A commercial snowmobile guide is in hot water after bringing guests into an area of the Upper Geyser Basin where snowmobiles are prohibited.
According to Yellowstone superintendent Dan Wenk, speaking to the Washington Post, the incident occurred Sunday.
“His guide told two of his clients that they could drive around the visitor center and into an area where the snowmobiles are prohibited,” Wenk told the Post.
The news comes as the U.S. government shutdown endures, following a lapse in funding. Yellowstone released guidelines for what a government shutdown would entail Friday, January 19, 2018.
Under those guidelines, access would not be barred and commercial operators (like Xanterra, the concessions company that runs Yellowstone’s lodging system, or commercial snowmobile guides) would still be able to operate. Roads would remain open so long as concessioners provide grooming funds, but the park would close in the event of an emergency.
Wenk told the Post park staff witnessed the snowmobile incident through the Old Faithful webcam, which broadcasts geyser activity online. Although all government facilities are closed and services suspended within the park, not all park staff are furloughed.
According to the Post, the guide has been issued a citation and will face a mandatory court appearance.
During the 2013 government shutdown, Yellowstone closed entirely and asked people to leave, a pattern followed by other parks and national monuments. This stands in sharp contrast to how the Interior Department decided to handle this year’s government shutdown.
Critics of the Interior’s decision say the decision jeopardizes both public safety and the safety of park resources, since the majority of National Park Service/Interior staff would not be allowed to work during a shutdown. Indeed, the Post reports Yellowstone wasn’t the only place where illegal activity occurred:
At Pennsylvania’s Gettysburg National Military Park, a family with metal detectors and a drone — both of which are prohibited — entered the park over the weekend. Rangers intercepted them and used it as “an educational opportunity” said NPS spokesman Jeremy Barnum in a phone interview, and let them go without a citation. They did not damage the park’s resources, Barnum added.
And Shane Farnor, an online advocacy manager for the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), said in an interview that during a weekend visit to California’s Joshua Tree National Park, he saw dogs roaming without leashes, which isn’t allowed, and running on trails where they’re not allowed.
Speaking to reporters Monday, Zinke said he wanted to preserve access even if there was reduced staffing for a period of time.
“The public lands are for the public,” he said. “They’re not for special interests.”
“Looting and damaging recreational use were at the top of our concerns when you don’t have park rangers and staff on the ground,” said Kristen Brengel, NPCA’s vice president of government affairs. “So it’s really disappointing that it actually happened, but it also says why we need staff there.”
Currently, there is no timeline for when the federal government (and hence Yellowstone) will reopen, though the shutdown is not expected to last much longer.