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February 26, 2013 8:47 am

EDITORIAL: Winter use plan: A way forward

Written by Tessa Schweigert

Spanning more than a decade, the saga of snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park has been filled with concern, inconsistency, confusion and court battles. We welcome the latest development: A practical way forward.

The new winter use plan released Friday takes a unique approach to snowmobile access and also seeks to limit air and noise pollution.

In a victory for Park County, the plan calls for keeping the East Entrance open during the winter. Closing Sylvan Pass and the east gate would be a blow to the local economy in winter months. An open Sylvan Pass adds to the attraction of our area as other activities blossom in cold months — such as skiing at Sleeping Giant and ice climbing on the South Fork.

Though snowmobile groups must be guided into Yellowstone, a proposed pilot program will allow one non-commercial guide with up to four guests in each entrance daily. Residents will have to pass an online course to qualify, but the move likely will help increase winter traffic.

It’s important to keep America’s first national park accessible to visitors during the beautiful winter season, but protecting the park and wildlife also must remain a priority. As Gov. Matt Mead said, “This plan strikes a balance.”

Rather than capping actual numbers of snow machines, the plan is based on transportation events. Packaging the traffic will help benefit animals and natural soundscapes, said Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk.

Measuring transportation events gets a little complicated, but as Wenk said last year, simpler plans in the past, based on daily limits, didn’t work.

After years of debate, court decisions, environmental analyses and draft plans, everyone is ready for a longterm plan that works. While no one got exactly what they wanted in the latest plan, optimism on both sides shows this should be the plan that finally lasts.

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