Yellowstone National Park; Winter Use proposed rule

Posted: Apr 22, 2013

Comment deadline: June 17, 2013

The National Park Service is proposing this rule to establish a management framework that allows the public to experience the unique winter resources and values at Yellowstone National Park. This rule includes provisions that allow greater flexibility for commercial tour operators, provide mechanisms to make the park cleaner and quieter than what has been authorized during the previous four winter seasons, reward oversnow vehicle innovations and technologies, and allow increases in visitation. It also would require snowmobiles and snowcoaches operating in the park to meet air and sound emission requirements and be accompanied by a guide.

This rule would establish a new and more flexible method for managing oversnow vehicle (OSV) access to the park.
Under 36 CFR 2.18(c) the use of snowmobiles is prohibited in parks unless a special regulation allowing such use is promulgated. Therefore, in order to allow OSV use for the upcoming and future winter seasons, a special regulation must be in place. This proposed rule, when finalized, will authorize snowmobile and snowcoach use under § 2.18.

Beginning with the 2014-2015 winter season, the rule would replace the former concept of a fixed maximum number of vehicles allowed in the park each day with a new, more flexible concept of transportation events. Within an allowable number of daily transportation events, commercial tour operators would have the opportunity to combine snowcoach and snowmobile trips in a way that protects park resources and provides flexibility to respond to fluctuations in visitation demand.

By relying upon user demand to determine the best mix of OSV use and focusing on the impacts of OSV use upon park resources, the transportation event concept strikes a common-sense balance between allowing adequate access and protecting park resources. This rule would also require snowmobiles and snowcoaches to meet new sound and air emissions standards, established by the National Park Service (NPS) under the authority granted by the NPS Organic Act (16 U.S.C. 1), which authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to “promote and regulate” the use of national parks.

The new approach would allow commercial tour operators to exchange transportation event allocations within the same entrance, adjust the proportion of snowcoaches or snowmobiles in the park each day, increase the size of snowmobile groups to meet demand on peak days, and increase the vehicle group size per transportation event if voluntary enhanced emission standards are met.

Some specific changes in the proposed rule include:

A transportation event would initially equal one group of snowmobiles (maximum group size of 10, average of 7 over the winter season) or one snowcoach. The group size of transportation events may increase from a seasonal average of 7 to 8 for snowmobiles and from a maximum of 1 to 2 for snowcoaches, not to exceed a seasonal average of 1.5 snowcoaches, if commercial tour operators use vehicles that meet voluntary enhanced emission standards. This encourages the adoption of improved OSV innovations and technologies.

Up to 110 total transportation events would be authorized each day. Commercial tour operators would decide whether to use their daily allocation for snowmobiles or snowcoaches, but no more than 50 transportation events each day could come from snowmobiles.

OSV use would continue to be 100% guided. For snowmobiles, up to 46 transportation events would be commercially guided. Four non-commercially guided snowmobile transportation events of up to 5 snowmobiles per group would also be permitted daily, one from each park entrance.

Sound and air emission requirements for snowmobiles would continue unchanged until the 2017-2018 winter season, when the maximum allowable sound and carbon monoxide (CO) emissions would be lowered.

Sound and air emission requirements would also begin in the 2017-2018 winter season for existing snowcoaches, and would apply to all new snowcoaches brought into service starting in the 2014-2015 winter season.

Learn more about and comment on the proposed rule.

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