain that the U.S. Forest Service does not manage Yellowstone national park. The original version confused the Forest Service with the National Park Service, which does manage Yellowstone and is not changing the rules it finalized last year.

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