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Yellowstone Park paving paradise

Yellowstone National Park’s plan to add 7 acres of pavement to a Fishing Bridge campground is “bizarre,” a conservation group asserts.

The park proposes paving treed land in the Fishing Bridge RV campground to accommodate bus-sized recreational vehicles. The Lake Area Comprehensive Plan would add 121,000 square feet of buildings and a total of almost 10 acres of pavement at Lake Village, Fishing Bridge and Bridge Bay.

“It’s bizarre that they want to pave the park to accommodate the largest RVs known to mankind,” said Mark Pearson, conservation program manager for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. “They don’t necessarily need to size all their infrastructure to accommodate the biggest things in existence.”

Pearson said these “Greyhound bus-sized” campers can find accommodations just outside the park. Owners of large RVs often tow smaller vehicles that could be used to tour Yellowstone, he said.

The Park Service removed a tent campground and hundreds of guest cabins in the Fishing Bridge area in the 1980s to reduce human-grizzly bear conflicts. At the time, spawning Yellowstone cutthroat trout would move up tributaries at the Fishing Bridge area, attracting bears in need of protein. Since then, the introduction of non-native mackinaw trout into Yellowstone Lake has drastically reduced cutthroat spawning runs. Park officials hope to remove mackinaw so cutthroat populations can rebuild.

Removing trees and paving cleared areas within the Fishing Bridge RV campground would reduce the chances of grizzly bear conflicts, said Eleanor Clark, Yellowstone’s chief of comprehensive planning and design. Treed areas within the campground may actually attract grizzly bears, she said.

Conflicts between grizzlies and humans at the Fishing Bridge area have been rare in recent years, and the campground is not considered important habitat for the animals, Clark said.

The RV park was built from 1963 to 1964, Clark said.

“It’s nearly 50 years old,” she said. “It hasn’t been substantially renovated in that period of time. There are things like electrical and water deficiencies in that RV park.”

“It is the only place in the entire park where we provide full hookups for those vehicles,” Clark continued. “There are no other RV [campgrounds] in the park.”

Clark said she realizes that super-sized RVs are controversial, but said they’re not prohibited in Yellowstone.

Building new spaces for the RVs decreases the potential number of vehicles in campgrounds, Clark said.

“The sites are longer, but they actually accommodate [fewer] vehicles,” she said.

The plan seems to contradict Park Service values, Pearson said.

“Going farther down that path of big expanses of pavement seems like the wrong direction for Yellowstone,” he said.

The Park Service plans 12.7 acres of new buildings, roads and parking lots for the Lake Area, Fishing Bridge and Bridge Bay. Projects include a pedestrian path from Lake Hotel to the Lake General Store and moving the Lake Lodge cabins away from Lodge Creek.

Plans call for expanding the Fishing Bridge repair garage and 58,000 square feet of employee housing, maintenance and storage facilities, a garbage and recycling building and a recreation center.

Park officials also plan an 11,800-square-foot addition to the Lake Lodge and a 3,600-square-foot addition to the Lake Hotel.

The lake shore area would see 13,000 square feet of new buildings, including bathrooms and renovated Lake Ranger Station offices. Officials have proposed a new road behind the ranger station.

The Environmental Assessment and an electronic comments form can be found at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/lakecompplan.

To get a paper copy of the report, write Lake Comprehensive Plan EA, National Park Service, P.O. Box 168, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190.

 

Yellowstone considers ‘personal’ sledding

Proposals for winter use in Yellowstone Park are too vague, and biased against snowmobiling, according to some local people.

“They’ve destroyed the winter economy,” Pahaska Tepee owner Bob Coe said of Yellowstone managers. “They’re managing for non-use, not use.”

He was among about 40 people who attended an open house in Cody on Monday regarding the Park Service’s scoping process for a new winter use plan.

An interim plan, allowing for some guided sledding and snowcoaches, is in place this winter, but expires in March.

The Park Service hopes to have a new plan in place by fall.

A draft plan should be ready in April, allowing for public comment through June and finalization this fall.

Public comment is also being gathered during scoping meetings, like the one in Cody, Superintendent Dan Wenk said.

After a similar process last year, the Park Service had drawn up a preferred alternative – which would have set daily limits of guided sleds and snowcoaches.

