Washington, D.C. --Three United States Senators are asking the National Park Service to be more cooperative when it comes to including counties near the park as "Cooperating Agencies" in a winter use study.
Senators Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., Larry Craig, R-Idaho and Conrad Burns, R-Mont., sent a letter this week to Park Service Director Robert Stanton, asking Stanton to be more inclusive of counties surrounding the park by "immediately involving the Cooperating Agencies directly in the process."
The senators believe that the recently released scoping document outlining different plans for managing Yellowstone and Grand Teton Parks in the winter, largely ignores input from the counties.
"We are concerned that the (current) Scoping document's Range of Alternatives so closely adhered to the Winter Use Management-A Multi Agency Assessment-1997," the senators wrote in their Aug. 4 letter to Stanton. "The assessment has been criticized by state officials and others because it did not provide an adequate foundation to support its conclusions and possessed both errors in fact and self contradictory statements."
The multi-agency assessment contains statements implying the area "is primarily suited for primitive and nonmotorized forms of winter recreation." It leads people to believe the air in Yellowstone exceeds the National Ambient Air Quality standard for carbon monoxide, which is not the case according to Montana government experts. The report also fails to recognize increased snowmobile trail grooming and signing efforts, according to Wyoming officials from the Department of Commerce, Division of State Parks and historic Sites and the State Trails program.
The Park Service and Forest Service released a draft of the Winter use Management Multi-Agency Assessment June 1997. According to Park Service Web page information, "the report identifies important issues and concerns associated with winter use and makes recommendations on winter management for further analysis."
"The stakes are high for residents in counties near the park and consequently a few of those counties were granted 'Cooperating Agency' status by the federal government. This means the counties play an important role in 'identifying important issues and concerns associated with winter use and making recommendations,'" said Enzi. "This scoping report, taken from another document put together by government agencies with little if any county input, is a possible indication the Park Service may not be considering the counties as bona fide cooperating agencies."
A total of five counties in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, those state governments and the Park Service are working to prepare winter use plans and an environmental impact statement for Yellowstone and Grand Teton Parks. The winter use study is a result of a lawsuit filed by environmental and animal rights groups against the Park Service. The environmental groups' lawsuit contends groomed snowmobile trails make it easier for bison to migrate out of the park across the Montana border in winter where they may be shot because of fear they can transmit brucellosis to cattle.
Before the Park Service settled with the environmental groups Enzi made known his concerns that Park Service officials and the parties bringing the suit against the agency may have the same goals of eliminating snowmobiling and other forms of winter use in Yellowstone. He said these concerns still remain, which is why he continues to monitor participation by the people who live around the park.
Alternatives listed in the scoping document include removing snowmobile use from the inside park road in Teton Park, closing certain segments of road in Yellowstone to oversnow vehicle traffic, and requiring all snowmachines to meet strict emission and noise standards.
The next step in the process will be the publication of a draft EIS after which public meetings and hearings will be held before a final EIS and finally a Record of Decision is issued.