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Wyoming Congressional Delegation Pushing Interior Secretary To Move on Yellowstone Snowmobile Plan


Wyoming's congressional delegation wants Interior Secretary Kempthorne to order Yellowstone National Park open to snowmobilers this coming winter.

Wyoming's congressional delegation, concerned about the winter economies of Cody and Jackson, has asked Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to, essentially, order Yellowstone National Park open to snowmobiling this winter.

Of course, not only is it questionable whether the Interior secretary has the authority to issue such an order, but he previously had recused himself from playing a role in the snowmobiling issue because he previously was governor and U.S. senator from Idaho, a state that has an interest in the outcome.

Nevertheless, in a letter dashed off to Secretary Kempthorne just the other day the Wyoming politicians -- U.S. Senators Mike Enzi and John Barrasso and U.S. Rep. Barbara Cubin, all Republicans -- asked that he "put in place a temporary plan that would allow snowmobiles and snowcoaches in Yellowstone" this coming winter.

Here's the text of their letter:

Dear Secretary Kempthorne;

We urge you to take immediate administrative action on emergency rulemaking for winter use in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway. Gateway communities in our state are struggling to prepare for the winter season under the cloud of uncertainty created by recent legal battles over winter use. Immediate action by your Department can help to provide stability to these communities.

As you know, Judge Emmet(t) Sullivan’s ruling on September 15, 2008 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia vacated the National Park Service’ plan for winter use management of Wyoming parks. In the wake of this decision and continuing legal battles, administrative action is required to allow snowmobile and snowcoach access to the parks this winter. The many families visiting the Wyoming parks and the small businesses hosting them depend on this immediate action.

We ask that you immediately move forward with plans to prepare and implement an interim plan for the 2008-2009 winter use season in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway. This is a crucial time for business owners and community leaders in Wyoming. The Department of Interior has an opportunity to offer certainty and stability to these communities, despite the ongoing court battles.


____________________ ____________________ ____________________
Senator Michael B. Enzi Senator John Barrasso Representative Barbara Cubin

According to a story in the Billings Gazette, Yellowstone Superintendent Suzanne Lewis told some business leaders from Cody that she's been told she has no legal means to resort to an "administrative fiat" to open the park to snowmobiling this winter.

It's somewhat curious that the Wyoming delegation felt it was necessary to write Secretary Kempthorne. Yellowstone officials earlier this month announced they were working on a plan to let recreational snowmobiles and snow coaches in the park this winter and were confident they'd be able to get the deed done.

What's also interesting is that the letter wasn't co-signed by the Montana delegation, whose state arguably does more in snowmobile business through West Yellowstone, the self-proclaimed "snowmobile capital of the world," than Wyoming's gateway communities do.


Great idea. Let's put into place yet another winter use plan that ignores the law, the courts, the EPA, the Organic Act, science and tons of public comments. Then we can spend a few million more taxpayer dollars doing yet another study, which will be ignored; and having yet another comment period, which will be ignored. It's starting to feel like that Star Trek episode where they are caught in some kind of time warp and they keep living the same day over and over. Or maybe, just maybe, they could come up with a winter use plan that is actually in compliance with the law and with good science!? Then local ooutfitters could actually plan for the future with some degree of certainty. They could get on with converting over to snowcoaches. As compitition went up, prices would come down; and average people who cannot afford four or five hundred dollars a day to rent a snowmobile and guide, would actually be able to visit Yellowstone in the winter. Snowmobilers could still enjoy riding through thousands of acres of National Forest land outside of the Park (no guide needed) as they do now. Park animals would be less stressed. Park rangers would be less stressed. Skiers and hikers would find more quiet and pristine beauty, as well as fresh air. Yes, snowcoaches make noise and polute as well, but the big difference is that each snowcoach can carry upwards of twenty people; instead of having twenty individual machines racing around.
Yes, Superintendent Lewis, let's do this one more time. But let's make this the last time. Let's do it right this time. Let's make this plan beyond reproach. Read the law and follow it. Listen to the reports. Stop chasing pennies of taxpayer money with dollars of taxpayer money. The American people need you (and the Park Service/Interior Dept.) to do the right thing, once and for all.

One issue on motorized use outside the park - the travel plan for Gallatin National Forest has been all but struck down by a judge. There is a good chance that a lot of the national forests outside of Yellowstone will be managed more as wilderness areas. So, there may be a fair amount of restriction on snowmobiles - there already are on the wilderness areas north of the park.

However, it would be extremely unlikely that the entire forest would be managed as a wilderness area. Areas along the Gallatin River are certainly in dispute.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

I personally would not hold my breath waiting for the DOI to act. While it is encouraging that constituent’s voices are being heard via their elected representatives, I doubt that their wishes will be granted. More legal wrangling is sure to follow.

I also wonder about the longevity of snow coach use within the park. If and when snowmobiles are outlawed completely, snow coaches will find themselves squarely in the crosshairs of the same groups that oppose snowmobiles, and the battle will begin anew.

