As expected, National Park Service officials Thursday approved a winter-use plan for Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks that reduces snowmobile numbers in Yellowstone from past years. The intent is that this plan remain in effect for two winters while Park Service teams develop yet another environmental impact statement on winter recreation in Yellowstone.
Under the interim winter-use plan, 318 "best available technology" snowmobiles and 78 snowcoaches would be allowed into Yellowstone each day for the winters of 2009-10 and 2010-11. Snowmobilers also would have to be led by a commercial guide.
The decision was immediately condemned by Wyoming's all-Republican congressional delegation.
“This decision ignores the primary mission of our national parks. The administration’s proposal will limit public access and harm our local communities,” Sen. John Barrasso said. “Putting limits on public access is not required by law and is not backed by science. The administration has put politics ahead of management by limiting public access to our parks.”
At the National Parks Conservation Association, Patricia Dowd countered that sound science was at play.
“Even at 250 snowmobiles -- that’s what the park was using in terms of modeling and monitoring -- they’re showing impacts to air quality and to visitor experience and to wildlife," said Ms. Dowd, the Yellowstone program manager for NPCA. “Everything that the Park Service has done for the past 10 years suggess that snowmobile numbers should actually be less than 318.”
The numbers in the winter-use plan were not unexpected. Indeed, they were anticipated to show up as Interior Secretary Ken Salazar back in July directed the Park Service to follow a course that could limit recreational snowmobile use in Yellowstone to 318 machines, along with 78 snowcoaches, per day for each of the next two winters. The numbers also were contained within an environmental assessment that was released for public review a year ago.
The plan, which Park Service officials ruled had no significant impact on the parks' resources, also would allow continued over-snow travel through Yellowstone's east entrance and over Sylvan Pass.
Under the winter-use plan, 25 snowmobiles a day will be allowed to travel the Grassy Lake Road in the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway that lies between Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks with no requirements that they be best available technology or guided. On Jackson Lake, an initial daily limit of 25 BAT snowmobiles will allowed to "provide access to ice fishing opportunities for persons possessing appropriate fishing gear and a valid State of Wyoming fishing license," the two parks said in a release. "The limit may be increased to 40 snowmobiles per day if monitoring of park resources indicates acceptable conditions.
"Grooming and motorized oversnow travel on the Continental Divide Snowmobile Trail between Moran Junction and Flagg Ranch will be discontinued," the release added.
Rules to implement the decision will be published in the coming weeks in the Federal Register, to allow the parks to open for the winter season as scheduled on December 15, 2009.
The Wyoming delegation was not pleased.
“The snowmobile and snowcoach numbers weren’t sufficient when the proposed rule came out in July and they aren’t sufficient now," said Sen. Mike Enzi, who thought as many as 1,000 snowmobiles a day should be allowed into the park. "More people should be allowed in the park, not less. Yellowstone area businesses deserve more stability knowing what the winter tourist season may bring. The yearly yo-yo policy is slowly suffocating area businesses. I will continue fighting for more access."
The state's lone member of the House of Representatives, Cynthia Lummis, said the winter-use plan "goes to the heart of what is wrong with Washington decision-making."
“Year after year, they fail to incorporate common sense and sound science into public lands decisions which end up directly hurting working families and local businesses," she said. "The Park Service’s decision to dwindle down the number of people who can enjoy Yellowstone Park in the winter is both disgraceful and wrong.”