But that idea was met with so many negative comments, the Park Service decided to scrap it and essentially start over, said David Jacob of the agency’s Denver-based environmental quality division.

About 59,000 written comments were received, overwhelmingly in favor of restricting or eliminating motorized use, Jacob said.

When pressed by the audience about the origin of some of the comments, Jacob said the Park Service does not accept “bulk comments” from organizations.

But that would still not prevent members of environmental groups or other organizations from filing comments as individuals, he said.

Most of the comments against sledding came from states or areas distant from Yellowstone, he said.

Closer to the park, residents have lobbied for non-commercial sledding in Yellowstone.

Wyoming’s congressional delegation and Gov. Matt Mead also have lobbied for more access and non-commercial snowmobiling.

Wenk said the Park Service has included consideration of that in some of its new proposals. One idea would to be to allow people living near Yellowstone to qualify as “guides” so they could take friends and family into Yellowstone without hiring a commercial guide.

But people at the hearing balked at the suggested numbers of non-commercial users – as few as only five per day.

“We’re frustrated and we’re angry,” Carol Armstrong of Cody said. “We’re tired of regulations and we’re tired of being shut out of Yellowstone.”

Cody chamber director Scott Balyo said they support keeping Sylvan Pass open in the winter. The chamber suggests that 25 percent of any daily snowmobile limit should be for noncommercial riders, he said.

Armstrong and others recalled that access over Sylvan Pass and local snowmobiling into Yellowstone used to be virtually unrestricted, and questioned if that truly hurt the park or stressed wildlife, as sledding opponents have claimed.

But since then, snowmobile access to the park has been whittled away, they said.

County commissioner Tim French said county and state officials have tried for years to work out a compromise with the Park Service.

“Good god, how long are we going to beat this poor dead horse? This is year 12 for me, and it was going on before I came along,” he added.

Some people also questioned standards based on “sound events” from machines that might disturb wildlife or other visitors.

Jacob said the Park Service is obligated to consider the effects of noise on the winter experience in the park – and many comments from the public nationally reflect this concern.

But some at the meeting said concerns about sound are too arbitrary, and just another way for the Park Service to limit public access.

Air quality and safety on Sylvan Pass also continue to be issues that must be taken into account, Wenk said.

More information on the winter use proposals and comment process is available at parkplanning.nps.gov/yell. Click on the link to “2012 supplemental winter use plan EIS.”

 

snowpack remains weak around Yellowstone

The Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center issued its latest avalanche advisory on Thursday, Feb. 16, with the following information issued by Mark Staples:

Mountain Weather:

Clear skies overnight helped drop temperatures into the single digits to low teens F on Thurdsday. The recent period of abnormally calm winds may be ending. Morning westerly winds were averaging 10-15 mph with gusts in the 20s except in the Bridger Range and Hyalite Canyon where ridgetop winds were blowing 20-35 mph. Thursday’s temperatures were into the high teens and low 20s F. Westerly winds blew 10-15 mph with gusts of 20-30 mph. Overnight, moisture descended from the northwest and produce an inch or two of new snow.

Snowpack and Avalanche Discussion:

The mountains around Cooke City:

During dry, clear weather last week, the snow surface formed a new weak layer which is now buried about one foot deep. Recent natural avalanche activity occurred on this layer. Slopes receiving wind-blown snow will be the best places to trigger avalanches on this layer. Fortunately this instability is easy to assess since it is not buried deeply.

Weak snow near the ground remains a concern. Recent avalanches have not broken on this layer, but it remains a serious concern because avalanches occurring on this layer will be hard to trigger, difficult to predict, and potentially deadly. This situation is a “low probability, high consequence” scenario, and not enough time has passed for me to feel comfortable ignoring this layer. As a snowmobiler, I would be boondocking today not hill climbing. As a skier I wouldn’t be skiing slopes much steeper than 30 degrees and avoiding any wind loaded areas. For today, a considerable avalanche danger exists on wind-loaded slopes. All other slopes have a moderate rated danger.

