Snowmobiles In Yellowstone: A Positive Decision Without Rancor

If ever silence was deafening on anything related to snowmobiling, it’s right about now.

After 15 to 20 years of lawsuits, claims and counterclaims, petitions, door-to-door campaigns, volatile public hearings, acts of Congress, conflicting rulings by judges on varying levels and general chaos, the announcement this week of a long-term winter use plan for Yellowstone National Park has landed as softly as a wind-blown snowflake.

The new plan is really an extension of sorts of what’s currently being done in the park in terms of numbers of snowmobiles allowed to enter the park, but it will be calculated differently. Most notable, however, is that it appears that all sides are happy with this conclusion. Maybe both sides were just getting tired of the fight?

The coming 2013-14 winter will be status quo in Yellowstone, allowing up to 318 snowmobiles and 78 snow coaches into the park each day, as it has been for the past four seasons. The snowmobiles will have to be part of formal tour groups and must be pre-approved sleds using “best available technology” when it comes to emissions.

Starting the following winter (2014-15), a new plan will take hold that will allow 110 “transportation events” each day, with each event including either a snowcoach or a group of up to 10 snowmobiles, although the season-long average must now exceed 7 snowmobiles per “event.” The snow coaches can take up to 60 of those “events” while snowmobiles will be the other 50. Do the math, and that ups the total number of snowmobiles allowed through the gate each date from 318 to an average of 350 – a slight increase but still dramatically lower than the usage of other forms of transportation during the spring, summer and fall.

The most shocking part of the whole situation is the lack of rancor on both sides of the debate. For two decades some extreme environmental groups have made getting snowmobiles banned from Yellowstone National Park one of their most high-profile fights, while snowmobile advocates have pushed back with their own facts and figures. But now, the anger and accusations are surprisingly silent.

In a story on National Public Radio (, longtime West Yellowstone businessman and snowmobile advocate Clyde Seely said, “This is the most reasonable, the most balanced plan that has ever been presented.” In the same story, Tim Stevens of the National Parks Conservation Association also backed the plan. “Under this plan, Yellowstone will be a cleaner and quieter place, and a place [where] park visitors can find the solitude that is unique to Yellowstone.”

Snowmobiles will still be limited to the trails in a tiny bit of the park, but the trip from the gate in West Yellowstone, past many of the park’s amazing wonders and to Old Faithful appears safe for the immediate future.


To read a story about Snow Goer Associate Editor Tom Kaiser’s visit inside Yellowstone National Park, click here.


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