By Brandy Ladd
In regards to motorized travel, Yellowstone National Park’s temporary
winter use plan will expire this
March. The plan currently allows
318 snowmobiles and 78 multi-passenger snow coaches (led by commercial guides) to enter the park
daily. Snowmobiles are required to
have, “Best Available Technology”
such as four-stroke engines, which
discharge less noise and emissions.
For over a decade, the subject of
over snow vehicles in the Park has
raged a litigious battle. What is in
store for the newest draft?
I graduated from Gardiner High
School in 1993. That same year,
the Forest Service and Park Service began to address the growing
popularity of winter recreation in
the Greater Yellowstone Area. I
remember trailer-loads of snowmobiles and bubble-headed adventure
seekers flocking to Jardine, Mammoth and Cooke City. Business was
flourishing in Gardiner and the
other border towns – Cooke City,
Big Sky, West Yellowstone, Cody,
Flagg Ranch and Jackson. That
winter, the snowy roads supported
140,000 visitors, 90,000 of whom
rode snowmobiles, and 10,000 rode
in snow coaches.
In the mid ‘90s, the combination
of large visitors numbers and high
bison mortality rate caught the
attention of wildlife protection
groups. After the ensuing federal
court case in Washington, D.C., an
environmental group petitioned
banning recreational snowmobiling
within all national parks.
In 2000, the park service responded
with a plan to phase out most
snowmobile use in Yellowstone
and Grand Teton parks. The basis
for the plan was to reduce air and
noise pollution, while maintaining
the natural splendor for the enjoyment of the people. Snowmobiling
groups then sued the Park Service,
and once again, the case found its
way to the federal court, this time
in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where the
decision was overturned.
Finally, in 2009, after more trips
to the federal court, a temporary
winter use plan was implemented.
Meanwhile, tourist-dependent
border towns suffered. Families
scrambled to restructure businesses
to accommodate for the new laws.
Now, a new winter use plan has
been through a public scoping
process. Over 9,000 letters and web
submissions suggested needs and
objectives to be examined in the
upcoming Environmental Impact
Statement (EIS). Consideration will
focus on wildlife habitat, soundscapes, air quality, visitor use and
experience, socioeconomics, and
park operations and maintenance.
A draft of six alternative plans has
been proposed for the EIS. The
plans range from prohibiting all
winter motorized travel, to continuing the current plan, to increasing
daily snowmobile numbers. Non-
guided permits are also a consideration in the alternatives. The Final
EIS will be released this fall.