Snowmobilers next to bison in YNP

TOP: Snowmobiles pass bison on the road inside Yellowstone National Park in this Jan. 6, 2017 photo. ABOVE: A small herd grazes in the park.

After six years of wildlife monitoring during the winter in Yellowstone National Park, results show that bison and elk are accustomed to seeing snowmobiles and snowcoaches on the roads. Park managers are recommending ending the monitoring.

“Animals have gotten used to visitation and vehicles in the park, but it’s a much more controlled situation today than before,” said Ray McPadden, chief of Environmental Equality at Yellowstone to the Billings Gazette.

The National Park Service is seeking public comment through Nov. 1 on a proposal to suspend the monitoring plan for winter use and use its manpower elsewhere “in conducting visitor use impact monitoring in the summer due to record-breaking visitation,” the park said in a news release.

The recommendation comes after a summary report that found 95% of wildlife within 500 feet of groomed park roads “demonstrated no response or a ‘look and resume’ response to over snow vehicles” passing by. The report gathered data from 2014 to 2019 and included 1,105 groups of wildlife and 6,715 individual animals.

“Similar monitoring efforts prior to the (summary report) in 2013 found roughly 91% of wildlife were observed to demonstrate no response or a ‘look and resume’ response,” the park said.

The monitoring program was implemented during the winter of 2012-2013 when a controversial limit on snowmobiles and snowcoaches was implemented. The limits restricted winter use to 110 daily transportation events between all four of the park’s five entrances. Snowmobilers were also required to travel with a guide, or nonguided snowmobilers were required to pass a test before entering the park with a group of 10 or fewer. All over-the-snow vehicles are required to have “best available” technology to reduce noise and pollution.

Eliminating the monitoring program doesn’t mean the park would allow more snowmobile and snowcoach traffic, the park said.

“Yellowstone will renew the winter wildlife monitoring program if unexpected changes occur to wildlife populations or if significant adjustments are made to winter operations and use,” the park said.

The park’s winter season begins Dec. 15 with limited services and over-the-snow transportation only.

To learn more and to comment on the park’s proposal, go to parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?projectId=104843.

Recommended for you