By Jack Welch
Special Projects Consultant, BlueRibbon Coalition
On March 15, 2012, oversnow access by snowmobile and
snowcoach ended for the 2011-12 winter season. In addition, on March 9, 2012
Scoping for the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) to create a
new Winter Use Plan also ended. Let me take a moment to thank all those interested
in the future of snowmobile access to Yellowstone National Park
for commenting. Your comments can make a
Let me start my by updating you on the SEIS process. In the
Park Service Newsletter, (see the attached PDF), one of the most important areas
to be revisited in the new SEIS is the opportunity for non-commercially guided
access. Yes, the Park Service wants to take a serious look at changing the
requirement that all snowmobilers hire a commercial guide to access the Park.
The other areas to be revisited in the SEIS process include variable preset use
limits, air quality and sound modeling assumptions, proposed BAT for
snowcoaches, adaptive management framework, cost of avalanche mitigation on Sylvan Pass
and a new concept for managing daily entries called "Sound Events."
Let's look at "Sound Events" from the Park Service
Newsletter. The concept is discussed under the Preliminary Range of Draft
Alternatives, Nos. 5 and 6. According to the Park Service a "Sound
Event" would equal the following: one current non-BAT snowcoach entry or
an average of up to 7 BAT-snowmobiles in one group not to exceed 10. Depending
on the market, each operator (current permit holder) would be issued a number
of sound events and could chose whether to fill the sound events with
snowmobile groups or snowcoaches.
An example would be if an operator had five "Sound
Events" entries per day, that operator could have five snowcoaches or five
groups of 7 snowmobiles totaling 35 machines entering the Park. This is a very interesting concept and may be
a breakthrough in entry management. For more details see Park Service Newsletter.
With scoping finished, the next step in the SEIS process is release
of a Draft SEIS which is planned in late April or early May. For the latest
information on the SEIS, please check out the BlueRibbon dedicated website www.saveyellowstonepark.com.
When the Draft SEIS is released we will have 60 days to comment. Please be
prepared to help in the comment process.
And now for the Report on the 2011-12 Winter Season in Yellowstone. The just finished season was plagued by very
unusual snow conditions. There was not enough snow to open the West Entrance to
snowmobiles until Dec. 30, 2011. However, the South Entrance received heavy
snowfall and in late February a major blizzard stranded more than 100 people at
Flagg Ranch who had just snowmobiled to Old Faithful.
By all reports, Old Man Winter really favored the South Entrance this season, according
to the National Park Service Public Use Statistic Office.
For the period December 15, 2011 through February 29, 2012
snowmobile visitors totaled 6,365 as compared to 6,468 in the same period in
the 2010-11 season for only a 1.59 percent decrease. In the same report snowcoach
visitation dropped to 2,905 in the 2011-12 season from 2,989 in the 2010-11
season for a 2.81 percent decrease. (Please note the West and Northeast Park
Entrances were closed to snowmobiles due to lack of snow most of December, 2011
so no proper year over year comparison for those portals can be made).
What does this mean? It means that even with the current
restrictions of the "One Year Rule," only 318 snowmobile entries per
day and unlimited snowcoaches, snowmobile visitation to Yellowstone
is still very strong. And I personally witnessed one reason the snowmobile entries
hold firm: the national and international appeal of Yellowstone
in winter by snowmobile as a form of transportation.
Here is my experience. In January, 2012, I took a
commercially guided trip into the Park with Jackson Hole Snowmobile Tours. We went
from Flagg Ranch at the South Entrance to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and its falls. In my group were people from California, North Carolina
and Great Britain.
Yes, Yellowstone has broad international
appeal. My tour group all came to see the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
Falls and, of course, the wildlife along the groomed roads. These folks really
enjoyed the snowmobile as transportation to see the special sights of Yellowstone in winter.
In closing, please remember the fact that Yellowstone
has remained open to snowmobiles since our combined effort began in 1997 is a major
accomplishment over the extreme environmental movement in our lifetime. Enjoy
the victory and make your plans to come and enjoy Yellowstone
this next winter season 2012-13 on a snowmobile.