Washington, D.C. -- The National Park Service is being a little less than cooperative with county and state cooperating agencies by not allowing enough time to submit their data regarding the Yellowstone National Park winter use environmental impact statement (EIS) now being prepared, according to U.S. Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.
Enzi asked the agency in a June 23 letter to "give serious consideration" to any further information provided by the local entities.
Enzi wrote in the letter addressed to Yellowstone Superintendent Mike Finley that the Park Service is being selective when it enforces deadlines.
"While I understand your desire to meet the deadlines as embodied in the Oct. 1997 settlement agreement, I am concerned that your adherence to those deadlines is inconsistent when applied to the Cooperating Agencies," Enzi wrote. "The NPS ... had previously failed to meet two of the six deadlines that were agreed upon in the same Memorandums of Agreement. Because of these previous delays, the Cooperating Agencies were placed in a situation where they required additional time in order to respond to your agency's delinquency."
In May, Enzi and senators from Montana and Idaho wrote to the Park Service requesting a 60-day extension of the May 24 deadline for cooperating agencies to turn in their reports to the Park Service regarding the EIS. The EIS is being written as part of a lawsuit settlement with animal rights groups who sued the Park Service because they believe snowmobiles and other human usage of the park in winter is harmful to Park buffalo and other wildlife. The senators wrote that the Park Service's preferred choice in the settlement, to eliminate snowmobile access from West Yellowstone and plow the highway from West Yellowstone to Old Faithful, was not adequately discussed with the local cooperating agencies and they needed more time to evaluate the proposal.
Yellowstone Superintendent Mike Finley responded in a May 18 letter by writing that the settlement agreement set deadlines and the cooperating agencies agreed to those deadlines. Finley also said cooperating agencies were aware of the Park Service's preferred alternative before it was announced because the ideas were part of the alternative concepts developed over several months with the cooperators.
Enzi wrote that the explanation for not giving the cooperators more time is inadequate. He said as cooperating agencies, the counties and state are entitled to not only know what the preferred alternative is before it is announced, but to actually have a say in which alternative is preferred.
"The conclusion that the Cooperating Agencies knew or should have known which elements of 'alternative concepts' your agency would combine to create a final Preferred Alternative is inconsistent with the practices and requirements for parties responsible for contributing to the development of documents such as the Yellowstone National Park Winter Use Plan," Enzi wrote. "Because of the wide range of possibilities and opinions that surround this issue, it would be impossible for any of the parties to anticipate what form the Preferred Alternative would eventually take."
Enzi said it is essential that the views of the people most affected by the management of the park, the people of Jackson, Cody, other gateway communities and all residents of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho be given ample consideration. He is pleased local governments are included as cooperating agencies, but stresses that this should not be an empty gesture by the federal government.
Enzi, fellow Wyoming U.S. Sen. Craig Thomas and others have introduced legislation that would amend the National Environmental Policy Act to require that federal agencies consult with state, county and local governments on environmental impact statements. The State and Local Government Participation Act of 1999, S. 352, is being considered in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.