Park Service schedules February meetings for Yellowstone winter-use options

Snow coaches operated by private tour guide companies are parked near Old Fiathful Geyser in Yellowstone National Park. (Ruffin Prevost/Yellowstone Gate - click to enlarge)

Snow coaches operated by private tour guide companies are parked near Old Fiathful Geyser in Yellowstone National Park. (Ruffin Prevost/Yellowstone Gate - click to enlarge)

By Ruffin Prevost

CODY, Wyo. — The National Park Service has scheduled four open-house meetings for mid-February in gateway communities around Yellowstone National Park to answer questions about ongoing efforts to develop a long-term winter-use plan for the park.

The Park Service is operating this winter in Yellowstone under a “one-year rule,” designating winter from Dec. 15, 2011 to mid-March 2012 as a “transition year.” That means use levels and restrictions on snowmobiles and snow coaches, for instance, are the same as the interim rule that has governed use over the past two seasons.

Efforts to nail down a long-term winter-use plan have been complicated by public debate, including court challenges, over issues like snowmobile traffic and avalanche management on Sylvan Pass, between Cody, Wyo. and Fishing Bridge.

The Park Service is seeking additional public comment on specific issues identified in its environmental studies, with a goal of producing a long-term winter-use plan for the 2012-13 season.

As part of a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement park managers are developing, they will specifically analyze additional data and public comment on:

  • Variable preset use limits (differing levels of snowmobile/snow coach use on different days).
  • Air quality and sound modeling assumptions.
  • Proposed “best available technology” for snow coaches.
  • Adaptive management framework for emerging technologies.
  • Sylvan Pass avalanche operations and costs.
  • Requirements for entry into the park by 10:30 a.m. daily.
  • Opportunities for non-commercially guided access.

The first step in developing the supplemental EIS is to ask for further public comment and suggestions on potential approaches to winter use, including any additional issues not yet discussed. This public scoping process will officially open for a 30-day period starting in early February.

The Park Service has released a number of draft alternatives for public review and comment during scoping. The alternatives cover a wide range of possible approaches to winter use in the park, ranging from eliminating all snowmobile and snow coach travel after the end of the current winter season to plowing park roads from West Yellowstone and Mammoth Hot Springs to Old Faithful to allow commercially operated, wheeled vehicles into the park.

Another alternative looks at continuing winter operations at the present temporary limits, with an analysis of limited access for non-commercially guided snowmobiles. Under the current plan, up to 318 commercially guided snowmobiles and up to 78 commercially guided snow coaches per day are allowed into Yellowstone.

More Info

Additional details on the supplemental EIS, the draft range of alternatives, and an electronic form to submit comments can be found on the NPS Planning, Environment and Public Comment website at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/yell, or by writing to Winter Use Supplemental EIS, P.O. Box 168, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190. Written comments may be submitted online, in person at planned February open houses or at park headquarters, or by mail. Comments will not be accepted by phone, fax or e-mail.

Also under consideration is a proposal to phase out snowmobiles and allow motorized entry only by snow coaches. That alternative also includes analysis of closing the park’s east entrance over Sylvan Pass to motorized over-snow use.

Two other draft alternatives would take a new and different approach to winter use. One approach would regulate park entry according to the number of “sound events” created by snow coaches or guided snowmobile groups, rather than by specific numbers of snow coaches or snowmobiles. Another would assess the effects of two-week “shoulder seasons,” where entrance to the park during the first two and last two weeks of winter would be via wheeled vehicles or rubber-tracked snow coaches.

If you go…

Yellowstone staff members will host a series of open houses during the scoping period to answer questions about winter use issues, the draft alternatives and the process of preparing the supplemental EIS:

  • Monday, Feb. 13 in Cody Wyo.: Holiday Inn, 1702 Sheridan Ave.
  • Tuesday, Feb. 14 in Jackson, Wyo.: The Virginian Lodge, 750 W. Broadway
  • Wednesday, Feb.15 in West Yellowstone, Mont.: Holiday Inn, 315 Yellowstone Ave.
  • Thursday Feb. 16 in Bozeman, Mont.: Holiday Inn, 5 Baxter Lane

All open houses will run from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.

Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected]

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