National Park Service (NPS) Intermountain Region director John Wessels last Thursday signed a Record of Decision (ROD) for the Winter Use Plan/Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (Plan/SEIS).
The ROD officially completes the Plan/SEIS process, which was developed in accordance with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 and included extensive public involvement, including a number of opportunities for the public to submit comments on the Plan/SEIS.
"This winter use plan is the product of hundreds of hours of public involvement, is based on sound science, and is a different approach to winter use management," Yellowstone superintendent Dan Wenk said. "The Plan/SEIS and ROD provide mechanisms to make the park cleaner and quieter than ever before authorized, allow greater flexibility for commercial tour operators, reward oversnow vehicle innovations and technologies, and permit increases in visitation."
Beginning with the 2014/2015 winter season, a fixed maximum number of vehicles allowed in the park each day will be replaced with a new, more flexible concept of managing vehicle access by transportation events, defined as one snowcoach or a group of up to 10 snowmobiles, averaging seven seasonally.
Commercial tour operators will be able to use their allocated transportation events for snowmobiles, snowcoaches, or a mix of both, as long as no more than 50 of the authorized 110 daily transportation events are snowmobile events. By relying upon user demand to determine the best mix of oversnow vehicle (OSV) use and focusing on the impacts of OSV use on park resources, the transportation event concept protects park resources and allows appropriate access.
The plan also allows for one entry a day per entrance for a non-commercially guided group of up to five snowmobiles and will continue to allow for OSV use on the East Entrance road over Sylvan Pass.
The 2013/2014 winter season will be a transition year during which the park will allow OSV under the same conditions in place for the past four winters. The one-season transition period will also allow time for the NPS to advertise and award concession contracts and for commercial tour operators to prepare for the shift to management by transportation events.
Because the Regional Director's decision will allow OSV use in the park, a regulation must be promulgated before the decision can be implemented. A final regulation is expected to be published in the Federal Register in early fall.
Additional information and an electronic copy of the Plan/SEIS and ROD are available online at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/yell.