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03072012 Phase out winter use of Yellowstone?
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Phase out winter use of Yellowstone?

Park County commissioners remain at odds with the National Park Service over its new proposals to regulate winter use in Yellowstone Park.

At a public meeting, commissioners accused the agency of ignoring their comments when writing its new winter-use plan, saying little in the draft document reflects concerns they shared with the agency last year.

As in past years, snowmobile access — guided and unguided — lies at the center of the debate. Commissioners believe the Park Service is “chipping away” at motorized winter use with the intent of discontinuing it altogether in the future.

“Every alternative in this plan will eventually phase out winter use in Yellowstone,” said Commissioner Joe Tilden. “Each alternative takes us one step closer to having no winter access.”

The Park Service launched a new scoping effort last week to gather input on its supplemental plan to regulate motorized winter use in Yellowstone.

The new plan offers seven alternatives to manage motorized use in Yellowstone, starting next season.

Commissioners remain dissatisfied with each of the seven alternatives. They believe they have the support of Gov. Matt Mead and his staff, whom they met with last week in Cheyenne to discuss the issue.

“They suggested we reject the new alternatives and ask (the Park Service) to re-look at what we want them to have — develop a new alternative based on what we asked for,” said Commissioner Loren Grosskopf.

Among the proposed alternatives, two would regulate motorized entry by measuring “sound events,” or the noise created by one snow coach or a single group of snowmobiles.

Commissioners remained critical of the sound-event proposal, saying it left too many uncertainties and was too hard to understand for businesses and vacationers.

They also believe the recommended number of sound events was too low.

“If you want people to come from out of state to plan a vacation, you can’t have it where it’s variable by day and people can’t plan ahead,” Grosskopf said.

“Concessionaires need to know how to budget, how many riders are we going to have each day, and what the requirements are for best available technology (BAT).”

The Park Service received more than 59,000 comments on its proposed 2011 winter plan for Yellowstone. Most of those, park officials have said, favored limiting motorized use in the park over the winter season.

Park officials also have said that they launched the supplemental planning process in response to the comments received.

The agency eliminated two alternatives from its 2011 winter plan and is working to address other issues raised in the last round of comments, such as best available technology for snow coaches, sound impacts and air quality inside the park.

The agency hopes to implement its new winter use rules by next season. A failure to do so could leave the park without a winter use plan, meaning that oversnow travel could be restricted next year.

“If they can’t decide what to do before December, we need to ask that they allow the snowmobile program to be the same next year as it is this year,” Grosskopf said. “So we don’t get to October or November and they can’t decide so they shut down Yellowstone altogether.”

Bert Miller, vice president of the Wyoming State Snowmobile Association, said his club also remains critical of the proposed rules.

He said the new plan fails to reflect the concerns that his club passed on to the Park Service in the last planning process.

“We, too, are very dissatisfied with what we see here,” Miller said. “We’ll be asking (the Park Service) to look at our original comments and we’re going to look at these new alternatives closely and list the reasons why they will not work.”

Grosskopf, who is a member of the state snowmobile group, said at last week’s meeting with the Park Service that his membership in the club and his votes as a commissioner in favor of the club’s goals were not a conflict of interest.

At Tuesday’s meeting, however, he offered to recuse himself from the county’s commenting process if the other commissioners thought that was appropriate.

“I’m a member of the snowmobile club and I’m also a county commissioner, so I’ll leave it up to the other four members of the commission whether that constitutes a conflict of interest,” Grosskopf said.

The other commissioners said they don’t view Grosskopf’s membership in the organization and his efforts to sway the plan in favor of motorized use as a conflict.

“I don’t see it,” Commissioner Tim French said.

Commissioners said they will wait for Mead to issue his own comments to the Park Service and build upon them before resubmitting comments from the county.

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