A strikingly similar situation has already occurred in CHNSRA, in relation to Personal Watercraft, (PWC), useage. About 10 years ago, PWC's were effectively banned in the CAHA park unit through a series of rules that disallowed any beaching/launching from NPS lands. There are also limits as to how close a PWC can operate to the shoreline. All rules are stringent enough to basically make PWC use totally impractical. The really scary part of this ban is that any powerboat could be banned for the same reasons that PWC’s were. (2 Stroke emissions, noise, etc.)

Zoom forward about a decade, and the same groups who sought the PWC ban are now attempting to remove vehicles from the beach, and in many cases foot-bound human access as well.

If this is any indication on what is to come in Yellowstone, I fear for the future of any and all civilian motorized transportation within the park.

Frank N, I second your motion !!!

There should be a huge internal combustion usage fee for for recreational vehicles- boats, PWC, off road vehicles. Mercifully PWC are banned from ocean waters in the SF Bay area, where I live. We get along fine without them. Get a canoe, sailboat or a kayak, or a bike, or snowshoes, or skis. Gas is dead, and killing us. If you love speed get a race car, i'm totally cool with that. The wilderness is not the place for racing internal combustion vehicles.

It's like base closings in the 90's- people screamed it was the end of the world, but once they closed things were not so bad, in many cases better. Once people know it's over they will adjust.

@anon: IMO, a fee would send the wrong signal. If motorized recreational vehicles are detrimental to either the resources of a park or the experience of that park by other visitors (which is of course a resource in itself), then they should not be taxed, but banned. A high fee means: It is OK to endanger the park or diminish the recreation of others for your personal fun if you can afford it.

And that is not only true for purely recreational vehicles. If should apply to cars as well. Shuttle buses (and maybe trams where applicable) should replace individual cars in a lot of parks. But that is a long term thing, because funding will certainly not be easy for the foreseeable future.


“Huge Internal Combustion Fee”? Give me a break. Just what means of transportation do you employ on a daily basis?

Every single good or service that you and I benefit from is carried on the back of fossil fuel burning devices, from the food you eat to the computer you use to blog. Gas is dead? Hardly. Even if a viable alternative to IC engines was announced today, it would take at least a decade for that technology to make it to the masses. Also consider the fact that if the next powerplant runs on any media other than a liquid, then the entire fueling infrastructure of the world will have to be retooled. Do you think that’s just going to happen overnight?

Within that same scenario is the fact that we cannot just dispose of every IC powered craft on Friday afternoon and start with the new technology the following Monday morning. The vehicles, construction equipment, aircraft, ships, et al will have to be phased out over a period of time, probably measured in decades. Fossil fuels will be around until they are depleted, and will probably be replaced by a synthetic after that. IC engines will outlive us all.

There’s an “Inconvenient Truth” for you.

I’ve also grown weary of this whole “Addiction to Oil” mentality. To say this country is addicted to oil is akin to saying the human body is addicted to water. It is an absolute necessity, not something we crave.

Am I for cleaner transportation technology? Absolutely. Am I for bettering the environment through reducing harmful emmissions? Without a doubt. But until we have a viable alternative, we must continue to use the best available modes of transport available to us, and not demonize them.

"I also wonder about the longevity of snow coach use within the park. If and when snowmobiles are outlawed completely, snow coaches will find themselves squarely in the crosshairs of the same groups that oppose snowmobiles, and the battle will begin anew."

Good point; but wouldn't it be nice for a change for the Park Service to be able to go to court and say, "We made our decisions based on years of scientific study by both our own internal scientists AND independent study groups, recommendations from the EPA AND public comment after public comment (not just from locals, but from Americans in general....each and every one of whom own Yellowstone); rather than going to court and saying, "We made this decision because this is what a handful of powerful politicians and local business owners want"? I kinda think they would win.
Yellowstone belongs to all Americans, not just to a handful. The Park Service has a responsibility to protect and preserve our parks; not only for us, but for generations yet unborn. Our parks were never meant to be amusement parks, nor were they ever meant to be places that the common man could not afford to visit. In the winter Yellowstone has turned into both. Even a quick ride on a snow coach into Old Faithful and back costs 140.00 a person! Heaven help an average family of four trying to rent snowmobiles and a guide for the day. They need to take out a second mortgage! Skiers and hikers many miles from the road can still hear snowmobiles buzzing around, and best technology or no, if you are on the road when they go by you can't breathe for 20 minutes. I've been there. Half starved wildlife is unduly stressed at a time of the year when food is scarce and travelling only a few hundred feet in deep snow might be enough to sap their last ounce of strength, but people who are heading for the lodge, a hot chocolate, chef prepared dinner and a warm bed.
I would be 100% percent in favor of helping out local snowmobile outfitters during a transition period from snowmobiles to snow coaches. Tax credits, low interest loans; even subsidies. These are just honest folks trying to make a living. They shouldn't be made to suffer. But neither should Yellowstone, her employees or her wildlife.

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