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Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senators Craig Thomas, Mike Enzi and Representative Barbara Cubin, all R-Wyo., today continued their efforts to keep Yellowstone’s East Gate open during winter months, sending a strongly worded formal letter to the National Park Service regarding the National Park Service Draft Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) for Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.

"The preferred alternative closes the East Entrance of Yellowstone National Park to motorized snowmobile and snowcoach access. This decision is unacceptable to us and to our constituents, and we strongly urge the NPS to reconsider closure of the East Entrance as the Draft EIS moves toward a Record of Decision," the delegation wrote in a May 2 letter to the Winter Use Planning Team. "It is our belief that it is possible to keep reasonable access available to Yellowstone through the East Entrance. While we acknowledge that the safety of Park Service employees is a valid concern, we believe that the safety record in Sylvan Pass speaks for itself."

The National Park Service released the Draft EIS for public review and comment on March 27. The draft environmental impact statement is part of a new long-term plan to guide the winter use management of the parks.

A public comment meeting will take place in Cody from 6-9 p.m. on Wednesday, May 16, at the Cody Auditorium located at 1240 Beck Avenue.

Electronic comment forms can be submitted at the National Park Service’s Planning, Environment and Public Comment website, by picking Yellowstone NP in the pull down menu, then clicking on the ‘*Open for Comment’ link in the top middle of the page. Comments may also be submitted by mail to Winter Use planning Team, P.O. Box 168, Yellowstone National Park, Wyo. 82190, or in person. Comments will not be accepted over the phone, by fax, or e-mail.

The comment period will be open until May 31. Full text of the delegation letter is below.

 

May 2, 2007

 

Winter Use Planning Team

P.O. Box 168

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming 82190

Winter Use Planning Team:

As members of Congress who represent the State of Wyoming, we write today to comment on the National Park Service’s (NPS) Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for winter use in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. It is rare that we participate in the formal comment period allowed through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process; however, we have such strong concerns with issues raised in the Draft EIS for winter use that such comments are warranted.

The Draft EIS proposes that, "As of the winter of 2008-2009, Yellowstone’s East Entrance Road would be open to snowcoach and non-motorized travel from the entrance to a point about 6-miles west only (near the Sylvan Avalanche zone). The road segment though the Sylvan Pass area would be open for ski and snowshoe access only, with such access treated as backcountry (i.e. users assume the risks of traveling through the avalanche zone). The East snowmobile entries (as well as some of those from North and Old Faithful entries) would be reallocated to the West and South Entrances." Simply stated, the preferred alternative closes the East Entrance of Yellowstone National Park to motorized snowmobile and snowcoach access. This decision is unacceptable to us and our constituents, and we strongly urge the NPS to reconsider closure of the East Entrance as the Draft EIS moves toward a Record of Decision (ROD).

The East Entrance has a tradition of providing excellent snowmobile access to Yellowstone National Park, and the City of Cody, Wyoming has helped provide that access as a gateway city. Although the NPS has struggled to guarantee the entrance will be open, data suggests that closures were limited to 4 ½ days or less each winter prior to the 2003-2004 winter season. In reviewing the data, it is our belief that it is possible to keep reasonable access available to Yellowstone through the East Entrance. While we acknowledge that the safety of Park Service employees is a valid concern, we believe that the safety record in Sylvan Pass speaks for itself.

We also recognize that there are significant costs associated with keeping the East Entrance open to access. We would encourage the NPS to work with the people of Cody and the commercial operations that access the East Entrance to find methods, such as volunteer trail grooming, to make access more cost effective for the NPS. It is our belief that the residents of Cody value winter access through the East Entrance so deeply that they are willing to work with the NPS to keep it open. It is our hope that the NPS will recognize this and see the value in keeping alive snowmobile and snowcoach access through the East Entrance when the NPS releases the Final EIS and the ROD later this year.

Closure of the East Entrance is by far our primary concern with the Draft EIS. In addition to this concern, it is our belief that other aspects of the preferred alternative could be improved. The preferred alternative requires that all winter motorized use in Yellowstone be commercially guided. However, residents of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho have a unique relationship with Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. As residents of the states who house these national treasures within their borders, these individuals have a unique opportunity to access the Parks and a vested interest in keeping the Parks pristine. We strongly urge the NPS to consider a separate, limited designation that would allow access to the Park without a commercial guide. Such a designation would be similar to the unguided or non-commercial tours proposed in Alternative 4, which requires a certified group leader. We encourage the NPS to include such a proposal in the Final EIS and the ROD.

In closing, we applaud the NPS for its work on this issue. It is our belief that the NPS’s management policies should encourage access and use of our national parks, not discourage it. The preferred alternative in the Draft EIS has many areas that encourage access. However, we believe the closure of the East Entrance to snowmobiles and snowcoaches will discourage people from enjoying our national treasures. We strongly encourage you to reverse this decision in the final environmental impact statement.

Sincerely,

Craig Thomas, Michael B. Enzi, Barbara Cubin

United States Senator, United States Senator, Member of Congress

CC: Deputy Secretary of the Interior Lynn Scarlett

National Park Service Director Mary Bomar

Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Suzanne Lewis

Grand Teton National Park Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott