Proposals for winter use in Yellowstone Park are too vague, and biased against snowmobiling, according to some local people.
“They’ve destroyed the winter economy,” Pahaska Tepee owner Bob Coe said of Yellowstone managers. “They’re managing for non-use, not use.”
He was among about 40 people who attended an open house in Cody on Monday regarding the Park Service’s scoping process for a new winter use plan.
An interim plan, allowing for some guided sledding and snowcoaches, is in place this winter, but expires in March.
The Park Service hopes to have a new plan in place by fall.
A draft plan should be ready in April, allowing for public comment through June and finalization this fall.
Public comment is also being gathered during scoping meetings, like the one in Cody, Superintendent Dan Wenk said.
After a similar process last year, the Park Service had drawn up a preferred alternative – which would have set daily limits of guided sleds and snowcoaches.
But that idea was met with so many negative comments, the Park Service decided to scrap it and essentially start over, said David Jacob of the agency’s Denver-based environmental quality division.
About 59,000 written comments were received, overwhelmingly in favor of restricting or eliminating motorized use, Jacob said.
When pressed by the audience about the origin of some of the comments, Jacob said the Park Service does not accept “bulk comments” from organizations.
But that would still not prevent members of environmental groups or other organizations from filing comments as individuals, he said.
Most of the comments against sledding came from states or areas distant from Yellowstone, he said.
Closer to the park, residents have lobbied for non-commercial sledding in Yellowstone.
Wyoming’s congressional delegation and Gov. Matt Mead also have lobbied for more access and non-commercial snowmobiling.
Wenk said the Park Service has included consideration of that in some of its new proposals. One idea would to be to allow people living near Yellowstone to qualify as “guides” so they could take friends and family into Yellowstone without hiring a commercial guide.
But people at the hearing balked at the suggested numbers of non-commercial users – as few as only five per day.
“We’re frustrated and we’re angry,” Carol Armstrong of Cody said. “We’re tired of regulations and we’re tired of being shut out of Yellowstone.”
Cody chamber director Scott Balyo said they support keeping Sylvan Pass open in the winter. The chamber suggests that 25 percent of any daily snowmobile limit should be for noncommercial riders, he said.
Armstrong and others recalled that access over Sylvan Pass and local snowmobiling into Yellowstone used to be virtually unrestricted, and questioned if that truly hurt the park or stressed wildlife, as sledding opponents have claimed.
But since then, snowmobile access to the park has been whittled away, they said.
County commissioner Tim French said county and state officials have tried for years to work out a compromise with the Park Service.
“Good god, how long are we going to beat this poor dead horse? This is year 12 for me, and it was going on before I came along,” he added.
Some people also questioned standards based on “sound events” from machines that might disturb wildlife or other visitors.
Jacob said the Park Service is obligated to consider the effects of noise on the winter experience in the park – and many comments from the public nationally reflect this concern.
But some at the meeting said concerns about sound are too arbitrary, and just another way for the Park Service to limit public access.
Air quality and safety on Sylvan Pass also continue to be issues that must be taken into account, Wenk said.
More information on the winter use proposals and comment process is available at parkplanning.nps.gov/yell. Click on the link to “2012 supplemental winter use plan EIS.”