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Park Service Retirees Say Preferred Winter-Use Plan For Yellowstone National Park Would "Make Bad Situation Worse"


A winter-use plan for Yellowstone National Park being promoted by park staff would "make a bad situation ... worse," according to the viewpoint of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees.

“The NPS is proposing to make a bad situation at Yellowstone even worse," said Maureen Finnerty, chairperson of the Coalition's executive council. "Our members understand the real world consequences of motorized recreation in national parks. We are bewildered about this proposal after seven previous environmental reviews resulted in a major federal court decision ruling that NPS was not following its own legal and policy mandates in managing snowmobile use in the Park in the winter.”

The draft winter-use plan released earlier this summer proposes to redefine over-snow entries into the park under a system that stands to increase the number of over-snow vehicles into the park beyond the total that has been permitted in past winters.

It calls for the park to "manage oversnow vehicles by their overall impacts to air quality, soundscapes, wildlife, and visitors, rather than focusing solely on the number of snowmobiles and snowcoaches allowed in the park each day. The park would allow up to 110 'transportation events' a day, initially defined as either one snowcoach or, on average, a group of seven snowmobiles (maximum group size would be capped at 10). No more than 50 transportation events a day would be allocated for groups of snowmobiles."

At the high end, as many as 480 snowmobiles could be allowed in the park on a single day. Under the temporary winter-use plan regulations in use the past two winters, a maximum 318 snowmobiles and 78 snowcoaches a day were allowed into the park.

Claims by Yellowstone officials that their preferred plan will result in a cleaner, quieter park open to more visitors seem to be contradicted by data contained in documents upon which the plan is built. While Superintendent Dan Wenk has said the preferred alternative "makes the park quieter and cleaner, and allows some increases in visitation," data show that that desired alternative will result in substantially higher carbon monoxide levels. Benzene emissions also will increase in the near-term, as will levels of formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, according to numbers contained in the Draft Winter Use Plan Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.

As for noise levels, the draft clearly states on page 262 in Chapter 4 that, "(A)ssuming the maximum allowed use levels, OSVs (over-snow vehicles) would be audible over 50 percent of the time in approximately 14.1 percent to 17.4 percent of the travel corridor area, compared to 9.7 percent of the travel corridor area under recent average conditions."

But Wade Vagias, the superintendent's management assistant who has been deeply involved in developing the winter-use plan, has said those numbers are at the very high end of the spectrum, and not what likely would be realized on a daily basis.

The Coalition is not sold on those claims, however. In a statement issued last week the group said the proposed plan could more than double the number of dirty and noisy snowmobiles currently operating in the park.

“Even while acknowledging that the current average of about 200 snowmobiles operating daily in Yellowstone now are dirtier and noisier than those that were operating in the Park five years ago, Superintendent Wenk, in a complicated scenario of ‘transportation events,’ proposes to allow up to 480 snowmobiles per day to enter the park for the next five years; levels not seen there for nearly a decade,” said Ms. Finnerty.

Deny Galvin, a Coalition member and former deputy director of the Park Service, said, “As the deputy director of the National Park Service 10 years ago when the snowmobile industry promised to produce cleaner and quieter machines, I can tell you that the trust has been broken. Instead of working to enhance the snowmobiles to make them quieter and cleaner, they’ve actually cut production of those that meet the existing environmental standards in the park. Why should the resources of Yellowstone continue to be degraded for the next five years under the assumption that the industry will change?”

The Coalition release also pointed out that the "NPS proposal asserts that air quality impacts in Yellowstone would be 'moderate' and air quality would improve relative to the 'National Ambient Air Quality Standards.' However, the Clean Air Act, under which Yellowstone is designated as a 'Class I Area' does not use NAAQS as its criteria – it says air quality will be 'the best possible' in Class I areas. NPS’s plan does not meet that standard."

The Coalition officials maintain that the park's preferred alternative "is more impacting on Yellowstone’s resources than any of the other three alternatives listed in the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement winter use plan that was released on June 29, 2012."

The plan is open to public comment until August 20, 2012.

The Coalition supports Alternative 3, which would allow current levels of motorized oversnow vehicles to operate until the 2017-2018 season, after which all snowcoaches would have to meet “best available technology requirements and could increase to 120 per day with a corresponding decrease in snowmobile numbers to zero during a 3-year phase-out period.

