National Park Service looking for public comment on latest plan for managing over-snow use
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — If you thought that the National Park Service long ago settled issue of managing snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park, guess again.
The agency continues to struggle with developing a plan that’s strict enough to fulfill its legal obligations to limit air and noise pollution, while allowing enough wiggle room to meet the economic needs of nearby communities.
At one point, the park service was prepared to ban snowmobiles altogether, but that plan drew howls of outrage and a lawsuit from businesses and snowmobile fans.
At issue are impacts to wildlife, the overall visitor experience and potentially even to water quality, as some measurements have shown increased levels of carcinogenic compounds in the snow where snowmobiles travel.
Evolving snowmobile technology has helped mitigate some of the issues, but public opinion is still divided. The park service hopes that an adaptive management strategy will limits for now and potentially provide more capacity for increased demand as technology further improves.
The latest incarnation is a draft supplemental environmental study released last week, outlining three different ways visitors could experience the park in winter while protecting the park’s natural resources and values.
The Draft SEIS is similar to the 2011 Final EIS with new information, including an updated range of alternatives, as well as updated data for air and sound emissions.
Under alternative 1, the no-action alternative, no snowmobiles or snowcoaches (collectively, oversnow vehicles, or OSVs) would be allowed in the park.
Alternative 2 would allow OSV use at the same levels (318 snowmobiles and 78 snowcoaches per day) and with the same restrictions as have been in place the past three winter seasons. Alternative 3 would transition to snowcoaches only over a three year period beginning in the 2017/2018 winter season.
The NPS preferred alternative is Alternative 4. Under this alternative, OSV access would be managed by transportation events. A transportation event would initially equal one snowcoach or a group of, on average, seven snowmobiles traveling together within the park.
This management strategy is based on the concept of comparability; that impacts to park resources and the visitor experience resulting from a snowcoach or a group of snowmobiles are comparable to each other.
Alternative 4 would continue to require best available technology for snowmobiles and would require snowcoaches to meet BAT standards by the 2017/2018 winter season. Also in the 2017/2018 season, maximum allowable air and sound emissions for snowmobiles would be reduced.
If snowmobiles and snowcoaches can meet even quieter standards than allowed under the 2017/18 BAT standards, the average seasonal size of a group of snowmobiles will be permitted to go from 7 to 8, and snowcoaches could go from one to two per transportation event.
The Draft SEIS is now open for public review and comment. The comment period will close 45 days after the EPA publishes a “Notice of Availability” of the Draft SEIS in the Federal Register. That date will be announced soon.
The park will hold four public meetings to discuss aspects of the Draft SEIS and to record public comments. Meetings are scheduled for the following dates and locations:
Monday, July 16 in Jackson, WY: The Virginian Lodge, 750 W. Broadway
Tuesday, July 17 in West Yellowstone, MT: Holiday Inn, 315 Yellowstone Ave.
Wednesday, July 18 in Bozeman, MT: Wingate by Wyndham 2305 Catron Street
Thursday, July 19 in Cody WY: Holiday Inn, 1702 Sheridan Ave.
Remember, this is a NATIONAL park, so everyone can comment; not just residents and businesses right around Yellowstone.
Click on this Yellowstone planning website and click on the “Open for Comment” link, and then on the “Winter Use Plan Draft Supplemental EIS” link to comment.
Filed under: air quality, Environment, national parks, public lands, Travel Tagged: | National Park Service, over-snow use, Yellowstone National Park, Yellowstone snowmobiles, Yellowstone winter use plan