A lone bison crosses a road ahead of a pack of snowmobilers in Yellowstone National Park, Wyo., Jan. 3, 2003. / Craig Moore/Associated Press
The use of snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park, a contentious subject for decades, is front and center again as the park service releases a new proposal aimed both at motorized winter recreationists and conservation groups that want to ban the machines.
According to the Associated Press, the agency will recommended an initial plan that allows up to 480 snowmobiles and 60 multiple passenger snow coaches per day into Yellowstone during the winter. It's set to announce its latest proposal later today, and the guidelines will be subject to more public review before a final decision is made.
The park has been operating in recent winters with a daily limit of 318 snowmobiles and 78 snow coaches. The state of Wyoming and snowmobile groups want the park to allow more snowmobile access, while some conservation groups want snowmobiles banned from the park.
Concerted efforts to manage snowmobiles at Yellowstone date to a 1974 winter use master plan, but the process "became more complicated in the past dozen or so years, as lawsuits and threats of lawsuits sent Yellowstone planners back to the drawing board time and again," notes the National Parks Traveler.
The latest plan, which will go through a 60-day public comment period before being finalized for use next winter, "is the most protective alternative that's ever been proposed by Yellowstone or the National Park Service," Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk told National Parks Traveler. "It's an impact-centric alternative. It makes the park quieter, and cleaner, than currently authorized. It develops new and very robust standards for both snowmobiles and snowcoaches."
Under the new proposal, the park would authorize up to 110 "transportation events" per day, defined as a group of seven snowmobiles or one snowcoach, and up to 50 of these events could involve groups of snowmobiles. Four non-commercially guided groups of five snowmobiles would be allowed each day of the winter season, one each through the park's Mammoth Hot Springs, West Yellowstone, South, and East entrances, and Sylvan Pass would remain open for snowmobile and snowcoach access through Yellowstone's East Entrance, with park crews performing avalanche control as needed to ensure safe passage.
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