This should be interesting
Come mid-March, the winter-use planners at Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks plan to hold two open houses -- one in Bozeman, Montana, the other in Jackson, Wyoming -- to outline their thoughts about the upcoming environmental impact statement delving into that wonderfully thorny topic of snowmobiling in Yellowstone, Grand Teton and the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway.
During these sessions, the planners are expected to roll out their array of "scenarios" that could wind up being the winter-use alternatives that the EIS will examine. A set of the scenarios I've seen ranges all the way from no snowmobile use to unlimited snowmobile use.
I guess once you start playing this game you have to finish it, for the main reason the government is going through this increasingly monotonous, repetitive, and costly study of snowmobiles is because a few years ago it believed the snowmobile industry could make a snowmobile that was pretty darn clean, emissions-wise.
And yet, back in early December, when the parks' winter-use planners trotted out their 49-page PowerPoint presentation with pretty, and not so pretty, pictures, charts and graphs detailing this odyssey, they included a slide that quite matter-of-factly pointed out that "there have been no improvements in snowmobile air or sound emissions since 4-strokes were introduced in 2001."
At the bottom of that slide's page, the planners asked the obvious: "How can we encourage snowmobile manufacturers to produce even cleaner and quieter sleds?"
That is a pretty good question, particularly when there are manufacturers out there who have been working on hybrid snowmobile engines that are cleaner and quieter than the "best available technology" 4-strokes and yet supposedly just as powerful as the old, dirty 2-strokes. Why hasn't the industry tracked down Raser Technologies to see what it would take to make these puppies run in commercial circles? There could be a perfectly good explanation, but I have yet to hear it. When I mentioned Raser Technologies to John Sacklin, Yellowstone's winter-use planner, last fall he said he'd love to see how they've improved their prototype.
And if you can have college students building operational electric snowmobiles that would seem to be just the thing for Yellowstone, why can't the pros? Maybe they should hire some of these kids.
Of course the planners' question about what will it take to get the manufacturers to build cleaner and quieter sleds begs another question: Why is the government waiting for that to happen? Why doesn't it just live up to the National Park Organic Act, focus on preservation, and say snowmobiles are simply too polluting to enter the parks?
Now, as for some of the "scenarios" the planners have been mulling for the upcoming EIS, one calls for things to revert to 1983, when there essentially were no restrictions. Another calls for roads leading from the West Entrance into the park to be plowed, with over-the-snow traffic allowed only through the South Entrance and on east-side roads.
An intriguing possibility calls for no grooming of the roads, except for the one that leads from the South Entrance to Old Faithful, with snowmobiles and snowcoaches having to stick to that one. Of course, the current plan, which caps snowmobile use in Yellowstone to 720 machines a day, all commercially guided, would be another option, as would the no-snowmobile, only-snowcoach option.
Keep in mind that these "scenarios" were developed earlier this winter and could change substantially by the time the open houses are held. But they give you an idea of what the planners have been mulling.
So there you have it. Let the fun begin. The Bozeman meeting will be at the Best Western GranTree Inn while the Jackson meeting will be at the Snow King Resort. Both start at 3 p.m. and run until 7 p.m.