Controversial snowmobile season to begin in Yellowstone

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Unlimited snowmobiles again this season in Yellowstone.

12/19/01

WEST YELLOWSTONE, Wyo. (AP) - There will be no limit again this winter on the number of snowmobiles allowed inside Yellowstone National Park, but there will be tightened restrictions, the National Park Service says.
There will be a lower speed limit on the park's most popular route to Old Faithful, more grooming of snowroads, required advance purchase of park passes, more park staff patrolling roads and volunteers to help educate visitors about low-impact snowmobiling.

"All of that is going to help make things more enjoyable," said Glenn Loomis, who runs a snowmobile rental shop in West Yellowstone. A lower speed limit won't make much difference because most snowmobile riders are sightseeing and go 25 mph anyway, Loomis said.

Environmentalists are skeptical.

"There's no certainty they're going to take care of the monumental problems snowmobiles have caused in Yellowstone," Jon Catton of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition said Wednesday.

The park service said the intent is to reduce noise, air pollution and conflicts with wildlife and other visitors.

The plan for a gradual but total phaseout of recreational snowmobiling in the park was put on hold last winter after the Bush administration settled a lawsuit from snowmobile makers that challenged the phaseout.

Officials said this winter's changes will cost $265,000 to implement.

Lowering the speed limit between West Yellowstone and Old Faithful, along with putting more people on the ground to educate visitors about low-impact touring, could ease conflicts with wildlife. Park employees also plan to monitor how bison use the hard-packed snowroads.

The only legally and scientifically defensible way to address snowmobiles is to continue with the now delayed phaseout, Catton said.

The original phaseout plan would have begun this year by capping snowmobile numbers at last winter's level.

A new plan is scheduled for release next month in the form of a supplemental environmental impact statement, Matthews said.

According to the legal settlement with the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association, a draft of the new EIS should be posted on the Internet by Jan. 21. A final decision is scheduled for Nov. 15.
 

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