The National Park Service on Thursday proposed letting up to 720 guided snowmobiles enter Yellowstone National Park each day during the next three winters.
The plan is meant to last through the winter of 2006-07 unless new regulations are devised in the ongoing dispute between environmental and economic interests.
Park service officials also said 140 snowmobiles would be allowed in neighboring Grand Teton National Park and on a parkway connecting it with Yellowstone. Commercial guides wouldn’t be required for those snowmobiles.
'Best available technology' required
The agency’s plan calls for snowmobiles in the parks to meet “best available technology” standards for cleaner and quieter machines.
Local businesses and snowmobile makers want snowmobiling to continue around the parks. They argue that they deserve access and that new machines are cleaner and quieter than older models.
But federal courts in Wyoming and Washington, D.C. are still weighing legal disputes over whether snowmobiles should be allowed. It also has become an election-year issue between environmental and economic interests.
Yellowstone Superintendent Suzanne Lewis declined to speculate on how litigation might affect the proposal.
In June, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to allow snowmobiling to continue in the parks. Its vote, 224-198, defeated an effort to ban the vehicles by lawmakers who said the machines cause air and noise pollution, and pose a danger to the parks’ wildlife.
Clinton plan was to phase them out
In February, the Park Service, responding to a Wyoming judge, proposed increasing from 493 to 780 the number of snowmobiles allowed in Yellowstone each day. The Clinton administration in 2000 had made plans to phase out the snowmobiles and replace them with mass-transit snow coaches.
The Coalition of Concerned National Park Service Retirees is among the groups opposing the temporary plan. And two former Yellowstone park superintendents, Michael Finley and Rick Smith, have said they believe the administration’s plan would put special interests ahead of science.
Public comment is being taken on the proposal through Sept. 20 via an online form at www.nps.gov/yell/winteruse-ea/.