Nov. 12, 2007 – Yellowstone decision nears

By mid-November, the fate of snowmobile access in Yellowstone National Park might finally be sealed — for at least the time being.
The National Park Service (NPS) released a document on Sept. 24 called “Winter Use Plans Final Environmental Impact Statement,” or FEIS, for Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway. It’s the second-to-last step for making it an official winter plan, with the final ruling expected to be released in early- to mid-November.
While the FEIS offers several possible plans, the one it prefers includes these steps:

  • Reduction of the daily snowmobile limit from 720 to 540;
  • Access limited daily to 300 snowmobiles in the west gate, 185 in the south gate and 35 in the north gate;
  • Snowcoach permits increase from 78 daily to 83;
  • Require best-available technology snowmobiles in Yellowstone and on Jackson Lake;
  • Commercial guides mandatory in Yellowstone; guides not required on other park entities;
  • Maximum group size is 11;
  • Closure of the east entrance over Sylvan Pass;
  • Discontinue maintenance on the Continental Divide Scenic Trail; and
  • Allow trailering of snowmobiles between Flagg Ranch and Moran Junction.
    Response to the preferred alternative is mixed.
    “It’s tough,” said David McCray, owner of Two-Top Snowmobile in West Yellowstone, Mont. “We’re glad that we’re still allowed access, but it’s limiting our gate access from 400 per day to 300. It will most assuredly limit the amount of people who can enter the park.”
    “I?agree 100 percent with the four-strokes and the slower speed limits,”?said Gayle Archer, owner of the Day’s Inn in West Yellowstone. “But the lower numbers are not good for our town. We need the snowmobilers. In the winter, we’re a destination. In the summer, people just drive on through.”
    Archer said in recent years, her hotel has been running at about 75 percent capacity in the winter.
    McCray has noticed an impact on his business as well, but he’s beginning to see a rebound. Last year, he saw a 10 percent increase in business. “We hit bottom, and now we’re going back up,” he said.
    “We are thankful for the fact that the agency will apparently decide to allow for some level of continued snowmobile access to the Parks,” Jack Welch, president of the Idaho-based Blue Ribbon Coalition, said in a statement. “We are not satisfied. In fact, we are very disappointed by the level and nature of the access outlined in the FEIS preferred alternative. We maintain ample reserves for the coming fight, which we deem unfortunate but inevitable, over this issue.”
    McCray doesn’t see an end in sight for the issue, either. The vocal opposition to snowmobiles in the park will not be happy with the continued access, he said. “I?don’t think that this decision will be without litigation,” he said.
    Future Worries
    While McCray feels the future conflict of snowmobile access to Yellowstone will continue long after the November decision, there are a few other issues he’s monitoring.
    First, he’s keeping an eye on pricing. With the potentially lower access numbers, access to the park could become a premium commodity.
    “Soon the demand to get in will outstrip supply, and prices to get in will raise,” he said. “It’s already unaffordable to most people.”
    The other thing he’s wary of are potential outside concessioneers. Snowmobile rental operators and guide services are licensed by the NPS to work in the park. The businesses apply for the licenses annually. However, he said, there’s nothing that prevents one large business from outbidding the local operators and obtaining all the licenses. psb

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