By Cory Hatch
Jackson Hole News&Guide, Jackson Hole, WY
A winter use plan for Yellowstone National Park that limits snowmobile numbers is bad for local economies and goes against the purpose of the National Park System, U.S. Sen. John Barrasso said last week.
The comments came in a letter to Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk. They follow the release of a plan that would cut the number of snowmobiles allowed in the world's first national park to as few as 110 on some days.
"The Park Service's preferred management plan for winter use activities would dramatically reduce public access," Barrasso said in the letter. "Under your preferred alternative, half of the days in the winter season would see a decrease, causing a sizeable reduction in the number of individuals into Yellowstone during the winter season.
"This proposal will limit the public's ability to access the park and undercut the businesses and communities that rely on tourism and recreation activities," Barrasso said.
The preferred alternative in Yellowstone's draft winter use plan would vary the number of snowmobiles allowed each day between 110 and 330 and the number of snow coaches between 30 and 80 each day during the season. National Park Service officials said the changing numbers would provide a mixture of visitor experiences.
The park allows 318 snowmobiles a day during winter under today's rules.
The plan would require guides for snowmobile tours and improvements on best available technology emissions requirements for snowmobiles by the winter of 2014-15. Best available technology also would be required for snowcoaches by the winter of 2014-15.
"Snowmobiles are integral to the Yellowstone winter experience," Barrasso said. "The Park Service must stop this drive to eliminate public access, and instead recognize the significant progress that has been made to mitigate environmental impacts."
Barrasso also pushed against the requirement that snowmobilers be guided.
Snowmobile operators have chaffed against the latest iteration of the snowmobile plan, saying the variable numbers would make business difficult.
In the letter to Wenk, Barrasso echoed those sentiments.
"The National Park Service's preferred alternative ... jeopardizes jobs in Yellowstone's gateway communities," he said.
Conservation groups have urged the Park Service to phase out snowmobiles in favor of snowcoaches. They say snowmobiles violate Park Service policy and the law, in part because they are more a form of recreation than a means of transportation. The groups also say snowmobiles foul the park's air quality, create too much noise and bother wildlife.