Park extends current guidelines through the end of this winter
By Summit Voice
FRISCO — After years of litigation and politically driven changes in policy, the National Park Service is inching closer to adopting a long-term winter use management plan for Yellowstone.
Winter travel via snowmobiles and snow coaches has been hotly disputed, as local business owners advocate for more access, while the park service and conservation advocates focus on trying to reduce impacts to wildlife and air quality.
For now, Yellowstone has decided to extend the current use plan for this coming winter, with a mix of snow coaches and snowmobiles, while the agency finalizes the long-term plan.
The park service has also re-opened a comment period on a new draft environmental study. The options include everything from no motorized use to allowing up to 720 snowmobiles and 78 snowcoaches per day. The park also considered an alternative that would allow commercial, wheeled vehicles to travel on roads that would be plowed from West Yellowstone and Mammoth Hot Springs to Old Faithful.
The agency’s preferred alternative takes a new approach by varying the maximum number of over-snow vehicles allowed in the park for certain days and periods during the winter season. The flexible management option would provide a variety of motorized and non-motorized experiences throughout the season. All the latest documents are online at this Yellowstone NP website.
Some days could have as many as 330 snowmobiles and 80 snowcoaches in the park, while others could have as few as 110 snowmobiles and 30 snowcoaches. Use of best-available-technology snowmobiles would continue, and a new limit on nitrogen oxide emissions would be implemented.
By the winter of 2014-2015, snowcoaches would be required to meet or exceed the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2010 emission standards for new wheeled vehicles.
The comment period is now open and will run for at least 60 days. The actual closing date for comments will depend on what date the EPA publishes a “Notice of Availability” in the Federal Register. That date will be announced soon, so please check back.
Discussions over Yellowstone winter use go back more than 75 years. The park service and stakeholds have formally debated winter rules at least 12 times since 1930, but the issue heated up starting in the 1970s and continuing through the 1990s as snowmobile use soared. A detailed look at this history is on the park’s winter use website.
Recent decisions have been subject to lawsuits and protests from conservation groups, including a 2008 court decision that voided a 2007 winter use rule — but that ruling was nullified by the U.S. District Court in Wyoming, which ordered reinstatement of the 2004 rule — which allowed up to 720 snowmobiles and 78 snowcoaches per day.
The Wyoming decision was appealed, but the litigation was declared moot by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals because the NPS had already developed an interim plan and put into effect a replacement rule.
A 2009 interim rule limited access to 318 snowmobiles and 78 snowcoaches per day into Yellowstone during the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 winter seasons. It continued to require all snowmobiles and snowcoaches to be commercially guided, and snowmobiles were required to meet best available technology requirements.
The interim plan and rule were challenged by the State of Wyoming and Park County, Wyoming, but upheld by the court, which left in place a rule valid through the end of the 2010-2011 winter season.