Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Public Open Houses Scheduled in February for Long-Term Winter Use Plan in Yellowstone

The National Park Service (NPS) continues working on a long-term plan to guide winter use in Yellowstone National Park. The NPS and the park will host a series of open houses in February during a scoping period for that plan.

In May 2011, the NPS released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for public review on the potential effects of the plan for motorized oversnow travel in the park. After months of public comment and review, the NPS decided additional study was needed before putting a long-term plan in place. While the final plan is being developed, the NPS chose to manage snowmobile and snowcoach access in the park this winter under the same transition plan used the previous two winters.

The NPS is preparing a Supplemental EIS to create a final winter management plan to take effect with the 2012-2013 winter season. Among the subjects identified for further analysis in the Supplemental EIS are requirements for entry into the park by 10:30 a.m. daily, sound and air quality computer modeling assumptions, "best available technology" standards for snowcoaches, the impacts of Sylvan Pass avalanche hazard mitigation, and opportunities for park access by non-commercially guided snowmobile groups.

The first step in developing the Supplemental EIS is to ask for further public comment and suggestions on potential approaches to winter use, including any additional issues not yet discussed. This process, known as public scoping, will officially open for a 30 day period upon the publication of a Notice of Intent, which is expected to appear in the Federal Register in the next few days.

The NPS has released a draft range of alternatives for public review and comment during scoping. The alternatives cover a wide range of possible approaches to winter uses in the park.

The "no-action" alternative would eliminate all snowmobile and snowcoach travel in the park after the end of the current winter season. A second alternative looks at continuing winter operations at the present temporary limits, plus analysis of limited access for non-commercially guided snowmobiles. Under a third alternative, park roads from West Yellowstone and Mammoth Hot Springs to Old Faithful would be plowed to allow commercially operated, wheeled vehicles into the park. Also under consideration is a proposal to phase out snowmobiles and allow motorized entry by snowcoaches alone. This alternative includes analysis of closing the park's east entrance over Sylvan Pass to motorized oversnow use.

Two other draft alternatives would take a new and different approach to winter use: Regulating park entry according to the number of "sound events" created by snowcoaches or guided snowmobile groups, rather than by specific numbers of snowcoaches or snowmobiles. One of these alternatives also assesses the effects of two-week 'shoulder seasons', where entrance to the park during the first two and last two weeks of the season would be via wheeled vehicles or rubber-tracked snowcoaches.

Park staff members will host a series of open houses during the scoping period to answer questions about winter use issues, the draft alternatives, and the process of preparing the supplemental EIS:

- Monday, Feb. 13 in Cody WY: Holiday Inn, 1702 Sheridan Ave.
- Tuesday, Feb. 14 in Jackson, WY: The Virginian Lodge, 750 W. Broadway
- Wednesday, Feb. 15 in West Yellowstone, MT: Holiday Inn, 315 Yellowstone Ave.
- Thursday Feb. 16 in Bozeman, MT: Holiday Inn, 5 Baxter Lane

All four open houses will run from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Additional details on the Supplemental EIS, the draft range of alternatives, and an electronic form to submit comments can be found on the NPS Planning, Environment and Public Comment (PEPC) website, or by writing to Winter Use Supplemental EIS, P.O. Box 168, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190.

Written comments may be submitted through the PEPC website, in person at either the open houses or at park headquarters, or by mail. Comments will not be accepted over the phone, by fax, or e-mail. All public comments must be received or postmarked by midnight MST 30 days from the beginning of the comment period.

Park staff members will analyze the scoping comments and other additional information as they refine the draft alternatives and prepare the Supplemental EIS. That new document is expected to be released for public review and comment in spring 2012. The NPS intends to have a final Supplemental EIS, a Record of Decision, and a long-term regulation for winter use in Yellowstone in place before the mid-December start of the 2012-2013 winter season.

Hiking in

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