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Jul-21-2011 14:41printcomments

Yellowstone/Ripping Off Taxpayers - NPS Retirees, Other Groups Oppose Boondoggle at Yellowstone

Yellowstone Would Spend $700 Per Visitor Facilitating Risky Travel Through Avalanche Zone for Fewer than 500 Individuals a Year.


(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - Lacking adequate funding to protect America’s most precious natural and cultural resources including historic artifacts, threatened plants and animals and deteriorating visitor facilities, the National Park Service is nonetheless proposing to spend a third of million dollars each winter in Yellowstone National Park managing a dangerous mountain pass as a travel corridor for fewer than six visitors a day by triggering avalanches with a howitzer. The cost of the program would be over $700 per visitor.

Five non-profit organizations sent a letter to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) this week urging it to review what is being asked of taxpayers after a new National Park Service study reached the same conclusion reached by the agency four years ago: closing Yellowstone National Park’s Sylvan Pass in winter would benefit health and safety, while keeping it open and managing it as a winter travel corridor involves risks that cannot be mitigated fully. The OMB is the arm of the White House that seeks to assure sound use of federal tax dollars and mission-driven performance gains by federal agencies.

The letter sent to the OMB by the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, National Parks Conservation Association, Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club states in part:

“A Yellowstone ranger was killed while performing a snowmobile patrol of the area in 1994. Since that tragedy, the National Park Service has repeatedly determined, including in a study released two months ago, that the travel corridor known as Sylvan Pass is inherently hazardous. Nonetheless, the Service has again proposed to keep Sylvan Pass open to winter travelers by triggering avalanches with a howitzer—at a cost of over $700 per visitor.

Of the over three million visitors who enjoy Yellowstone annually, fewer than one in 6,000 use Sylvan Pass in winter. At a time when our national parks are contending with an annual operations shortfall of more than $600 million that is intensifying the challenge to protect the parks’ natural and cultural resources and historic artifacts, it defies imagination that Yellowstone can afford to spend a third of a million dollars every winter detonating explosives so that fewer than 500 visitors can travel through an avalanche-prone pass. While some have argued that keeping Sylvan Pass open is justified by the snowmobiling it affords, only an average of 90 snowmobiles have traveled over the pass in recent winters. That makes the cost of avalanche control a startling $3600 per snowmobile.

The proposal that Yellowstone should accept inherent health and safety risks, use explosives that also pose a threat to the park’s resources and some hikers, and allocate a large sum of tax dollars to accommodate so few visitors is a stark exception within the National Park System. National parks including Glacier, Mount Rainier, North Cascades, Yosemite and Rocky Mountain long have employed winter road closures to avoid inherent hazards and uphold the National Park Service’s protective management policies.”

In 2007, the National Park Service concluded in an environmental impact study that the instability of snow is extreme at Sylvan Pass and noted that the road crosses through many of the natural chutes, “putting travelers at risk of being hit by an avalanche and swept down the slope, almost certainly to their deaths.”

The 2007 study also described precautions put in place to reduce hazards to employees who perform avalanche control operations but then concluded, “Even with these mitigations, the risk remains extreme and unavoidable.”

A new environmental impact study released just two months ago reached the same conclusion based on the facts: inherent hazards at Sylvan Pass cannot be mitigated fully and keeping the pass closed in winter is the safest option.

The letter sent to the OMB concludes:

“We believe that the National Park Service’s current proposal to downgrade health and safety in order to provide access for approximately 500 visitors at a cost of over $300,000—and to shell Yellowstone with explosives—is not in actuality the preferred option of the Superintendent of Yellowstone National Park nor the Director of the National Park Service; that political pressure has shaped the proposal over which a decision is due later this year.

We respectfully ask you to help assure that safety will be the top priority in management of winter use in Yellowstone.”

The full letter is attached can be found online at:

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Mark Franks July 21, 2011 7:00 pm (Pacific time)

I've followed Yellowstone news for several years and have been amazed at how little objection there has been to this absurdity. It's a classic case of Yellowstone officials caving to pressures from the snowmobile lobby and others from the park's gateway communities who see Yellowstone as a cash cow. They are infuriated when there are restrictions or closures that effect their profits and seem to see the park as belonging primarily to them, while the true owners, the taxpayers of America, flip the bill. In this case, Cody, WY has been meeting regularly with park officials to make sure they have winter access to the park through this dangerous eastern route.

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