WASHINGTON (CN) - The National Park Service (NPS) established a new regulation to phase in new air and sound emission requirements for snowmobiles and snowcoaches operating in the Yellowstone National Park and change the way it counts the number of such vehicles allowed in the park.
The NPS says this new regulation "replaces 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 transportation events, commercial tour operators 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."
According to the NPS, "the new approach allows 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."
The new regulation defines a "transportation event" as "one group of snowmobiles (maximum group size of 10, seasonal average of seven beginning in the 2015-2016 season) or one snowcoach," and allows larger group sizes "if commercial tour operators use vehicles that meet voluntary enhanced emission standards," the NPS says.
"Up to 110 total transportation events are authorized each day. Commercial tour operators may decide whether to use their daily allocation for snowmobiles or snowcoaches, but no more than 50 transportation events each day may be comprised of snowmobiles," the new regulation states.
Up to 46 of the 50 allowable snowmobile transportation events may be commercially guided and up to four may be non-commercially guided. In either case, all snowmobile transportation events must be led by a guide.
The NPS says this regulation reflects a "new management paradigm" which it plans to implement over the next four winter seasons, beginning with 2013-2014, so the park and tour operators can adjust to the new emission requirements and the new method of managing vehicles by transportation events.
Environmental groups cautiously praised the change.
"Yellowstone lost control over snowmobile use by the 1990s. Over the last decade, healthier winter conditions benefitting visitors and wildlife have prevailed in the park. Many visitors now come to Yellowstone in winter because of opportunities to experience and learn about its wonders without intrusive exhaust and noise from snowmobile traffic," the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) said in an Oct. 22 statement. "Under this new rule, vehicle traffic will increase from current conditions, but manufacturers and operators will be required to significantly cut noise and carbon monoxide emissions in order to operate snowmobiles and snowcoaches in the park." However, NPCA went on to say, "there are nonetheless some parts that continue to trouble NPCA, including its insistence on keeping the unsafe east entrance open in the winter season and a new move to permit non-commercially guided snowmobile trips."
The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees (CNPSR) asked the NPS to require snowmobiles to adopt "Best Available Technology," emissions standards during the 2015-2016 season, instead of the 2017-2018 season as originally proposed. The NPS agreed to this change, noting that snowmobiles and snowcoaches that meet the new emission standards are already available.
The regulation goes into effect Nov. 22.
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