SNOWMOBILE – Bill Continues Yellowstone Issue
November 28, 2005
Filed under Features
A rider attached to the Federal Interior Appropriations bill directs the National Park Service (NPS) to continue the authorization of up to 720 snowmobiles each day in Yellowstone National Park. This rider blocks the federal courts from barring the use of snowmobiles this winter.
The comment period in the scoping phase of the third Winter Use Plan Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Yellowstone will end on September 1, at which time Wyoming District Court Judge Clarence A. Brimmer is expected to rule on the issue. The NPS planned to accept public comments on the issues and alternatives that should be considered in the upcoming winter use plan and EIS from June 24, 2005 to September 1, 2005.
The purpose of the Winter Use Plan and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) will be to ensure that park visitors have a range of appropriate winter recreational opportunities, while ensuring that these recreational activities are in an appropriate setting and do not impair or irreparably harm park resources or values.
The EIS will evaluate the environmental effects of winter use on air quality and visibility, wildlife, natural soundscapes, employee and visitor health and safety, visitor experience and socioeconomics, and will consider a variety of different alternatives for managing winter use in the parks.
In evaluating accumulated information, the NPS will include alternatives with various limits on the number of snowmobiles that may enter the parks. The organization says it also will consider alternatives, including allowing for some unguided or non-commercial snowmobile guided use. They will also consider an alternative allowing only mass-transit snowcoaches, and evaluate the impact road grooming has on bison and other native creatures.
Snowmobiles in Yellowstone are restricted to the same road system used in the spring, summer, and fall by over 1.5 million automobiles, busses, SUVs, trucks, recreational vehicles and motorcycles. This amounts to less than 1% of the park, which is 2.2 million acres.
The International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association (ISMA) contends snowmobiles account for less than 4% of annual vehicular traffic in the park.
Currently, winter use in the parks is operating under a temporary Winter Use Plan. The temporary plan is in place after two previous NPS decisions about winter use were returned to the NPS for further work by federal courts. The temporary plan is intended to be in effect for three winter seasons (the winters of 2004- 2005, 2005-2006, and 2006-2007), while the NPS prepares a long-term winter plan.
The temporary winter use plan allows for a maximum of 720 commercially guided snowmobiles in Yellowstone each day. In Grand Teton, 50 snowmobiles are allowed per day on both the Continental Divide Snowmobile Trail and on the Grassy Lake Road and 40 snowmobiles are allowed per day on Jackson Lake in order to provide access for ice fishing. With few exceptions, all snowmobiles are required to be “Best Available Technology,” which are the cleanest and quietest commercially available snowmobiles.
Last winter, nearly 85,000 people visited Yellowstone National Park. Of these, 24,000 entered on snowmobiles and 17,000 on snowcoaches through the park's oversnow entrances, while 43,000 drove into the park in their automobiles through the North Entrance. An average of approximately 240 snowmobiles entered Yellowstone each day.
The NPS believes that the reduced snowmobile use from historic levels was partly a result of the public's uncertainty about whether or not the parks were open or how to visit them and from a lack of snowfall. The NPS already says the parks will be open to snowmobiles and snowcoaches and will be operating under the temporary plan next winter.
For more information, including a prepared statement suitable to send to legislators, visit the ISMA website at www.snowmobile.org.