Yellowstone National Park Releases Winter-Use Proposal

Yellowstone and Grand Teton national park officials have released another winter-use plan, one that would allow as many as 318 snowmobiles and 78 snowcoaches a day in Yellowstone. NPS photo.

Yellowstone National Park officials, having had their initially preferred winter-use plan shot down by a federal judge, are back with another proposal. This one would allow up to 318 commercially guided snowmobiles, and up to 78 commercially guided snowcoaches, into the park each day. All machines would have to be so-called Best Available Technology.

In neighboring Grand Teton National Park, the proposal calls for grooming and motorized oversnow travel on the Continental Divide Snowmobile Trail between Moran Junction and Flagg Ranch to be discontinued. However, those interested in through-travel on the CDST could transport their snowmobiles on trailers between these locations.

Additionally, the proposal would allow 25 snowmobiles a day to travel on the Grassy Lake Road, with no Best Available Technology or guiding requirement. Twenty-five unguided, BAT snowmobiles a day would also be allowed on Jackson Lake to facilitate ice fishing by those possessing appropriate fishing gear and a valid State of Wyoming fishing license.

The parks' quickly prepared (what normally takes months was accomplished in just six weeks) environmental assessment offers just two options: the above-cited one, and a "no action" alternative, which would ban recreational snowmobile and snowcoach access in Yellowstone and Grand Teton.

If you recall, back in September U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan tossed out the parks' previous winter-use plan, saying that the preferred approach to continuing recreational snowmobile use in the parks runs counter to science and the National Park Service's conservation mission.

"According to NPS's own data," wrote the judge, "the (winter-use plan) will increase air pollution, exceed the use levels recommended by NPS biologists to protect wildlife, and cause major adverse impacts to the natural soundscape in Yellowstone. Despite this, NPS found that the plan's impacts are wholly 'acceptable,' and utterly fails to explain this incongruous conclusion."

Now, that plan called for as many as 540 snowmobiles and 83 snowcoaches to tour Yellowstone each day in winter. The latest proposal, which is up for public review through November 17, lowers those numbers, albeit not as low as park researchers have recommended. Additionally, the ceiling of 318 snowmobiles a day still is higher than last winter's average of 294.

In their report, "Behavioral Responses of Wildlife to Snowmobiles and Coaches in Yellowstone," Yellowstone's wildlife biologists came to the conclusion, after monitoring winter conditions in Yellowstone from the winter of 2002-03 through the winter of 2005-06, that wildlife would best be served by over-snow traffic with 250 or fewer snowmobiles per day.

In a joint response to the parks' proposal, The Wilderness Society and the National Parks Conservation Association expressed hopes that the parks could do a better job of protecting their resources in a long-term winter-use plan.

"As a temporary plan for the coming winter season, this steps in a better direction than the Bush Administration's previous plan. Everyone wants Yellowstone to open on time," the groups said. "It's encouraging to see the National Park Service working to make this happen and to see Yellowstone acknowledging that its prior plan did not provide adequate protection of the park's air quality, quiet and wildlife.

"For the longer term, it’s important to understand that the number of snowmobiles now being proposed still exceeds the daily average of the past five winters and will still damage Yellowstone’s resources. Every scientific study has demonstrated that the Park Service can do a better job protecting Yellowstone’s resources by increasing public access to the Park on snowcoaches."

The current proposal calls for these limits to remain in force for three years. And it would allow motorized oversnow travel over Sylvan Pass and Yellowstone’s East Entrance road as agreed to by the Sylvan Pass Study Group this past summer.

"Park managers believe an approach including both snowmobile and snowcoach access reduces impacts of both to acceptable levels," park officials said in a release. "This environmental assessment addresses the impact concerns raised by the recent ruling of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia."

You can find the environmental assessment addressing the proposal at this site. Written comments may be submitted through this web site, in person, or by mail.

A proposed rule to implement the preferred alternative contained in the new plan will be published in a few days in the Federal Register, and will also be open for a 15-day public review and comment period. The rule-making process supports, but is separate from, the public review and comment period on the EA.

Once comments are analyzed, the National Park Service will make a decision on the proposed plan. If the preferred alternative is selected, the Regional Director of the Intermountain Region of the National Park Service would sign a Finding Of No Significant Action (FONSI) containing details of his decision.

Comments

How would a quiet electric snowmobile effect policy? If they would have a positive effect, how quickly could they be brought to market (if they are not already available)? I have seen a prototype in action on TV.

Dan

Notice
There are no guarantees expressed or implied of the accuracy or correctness of the contents of this message, and the Author is not liable for the taking of any action in reliance upon the contents of this message. As always, do your own research. To the extent that opinions are expressed in this message, they are not necessarily the opinions of the Author.

Dan, I have raised that issue several times in the past. There was a Utah company, Raser Technologies, I believe, that had built a prototype. I've mentioned it to Yellowstone officials, but to the best of my knowledge they have not reached out to the company for any information or a demonstration.

One would think an electric snowmobile would address several issues, mainly pollution related. I know in the past there have been concerns that electric 'biles would not be as powerful as 2- or 4-stroke machines, but I believe that issue has been overcome.

I also understand some college engineering departments have built prototypes. Why more attention isn't being given to this alternative I'd like to know.

Lets see, Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled the plans to allow 540 snowmobiles a day in Yellowstone was not backed by science.
So Our Yellowstone National Park decided to allow 318 snowmobiles each day as a good thing.
Now a Judge Clarence Brimmer commands Our Yellowstone National Park to up the limit to 720?!?

ARRRGH!

Wyoming judge opens door for more Yellowstone snowmobiles

Yeah, big mess, and no one is sure how to deal with conflicting judicial rulings or how to interpret Brimmer's ruling. Does it mean that if the 318 rule passes that it overrides the ruling or is it an actual order to go back to 720 and start the process over again? I doubt this is something the Supreme Court wants to deal with (there's no constitutional question at stake), and yet with conflicting rulings on policy practice, I am not sure what can be done. An act of Congress could also settle this, but that seems very unlikely. The Park Service will probably be forced to conclude that the ruling means that 720 holds (which will force another lawsuit in Sullivan's court that they will surely lose) until they get the 318 rule through the court (which may have a better chance of surviving Brimmer's court).

And, the 318 number or something just under that, might be the final number because the environmental groups at the fore are not going to fight for zero snowmobiles. That's an interesting stance to take when most people who are probably giving these groups money assume they are fighting all snowmobiles in Yellowstone - and probably had the leverage to that effect until they gave support for a lower number.

As I've said before, this to me is also an issue of equity. Whatever the science is on the number of snowmobiles per day, I'm not sure the system that's set up - with paid and licensed guides, is more than an unfair law enforcement policy, rather than one with Yellowstone's best interests at heart. From what I've read here, it's also not good for the air - as is obvious to anyone who spends an afternoon in West Yellowstone in the middle of January.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World