CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — The National Park Service adopted a winter use plan for Yellowstone National Park on Thursday that focuses more on controlling the effects of snowmobiles rather than strictly limiting their numbers.
Previous winter use plans capped the numbers of snowmobiles and enclosed, multi-passenger snowcoaches allowed in the park each day. That policy will continue for the upcoming winter season, with no more than 318 snowmobiles and 78 snowcoaches allowed in each day.
The new plan signed by Park Service Regional Director John Wessels will take effect for the 2014-2015 winter season and focus on so-called "transportation events," defined as one snowcoach or a group of up to 10 snowmobiles.
Up to 110 transportation events will be allowed each day. Snowmobiles may account for no more than 50 of those transportation events.
Yellowstone officials plan to release more detailed rules for winter access in the weeks ahead.
The just-signed record of decision ends a long process to evaluate Yellowstone winter access options under the National Environmental Policy Act. Meanwhile, Yellowstone officials have been writing new rules and regulations for winter use to implement the winter plan.
The new rules, expected to be published in four to six weeks, will cover finer details such as pollution-control equipment on snowmobiles and snowcoaches, said park management assistant Wade Vagias.
Under the record of decision, snowmobiles and snowcoaches allowed in Yellowstone will need to be fitted with the best available pollution control equipment starting no later than the winter season that begins in December 2017.
Yellowstone officials now are weighing whether to move up that date to 2016 for snowcoaches and either 2015 or 2016 for snowmobiles, details to be spelled out in the new rules.
"We're looking at the costs and the benefits for the park, for the public, for the commercial tour operators, etc., regarding the potential to move up those implementation dates," Vagias said.
Yellowstone published the proposed rules in April and took public comments on them over two months.