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Wyoming Governor Calling For More Snowmobiles In Yellowstone National Park


Wyoming officials want to see as many as 540 snowmobiles allowed into Yellowstone each day during the park's winter season, conditions allowing. Photo of the Upper Geyser Basin from Observation Point by Kurt Repanshek.

Wyoming's governor believes 540 snowmobiles a day could travel through Yellowstone National Park in winter without adversely impacting wildlife, air quality, or the park's soundscape.

Gov. Matt Mead made that point in the state's official comments to park officials, who are working on yet another environmental impact statement intended to come up with a feasible and legally defensible winter-use plan for Yellowstone.

"The daily limits listed in the proposed rule for snowmobile use is too low. The best available information for air quality, soundscape, and wildlife supports a level in the range of 540 snowmobiles per day," wrote the governor. "At that daily allocation level the impact to resources is recorded as minimal within the Draft Yellowstone Winter Use Plan and DEIS."

The park's currently preferred alternative, he said, would reduce by nearly 6,000 the number of snowmobiles entering the park over the course of the winter. Such a reduction would have a direct impact on the regional economy, Gov. Mead wrote.

"Yellowstone winter use is closely tied to businesses involved with recreation, hotels, restaurants, etc. Local communities are built around a seasonal economy, and the park is a large piece of that seasonal economy," he noted.

For more than a decade the debate over how winter in Yellowstone should be enjoyed has dragged on. The Park Service has gone back and forth with the political winds, calling back in 2000 for recreational snowmobile use to be phased out completely only to see the Bush administration drop that decision in favor of continued snowmobile use.

Legal battles waged by those who want continued snowmobile use and those who believe Yellowstone would be healthier without snowmobiles have prolonged the debate and led to a fistful of environmental studies -- environmental assessments as well as more complex and detailed environmental impact statements.

Under the park's currently preferred alternative, up to 330 snowmobiles and 80 snowcoaches would be allowed daily into the park for 45 days of the 90-day winter season. However, the Park Service's own science has pointed to 250 as the daily threshhold of snowmobiles over which the park's resources would be adversely impacted.

There are seven alternatives in the DEIS. In addition to the park's preferred option, which calls for a sliding scale of sorts that would determine daily snowmobile and snowcoach limits, one option calls for not allowing any motorized use, another  calls for phasing out snowmobiles in favor of snowcoaches, and one  proposes allowing up to 720 snowmobiles and 78 snowcoaches per day.

In his letter to the park, Gov. Mead believes the park's preferred alternative would prevent many visitors from enjoying Yellowstone in winter.

"Protection of resources does not have to come at the expense of access; we can have both -- healthy resources and open access," the governor stressed. "I reiterate what I wrote you in July -- we can balance protection of the park’s resources and snowmobile access, and I am committed to working with you and others to that end."

Gov. Mead also urged the park to allow non-commercial snowmobile trips in the park.

"The requirement that 100% of snowmobile entries into Yellowstone be commercially guided is extreme and unreasonable. Responsible non-commercial use of Yellowstone can be accomplished," he maintained. "It can be accomplished through a well-designed non-commercial guide system that includes an educational component with Yellowstone-specific elements to help visitors safely and responsibly visit the park. Non-commercial access to Yellowstone is important to the State of Wyoming, its communities, citizens, and visitors."


You may not be able to SEE any adverse effects on the animals; however, animal stress levels increase during the winter due to scarce resources and cold weather as it is. Bison are creatures of habit and will travel the paths they know to get to the resources they know are there. Sure, if you don't try to interact with them, they'll just walk by you, but the noise that snowmobiles make causes an increased stress reaction the "fight or flight" portion of their brains are constantly active around you. If such reactions become common and sustained, they are more prone to disease (due to a lower immune system) and have fewer offspring which suffer just as human infants whose mothers were stressed during the gestation period suffer. They are restless, cholic and may suffer from similar immuno deficiencies. 

Bruce- Maybe before you proclaim what is or is not" ludicrous" you should do a little research so you don't look like an uninformed fool. The snowmobiles used in YS are specifically made to reduce emmissions and noise as much as possible. They are as quite as most cars which are allowed in the park the rest of the year. Perhaps we should ban cars/trucks as well. Especially the bikers on loud Harley's you see during the summer?? When I was there a few weeks ago several signs said 300 animals are run over by cars every year. I wonder how many are killed by snowmobiles Bruce?? Your description of "slapping" bison on the rear as they pass by proves you have no idea of what you are talking about. That description is assinine and juvenile to say the least. When our guides saw bison on the road ahead we all moved well over to the side-- all got off the snowmobiles on the side opposite the animals as they passed. They had no reaction to our presence. I understand people have different opinions to this situation but stick to the facts Bruce.  And if you think I'm some kind of city boy who won't get out and hike your wrong  as well. I've hiked most of the Nat. Parks in the west and have also hunted/camped and hiked throughout Canada and the Yukon.

Is there a process for comments from ordinary citizens?  I figure my opinion should count just as much as Gov Meade's andd MY preference would be for NO snowmobiles.  I suspect the animals would agree with me. 


The National Park system was not created to provide economic opportunities to surrounding states.Since Gov. Meade's State is the only state in the union to benefit from sales tax from a National Park , maybe he would give up that little perk to the park to mitigate the effects of 540 more snowmobiles polluting the park and  disturbing wildlife?


I'm just wondering what the point is in describing the impacts of snowmobile traffic on counties that frankly aren't affected by such visitation.

If there's more snowmobile traffic, it's not going to affect revenues much in Park County. Revenues are going to be increased in Teton County. Perhaps it won't be that much in percentages due to the already high winter visitation in Teton County.

I guess I'm not sure of your question, y_p_w. Most snowmobile traffic does enter at West Yellowstone. Very little comes through the East Entrance. That would remain the case under the park's preferred alternative (which reportedly is being modified).
Teton County, Wyoming, would benefit from taxes generated at Old Faithful, Park County, Wyoming, from those generated at Mammoth Hot Springs.

Kurt Repanshek
How might closing the East Entrance to over-snow traffic affect the tax coffers of Cody, Wyoming, and its surrounding Park County?

According to economic studies contained in the DEIS, "Recent lodging and tax data for Fremont (Idaho) Park (Wyoming) counties indicate that declines in snowmobile entries into Yellowstone in particular, and in winter visitation in the park in general, have not detectably impacted the overall winter tourist economy in the counties as measured by monthly lodging tax collections. This is despite the fact that the economies of these counties are relatively small."

Part of the reason Park County is not greatly impacted, the report notes, is that it draws 41
percent of its lodging tax revenues in winter from the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, which you can't snowmobile to.

   That sounds interesting. However, I was under the impression that the majority of snowmobile rentals/traffic would be coming in from West Yellowstone, MT. Wouldn't the additional lodging increase revenues at Old Faithful, which is in Teton County? Of course increased winter visitation to Yellowstone would only be a blip to Teton County, which has heavy winter visitation in the Jackson Hole area from ski tourism.

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