Despite months and months of work and planning, National Park Service officials have failed to get a Record of Decision on snowmobiling in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks signed off on on schedule. But that doesn't mean the upcoming winter season is in limbo. Indeed, a greater threat at this point is lack of snow.
The so-called "ROD" not only would put into motion the Park Service's preferred plan to allow up to 540 snowmobiles to enter Yellowstone per day beginning with the 2008-09 winter season, but it also contains language that would allow the two parks to operate this winter under the temporary winter-use guidelines of the past three years. Those guidelines allow as many as 720 snowmobiles to tour Yellowstone each day during the winter.
Theoretically, though, the ROD needed to be published in the Federal Register by yesterday to allow for a 30-day waiting period before the Park Service's chosen alternative could take effect. Since Yellowstone officials plan to open their park for the winter season on December 19, under this scenario they needed the ROD to appear in the register by Nov. 19.
Exactly why that timetable was missed hasn't been clearly specified, although Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash is being quoted as saying that, "Discussions continue between the parks, our regional office, and Washington regarding language in both the record of decision and the rule.”
Nevertheless, whether there is a 30-day waiting period between the publication of the ROD in the Federal Register and when Yellowstone's gates open to snowmobiles and snow coaches doesn't really matter, as there are options available for the Park Service to work around that requirement. Yellowstone Superintendent Suzanne Lewis could sign a "compendium" to institute temporary rules, or the Park Service could obtain a waiver to the 30-day waiting period from the Office of Management and Budget.
"The superintendent's compendium is one way to do this. If I am not mistaken, Yellowstone has done this once before," says Rick Smith, a member of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees. "There is also a waiver that can be granted by OMB. My understanding is that the waiver could allow the park to publish the rule as late as December 18th for the beginning of the season on the 19th.
"The real deal here is that the delay has nothing to do with the environmental community and everything to do with some internal massaging of the ROD in the (Interior) Department and the Washington office of the NPS," he adds.
Bill Wade, who chairs the coalition's executive committee, agrees.
"We can all pretty well be assured that the 2007-2008 winter use season will operate as it has during the past several seasons, either by way of an OMB waiver on the 30-day rule, or by using the authority the superintendents have to manage park uses through the 36CFR 'compendium' process," says Mr. Wade. "Importantly, no one (us or the conservation community) has tried to shoot down the idea of the transition year, though some will try to pin the blame there for the delay and perception that the transition year provisions might be at risk."