After weeks of internal deliberations and an initial assertion that such a plan could not be legally crafted, the National Park Service has submitted for public review a Yellowstone National Park winter-use plan calling for 318 four-cycle guided snowmobiles and 78 snow coaches into the Park daily during the upcoming winter season.
The temporary plan would be in effect for three years while the Park Service works out yet another winter-use plan that can past muster with the courts. That’s not an easy task, as the U.S. court system is responsible for the current mess: in September U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan threw out a 2007 propsed winter plan allowing 540 snowmobiles in the Park daily, ruling it ignored the advice of Park Service scientists on suitable noise and pollution levels.
The plan also calls for keeping the Sylvan Pass open during the winter season. Cody business interests had argued for keeping it open as a vital route for tourists entering via the East Entrance.
The plan is a compromise, to be sure, designed not to upset the delicate balance in the middle who acknowledge winter access to the Park is necessary. Last winter there was an average of 297 four-cycle snowmobiles in the Park daily (with a peak of 557 on one December day), so the proposed limit of 318 is slightly higher. Given that both sides on the snowmobile issue are unhappy with the limit, it’s probably a good comprimise.
“It’s important to note that, for the longer term, the number of snowmobiles being proposed still exceeds the daily average and will still damage Yellowstone’s resources,” said Tim Stevens, Yellowstone program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, told the Jackson Hole Daily. “Every scientific study has demonstrated that Yellowstone can do a better job protecting park resources by providing public access to the park on snow coaches.”
You can read the proposal here. There will be two 15-dasy periods for public comment before a final decision is made.