The southern Madison and southern Gallatin Ranges and the Lionhead area near West Yellowstone:

In the southern Madison and Gallatin ranges and areas near West Yellowstone, there have been many avalanches this season. Unfortunately the snowpack structure responsible for this avalanche activity hasn’t changed much. During the last six days, light snowfall has not stressed the snowpack enough to get avalanches. Winds have been calmer in these areas than in the northern half of the advisory area. Until winds increase or more snow falls, triggering an avalanche is not likely but remains possible. The avalanche danger is rated as moderate.

The Bridger, northern Madison and northern Gallatin Ranges:

Plenty of weak snow exists in the mountains near Big Sky and Bozeman but there has been less snowfall and fewer avalanches in these areas.

Two days ago Eric found stable conditions on Mt. Ellis and Doug found stable conditions in Beehive and Bear Basins. Although the snowpack is weak in many places, it is not unstable because it does not have a load. In Hyalite the snowpack is generally stronger, but has this layer of near surface facets. Westerly winds increased mostly in the Bridger and northern Gallatin ranges. With some fresh wind slabs potentially resting on small facets, heightened avalanche conditions exist on specific terrain features.

This avalanche problem is not widespread yet. For Thursday, the avalanche danger was rated as moderate on all wind-loaded slopes and on all slopes steeper than 35 degrees. Non wind-loaded slopes less than 35 degrees have were rated as having low avalanche danger.

 

Public Forums On Long-Term Winter Use Plan

Yellowstone National Park workers got the publics input on winter use issues.

“We’re out going around to the Gateway communities to gather information from the public as we begin work on a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for winter use,” said Al Nash, park spokesman.

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement takes a look at the potential effects of motorized travel in the park.

It calls for some changes, like when you get in to the park, snow coach standards, and where you can snowmobile.

Yellowstone representatives were eager to hear the publics suggestions that can be used for the next several decades.

“Some of the issues that folks raised last year in comments were concerns about our preferred alternative which had variable use limits of the idea that we needed to have everybody in the park by 10:30 in the morning or one where we were attempting to define what best available technology might be for snow coaches,” Nash said.

Seven alternatives were presented and Yellowstone officials hope to be back to Bozeman in April or May to present their newest plan. All public comment will be taken through March 9th, and over 59,000 public comments have already been taken. The park hopes to put the new plan in place by next winter.

 

Yellowstone wolf packs learning to hunt bison

Wolf experts are all abuzz about new wolf dynamics taking place this winter in the park’s backcountry.

Douglas Smith, project leader for the Yellowstone Wolf Project, says wildife biologists now confirm at least two of Yellowstone’s 10 wolf packs have now learned how to hunt bison.

“This is the scientific opportunity of the century to learn about wolves,” explains Smith who has headed up Yellowstone’s Wolf Project since it started in 1994.

Yellowstone’s wolf population reached a peak of 174 wolves in 2003. Since then, wolf numbers in the park have been declining primarily because of a smaller elk population, the main food of the northern range wolves.

But this winter, both the Mollie Pack and the Mary Mountain Pack have turned their attention to bison. Smith says wolf biologists have been fascinated to watch the Mollie Pack transfer its bison hunting skills to one of its rival packs.

“It was shocking to us, we’ve never seen this before,” said Smith.

 

Yellowstone Penny Sales Tax Fails

A proposal to impose a 1-cent state sales tax in Yellowstone National Park to raise money for park infrastructure projects has failed in the Wyoming Legislature.

The bill offered by Republican Rep. Keith Gingery, of Jackson, failed to receive enough votes in the state House for introduction this session.

The tax money collected would have helped pay for projects such as new roads and sewer lines in the national park.

A Park Service spokesman had said he couldn’t think of any instance where a state dedicated its sales tax revenue to a national park.

Gingery says that the bill couldn’t overcome the belief that Yellowstone isn’t Wyoming’s responsibility to keep up.

 

Yellowstone tax might set a precedent

A 1-cent tax on Yellowstone National Park concessionaire sales proposed by Wyoming legislators to pay for park infrastructure projects likely would be the first of its kind, National Park Service officials say.

Rep. Keith Gingery, R-Jackson, filed the bill with the Wyoming Legislature last week. Gingery is the legislation’s primary sponsor, though others back the measure. Sens. Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, and Leland Christensen, R-Alta, have pledged their support, as have Sen. Hank Coe and Rep. Samuel Krone, both R-Cody.

