Snowmobiles in Yellowstone

Winter Use Plan Debate Continues; Park County Pushes for Guide-Free Sledding

On the face of it, the positioned staked out by Park County Commissioners seems reasonable: hiring a guide to access Yellowstone National Park in the winter season is expensive, and locals who possess the necessary sledding skills shouldn’t be forced to bear that burden.

That’s fine. But let’s look back to the days of unguided access. It was not uncommon to see sled tracks heading off the groomed road and into some side area where access was denied. Poaching was an issue, as was hazing of animals.

Those things still happen today, by the way, even with guides, but Park officials say incidents are down some 70 percent since guided access was required.

Park County officials say bad things wouldn’t happen if experienced riders were allowed in. Why, you could make them fill out an online questionnaire to make sure they understand it’s bad to head off the trail and haze the wildlife.

That is, of course, a uniquely silly proposition that defies all understanding of human nature. Just because someone knows an act is illegal won’t prevent them from actually doing it; a drive down any freeway should be proof positive of that. What Park County is proposing is basically an honor system, and in the past the honor system simply didn’t work.

Which is why the Park Service is highly, highly unlikely to seriously consider unguided access as part of the next Winter Use Plan. Until someone provides a workable plan to provide unguided access to Yellowstone in winter, it will be continue to sit on an unimplemented wish list.

Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

RELATED STORIES: Shaping the Future Winter-Use Plan for Yellowstone; Group Pitches Plowing of Road Between West Yellowstone, Old Faithful; Want to Comment on Yellowstone Winter Plan? Here’s Your Chance; Planning a Winter Trip to Yellowstone? Here’s What to Expect; Snow Makes for a Wonderful Winter Opening; Yellowstone Winter Use Plan Stays in Place After Appeal; Wyoming Seeks to Overturn Obama Administration Winter Rules; Obama Administration Sets 318-Sled Limit for 2009-2010 Winter Season

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