Wednesday, June 19, 2013
The Washington Post
After more than 15 years, the Yellowstone snowmobile wars may have reached an end.
The National Park Service announced Friday it has a new plan for managing snowmobiles and snow coaches in Yellowstone National Park, a compromise between tour operators eager to bring tourists in during the winter and environmentalists who oppose the pollution and noise accompanying such vehicles.
"We think we've got something they can get behind," said Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk.
Under the proposal, which will take a few months to finalize, the park will allow 50 snowmobile groups and 60 snow coaches -- small buses on skis or tracks -- to enter daily. During the winter season, which runs from Dec. 15 to March 15, there can be no more than an average of seven snowmobiles in a group, although during peak times operators can take up to 10 snowmobiles in a group.
The increasingly popular snow coaches -- more than half of Yellowstone's winter visitors now come on them -- must reduce their vehicle emissions by 25 percent over the next few years, while both snowmobiles and snow coaches will be required to run more quietly. Snowmobiles will face a noise limit of 67 decibels, while snow coaches are bound to 75 decibels, and the speed limit will be reduced from 35 miles per hour to 25 mph.
Both tour operators and park advocates said they could accept the plan, although they hoped to make small tweaks before it becomes final in the late spring.
"The concept is great," said Yellowstone Vacations co-owner Randy Roberson, whose family company brings roughly 5,000 visitors each winter into Yellowstone on both snowmobiles and snow coaches. He praised the plan's flexibility.
Mark Pearson, conservation program director for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, said he believed the plan could "pass muster with pretty much everybody."
"They've figured out how to minimize the impacts on air quality, wildlife and noise to a sufficient extent to protect the park's wildlife, while allowing a robust amount of access for visitors," said Pearson, whose group represents conservationists and some environmental groups and businesses.