For nearly as long as snowmobiles have entered Yellowstone National Park, there have been complaints, with some groups citing air quality, intrusive noise and harassment of wildlife.
New rules governing snowmobiles and snow coaches in the nation's oldest national park will be announced Friday -- the seventh effort at regulation since 1994.
With the new rules, park officials abandoned the longtime system of limiting the number of snow machines. Instead, they intend to manage "transportation events” -- counting groups of five to 10 snowmobiles traveling together as one event.
Yellowstone Supt. Dan Wenk said the intent is to minimize disturbance to wildlife by reducing the number of individual riders, each creating noise and each creating stress among wintering animals.
“Wildlife react to a disturbance; it doesn’t matter if it’s a group of 10 or two,” Wenk told the Los Angeles Times Thursday. “If you control the amount of groups, you control the amount of time that noise occurs in the park. By limiting the number of disturbances, we are actually making the park quieter.”
The proposed rule, which is subject to a 60-day public comment period, would permit up to 110 transportation events a day. Fifty of those events could be groups of snowmobiles.
All snowmobiles and snow coaches -- that is, buses with snow-gripping tracks -- still must be part of a guided group, mainly operated by professional guides. Wenk said there will be an allowance for self-guided groups, but each rider must have watched an online informational video. Individuals will be able to apply for permits online.
In addition, individually guided groups of five snowmobiles can try to win admittance by lottery. One such group will be allowed into the park daily at each of five entrances.
Current limits will remain in place for the 2013-14 season: up to 318 commercially guided snowmobiles and up to 78 commercially guided snowcoaches daily.
All snowmobiles and snow coaches must meet the park’s "best available technology" standards for emissions.