The Yellowstone draft winter use plan(s) are up online, and the 60 day comment period is open now. You can read the draft and use the parks electronic comment form here. As the report itself says, the draft option which the NPS selects is likely to shape winter use of the park for decades to come (assuming it stands up to legal challenge). So, I strongly encourage everyone to comment now. In the following text I attempt to sum up the various options (though pages v thru x of the executive summary do a pretty good job of that already).
The NPS has presented us with 7 plans for winter use by humans of the park, which vary considerably according to the extent to which they permit motorized use. All plans would allow ski and snowshoe traffic, and would continue to keep the northern road from Gardiner to Cook City open year round.
The first alternative is the “no action” alternative, which would allow the current interim plan to expire, thus leaving the park with no rule permitting motorized OSV (over snow vehicle) traffic. Beyond NPS administrative use, all motorized winter OSV travel would be illegal. The draft notes that parks such as Glacier, Rainer, and Lassen (in northern CA) are managed in such a fashion. They also note that because OSV traffic has been so constant for so long, implementation of this alternative could provide a baseline for animal activity, air quality, and the like which has in modern times not been accessible. This last point is a very good one, and while the comparison to Glacier is not a good one (the mountains and avalanches of Glacier keep much of the park inaccessible in winter in a way applicable to very few areas of Yellowstone) the comparison to the gentle terrain of Lassen is not bad (though the volumes of interest are quite different).
Alternative 2 would essentially continue the status quo, with limits on the numbers of snowmobiles and snowcoaches per day, with mandatory guiding for all parties, and fairly strict technological restrictions (no two-stokes). Alternative 3 is identical, save rolling snowmachine numbers back to 2004 levels (about three times the most recent limits).
Alternative 4 contains an interesting provision, wherein the roads from Mammoth and West Yellowstone would be plowed in to Madison and Old Faithful, and open to commerical shuttle vans. Any van is quieter than the archaic and very load snowcoaches currently is use to schlep folks in to Old Faithful, and this provision also admits that at least a substaintial part of the motivation to not plow the thin snowpack in to Old Faithful has to do with charging exorbitant rates for snowcoach rides.
Alternative 5 phases out snowmachines by the 2014/15 season, replacing them with snowcoaches that would have to meet emissions requirements. I don’t know enough to contextualize these requirements and thus establish their rigor.
Alternatives 6 and 7 would establish limits on snowmachine and snowcoach use that would vary throughout the season, presumably (I have not read the entire, hundreds of pages document) providing for more slots around holiday periods, etc. Alternative 6 would allow for some private snowmachine use, alternative 7 would not. Alternative 7 is the NPS’ preferred alternative, and includes the questionable provision that “…OSV concessioners could have the potential to increase their daily limits if they include newer, cleaner, technologies in their fleets.”
I wrote in support of the no-action alternative. More because I suspect this plan and it’s merits will not be well voiced in the face of the economic issues (Cody and West will be screaming that their economies will die) sure to dominate the debate. The current level of OSV travel seems to be fairly innocuous, and even when you consider that animals are more stressed and are typically restricted to areas close to the roads the current level of motorized traffic likely pales in comparison to summer hoards.
My argument, of course, is that our modern world is spiritually small enough, our wild lands full of snowmachine trails, our lazy demons catered to all so thoroughly by law and custom. For our national parks to remain bastions to and for higher ideals is entirely appropriate. In summer its hard to hike for more than 3 days in Yellowstone without crossing a road. In winter, absent regular snowmachine traffic, a 10 day traverse would be possible with barely a sign of humanity in evidence. I would hope that there is enough traction against myopathy in the general public to see that as a virtue, even if you yourself never partake.
My second choice would be alternative 4. The snowcoaches are a goofy, if romantic, and avaricious artifice. If Yellowstone is to be accessible for “everyone” in the winter it should be fiscally accessible as well. It’s not mentioned in the draft, but I’d like to see (and encourage all socialists to write as much) for-profit concessions banned from national parks in perpetuity, and camping fees permanently frozen at $5 a night (2010 dollars adjusted for inflation).
It should also be noted that snowbiking is not mentioned anywhere in the first 36 pages of the draft (and I imagine not at all elsewhere in it). If you think snowbiking is an appropriate use of the park, now is the time to say so.
Comments are open until July 13th. Get involved. Decisions are made by those who show up.