Yellowstone Park plans to allow more snowmobiles

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The National Park Service proposes to increase the number of snowmobiles and other snow-machines allowed into Yellowstone National Park. Despite the increase, the agency says new pollution and noise control requirements should curtail the environmental effects.

The agency’s proposal is drawing praise from snowmobile enthusiasts and a Wyoming state government keen on more tourism dollars. Some conservationists, however, say the agency could do more to protect the nation’s first national park.

The default position for national parks is to allow no snowmobiles at all. Officials at Yellowstone have been on a rollercoaster ride of court challenges and environmental appeals for more than a decade as they have floated a series of proposals aimed at accommodating traditional snowmobile traffic.

The public has 45 days from the June 29 release of the plan to comment. The Park Service also plans to collect comment at a series of meetings in Wyoming and Montana later this month.

Dan Wenk, Yellowstone superintendent, said Thursday that his agency endorses allowing a maximum of 480 snowmobiles plus 60 snow coaches per day into Yellowstone.

The number of snow coaches, meaning passenger vans retrofitted with skis and tracks, could double in the future if they meet noise and pollution standards. The average number of snowmobiles per day couldn’t exceed 342 over a winter season.

The Park Service has set daily limits of 318 snowmobiles and 78 snow coaches in recent years. Wenk said the park’s daily average was 190 snowmobiles and about 35 snow coaches last winter.

The agency’s new proposal would set lower noise and emissions requirements for snowmobiles starting in the 2017-2017 winter season. Beginning that season, snow coaches also would be required to have gasoline or diesel engines of recent manufacture.

The agency endorses allowing one non-commercially guided group of up to five snowmobiles to enter each of the park’s four entrances each day.

Wenk said the alternative his agency endorses, “provides for a cleaner park, it provides for a quieter park. Greater noise-free intervals, less sounds. It does allow for increases in visitation, while reducing associated transportation impacts.”

Jack Welch, a leader of the snowmobile advocacy groups called the Yellowstone Task Force and the Blue Ribbon Coalition, said Thursday that he’s generally pleased with the Park Service position but continues to review planning documents.

“The devil is in the details,” said Welch, who said he’s been snowmobiling in Yellowstone since the late 1960s. “First blush is we’re pleased.”

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