While many local and state governments collect sales taxes on sales made by park concessionaires, that money typically goes to the state or municipality, said Jeffrey Olson, spokesman for the Park Service in Washington, D.C. The beneficiary has “never been the National Park Service, not that we know of.”

A collection effort similar to the proposed tax is the Guest Donation Program that lets some overnight visitors contribute $1 to the park they’re staying in, Olson said.

Concessionaires in Yellowstone grossed $121 million last year, said park Superintendent Dan Wenk from his office in Mammoth on Monday. While 1 percent of the gross sales would equate to $1.21 million, Wyoming does not tax all sales, with groceries a notable example.

Still, the sum would account for a small percentage of the money necessary to address the park’s maintenance backlog, according to a January 2012 briefing statement provided by the Park Service.

“As documented and reported to the Congress annually, lack of sufficient funding for operations and preventative maintenance is accelerating the decline of Yellowstone’s aging infrastructure,” the statement said. “A total of $750 million [in project funds] is necessary to bring the entire infrastructure up to a maintainable condition.”

“It’s water plants,” Wenk said of the backlog. “It’s wastewater treatment plants. In Grant Village last year, the roof collapsed under the weight of the snow. It’s really a litany of everything it takes to run a park.”

The legislation, House Bill 49, would take effect in July if approved as written. As proposed, the legislation would place restrictions on the money generated by the tax. Park officials could use the revenue only for infrastructure projects such as roads, sewers, bike paths and trails.

No tax funds for concessionaires

Concessionaires would be barred from using any of the money.

The money from the new tax would be deposited in an account controlled by the Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources.

The director of that department would work with the Yellowstone superintendent to spend the money, according to the bill.

The 1-cent sales tax would be collected in addition to the taxes already collected and used by Park and Teton counties and the state.

Teton County currently assesses a 6 percent sales tax.

The new tax would be applied only to the parts of those counties that fall within Yellowstone.

Teton County’s border stretches north into Yellowstone. It encompasses all of Yellowstone Lake as well as Lake Village, Grant Village and Old Faithful — major commercial centers in the park.

Gingery has said the proposed tax should be viewed as a user fee that will be charged to all park visitors.

While applauding Gingery’s intent to fix Yellowstone’s infrastructure, officials with National Parks Conservation Association said the bill could set a bad precedent.

“I think it’s great that the Wyoming Legislature is recognizing the important role that Yellowstone plays in Wyoming and Montana’s economy, but it’s Congress’ job to adequately fund our national parks,” said Patricia Dowd, who is the Yellowstone program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association.

“Maybe with this legislation being introduced, members of Congress will recognize the importance of funding our national parks,” Dowd said. “They’re not prioritizing funding our national parks and other important national programs. That’s why we pay taxes: to support places like Yellowstone National Park.”

Several lawmakers from the region contend that it is more important to support the national park, a major economic driver for the state, than to let it languish because of concerns about supporting a federal agency.

“It’s a big part of what makes this region special,” Christensen said Tuesday, referring to Yellowstone.

Christensen acknowledged the concerns about the state propping up something that should be funded with federal funds. He said the issue likely will be raised when the Legislature convenes next week.

“Would that mean the feds would scale back funding?” Christensen said, offering one potential question about the state helping pay for federal services. “There are conversations that will get fleshed out in the session.”

Superintendent’s plea sparked idea

The group of legislators who support the bill, known informally as the Yellowstone Caucus, met with Wenk in the fall.

During the meeting, Wenk told lawmakers he was having trouble maintaining infrastructure within the park because of federal budget cuts, which sparked the idea for an additional cent of sales tax that would be given back to park officials, Gingery said.

Gingery’s proposal is likely legal under the 1940 Buck Act as long as it targets concessionaires not “something that is purely federal,” Wenk said after consulting the Park Service comptroller and the legislative liaison office.

Wenk said the Obama administration, and therefore the Park Service, have not yet adopted a position about the legislation.

“We’ll follow it,” he said. “We’ll see where it goes.”

 

Kayak Trips in Yellowstone

Summer is a great time to visit Yellowstone National Park. One of the absolute best ways to enjoy all the natural beauty of Yellowstone is by taking a backcountry kayak trip on Yellowstone Lake or Lewis and Shoshone Lakes.


 

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