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July 31, 2012 8:17 am

EDITORIAL: New Yellowstone winter use plan looks positive

Written by Tessa Schweigert

In the ongoing saga of managing winter use in Yellowstone National Park, the latest turn in a new direction is encouraging.

The proposed winter use plan allows for more public access and keeps Yellowstone’s East Entrance open during the winter.

 

 

The plan generally found favor among locals gathered at a recent Cody meeting. For those who feared further snowmobile restrictions or closure of the east gate during winter months, this draft helps ease those ongoing concerns.

“It’s nice to come to a meeting that isn’t threatening to close the pass,” said one local in reference to the East Entrance’s Sylvan Pass.

It’s also nice to see the plan provide for non-commercial guiding — something the previous preferred plan lacked. That doesn’t mean unguided tours; rather, it allows for a less-expensive way for experienced local residents to travel Yellowstone without hiring a commercial guide. Though the details still must be worked out, this step is a win for Park County, the state of Wyoming and snowmobile advocates.

Rather than capping daily snowmobile and snowcoach travel with hard numbers, this plan instead proposes to manage “transportation events.” Under the proposal, the National Park Service would begin limiting access based on how many times Yellowstone is disturbed. It allows for up to 110 daily transportation events — an event consisting of one snowcoach or a group of as many as 10 snowmobiles.

It’s an entirely different approach to managing winter traffic in the park. It’s also complicated when you get into the nuts and bolts of the proposal.

However, as Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk said, “… we’ve tried simple; simple hasn’t worked. This is complicated, but we think complicated will work.”

The Park Service must have a plan that will stand up in court. After all, three previous plans have been voided in federal court, and it will be shocking if this latest plan isn’t challenged.

We are ready for a longterm plan so the public doesn’t have to endure — or pay for — yet another legal battle. More than $10 million has been spent on the arduous winter use planning since the late 1990s.

Now it finally appears that a plan could do what’s best for the public by providing reasonable access, setting realistic limits, allowing for non-commercial snowmobile guides and keeping the East Entrance open during winter months. The plan also has measures in place to continue protecting the Yellowstone ecosystem in the wintertime.

But this proposal still is far from a done deal. In coming weeks, the Park Service will keep collecting comments from the public. Those comments matter. Last year, the public’s criticism and dissatisfaction with elements in a draft plan led park officials to delay the process and make significant changes.

Comments will be accepted through Aug. 20, and we encourage residents to share their views and suggest ways to improve the plan.

It’s been a long road, but we’re hopeful this is a defining turn to guide Yellowstone toward a stable winter use plan for years to come.

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