“Alternative 3 is the only proposal that meets the National Parks Service’s legal and policy mandates and is shown by scientific analysis and resource monitoring to reduce impacts on the park’s resources," said Ms. Finnerty. "Moreover, it is what 80 percent of the nearly one million members of the American public who have commented in previous environmental reviews have said about how they want Yellowstone to be managed in the winter.”

The Coalition counts more than 830 former Park Service employees as members.


I can understand that some have the opinion that no snowmobiles should be allowed. They are entitled to their opinion just as many of us don't see it as a problem. Unfortunatly this kind of mirrors many problems we have in this country-- the unwillingness to find a compromise where everyone is happy despite not getting exactly what they want. There are rules in place so that the snowmobiles make the least amout of noise and pollution. The Snowmobile tour companies and guides that took us on our snowmobile trip seemed very concerned about following those rules. They care about and love YS as much as anyone else. If the snowmobiles fall within the guide lines and follow the rules they should be allowed. People are not running all around YS on snowmobiles with out supervision. We need to compromise on this issue I believe.

I have tried to rationalize the "anti snowmobile" group.I have come to the conclusion that they are just that-anti snowmobile or just anti-human presence in the park. It is hard to persuade me that 400 snowmobiles using 4 cycle technology and relatively quite are worse than 8,000 cars per day and lots of motorcycles. I have been hiking miles from roads and hear the loud drone of Harleys. Something seems to not make sense here with their thought process. It appears that they know they cannot do anything about the summer crowd of humans in the park to they want to do the second best-not allow humans in the winter. My conclusion is that the Park Service is trying to acquiesce a loud small group of people that want to dictate their beliefs on the other 99%.

Who care about some non-scientists opinion? It is all opinion unless the NPS performs an accurate study on the effects of winter traffic on wildlife. Has the NPS done that?

I get tired reading Joe off the streets version of man's impact on the world.

PEER is a bunch of haters on anything that's not hiking or horse riding. Their policy stance on snowmobiling is irrational. It's that brand of extreme environmentalism that gives greenies a bad name.

I used to be adamanantly opposed to snow mobiles in Yellowstone. But after having made a couple of recent trips there via snow coach, I had a chance to see first hand the recent changes in snowmobiles. They are much, much more quiet that the old 2-cycle engines. The 2-stroke stink is gone.

And now that guides are required on every trip, the harrassment of wild life and reckless stupidity that characterizes behavior of a distressingly large percentage of riders elsewhere has been curtailed.

It looks to me as if past policy changes have borne some good fruit. Is this controversy yet another example of people on all sides trying to stick to rigid ideologies rather than seeking good solutions? (I really don't know if that is the case, so I'm asking.)

I agree that the Park Service seems not to have used consistency or logic in limiting snowmobiles. If noise is the issue, then ban noisy motorcycles. If pollution is the issue, ban all diesel vehicles, including tour buses.

Why is it the only reduction in the park is to the use of snowmobile? Go to Yellowstone in the three non winter seasons and it is littered with cars, trucks, trucks pulling campers, motorhomes (gas and diesel), motorcycles and buses and no reduction to these. This is an outright hit on the snowmobile, all the do-gooders should visit the Park and see first hand that the trumpeter Swan has flow south for the winter, that the snowmobile is now very quiet and with the new 4-stroke models and the e-tec models they are cleaner than some cars and trucks that travel the Parks roads in summer, spring and fall

John-- I do not agree that those who want limited snow mobile access-- "Is the will of a special interest group with no concern for the wildlife". My family and I did a snowmobile tour two years ago and we are not a "special interest group". I can tell you that we love YS and the wildlife as much as anyone-- we have been there 4 times in the last 3 years. We really enjoyed the snowmobile trip-- it was run by professional guides with very strict guidelines as to what we did. The bison traveled on the road next to us totally unaffected--- when we saw them coming we moved to the side and turned off the machines. People are not running all over YS on snowmobiles chasing the animals.This matter is a difference of opinion. Some just don't want snowmobiles in YS no matter what-- and that their right to believe that. I don't see any difference between snowmobiles in YS which are limited and the thousands of exhaust spewing cars and even worse motorcycles clogging the roadways the rest of the year. The motor cycles make ten times the noise --- why aren't people up in arms about that?? I think that most of the people against snowmobiles are against them based on the fact that they just don't want them there and thats fine. Other people have a different opinion-- that does not mean they don't love and appreciate YS any less.

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