- Associated Press - Monday, June 15, 2015

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) - National Park Service officials are proposing to track whether unguided groups of snowmobilers are doing more harm to the landscape than commercially led snowmachines in Yellowstone National Park.

The proposal is included in a draft winter-use adaptive management plan for Yellowstone, a park that opens its gates to snowmobiles and snow coaches each winter season.

“We’re committed to ensuring that the impacts of that (unguided) group are no more impactful than a commercial group,” Yellowstone management assistant Wade Vagias said.

If plans drawn up in Yellowstone’s draft document come to fruition, law enforcement personnel would begin keeping data on violations such as disturbing wildlife and driving under the influence that distinguish between snowmobilers out on their own and those who are being commercially guided.

“What it would allow us to do is have an apples to apples comparison,” Vagias told the Jackson Hole News & Guide (https://bit.ly/1ec04sm).

Yellowstone could use the data to determine the rate of infractions on a per rider basis, he said.

Another type of data the 68-page adaptive management plan calls for gathering is the effect of snow coaches that are equipped with large low-pressure tires in lieu of the normal tracks. There will be 21 such vehicles operating in Yellowstone this coming winter, Vagias said.

Yellowstone staff would monitor to ensure the wheeled vehicles are safe, visually preserve snow coaches’ “unique look and feel,” that they are no more damaging to park roads and that they can operate in all weather, Vagias said.

Besides keeping data on unguided snowmobilers and wheeled snow coaches, the draft winter-use adaptive management plan proposes other types of data gathering that could lead to changes in Yellowstone’s winter-use regulations, Vagias said. Other types of data that’s been collected for years, such as sound and air quality, would continue to be gathered.

The proposed plan is open to public comment through Aug. 21.

Yellowstone officials will also hold a public meeting on the draft adaptive plan at 10 a.m. Aug. 10 at the visitor center in West Yellowstone, Montana.

A final version of the adaptive plan is expected to be released next summer, and the plan could take effect by the winter of 2016-17, Vagias said.

Adaptive management was included in Yellowstone’s winter oversnow vehicle plan, which regulates winter travel with a concept called “transportation events.” Such events are defined as a single snow coach or a group of up to an average of seven snowmobiles.

After two decades of planning, regulation changes and many lawsuits, Yellowstone settled on the winter plan in 2013.


Information from: Jackson Hole (Wyo.) News And Guide, https://www.jhnewsandguide.com

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