Posted by: Scott | Saturday, June 23, 2007

Regional NPS Director Snubs Cody’s Input

Never mind that a community is solidly, with little or no descent, unified on an issue such as the Winter Use Plan for Yellowstone National Park. While we may differ on which plan is the best, one thing is certain that we agree the preferred alternative is a bad deal, not just for Cody, but for America as a whole. Much has been reported on the proposal. Doubtless, much more will be written.

Closed National Park?Shut Out of Yellowstone, a Cody-based grassroots organization recently delivered over 3,000 form letters to the Director of Yellowstone National Park. The form letter laid out reasons for not closing down the East Gate. At issue are not only local economic impact, but also

  • disregard for use of the preferred avalanche mitigation technique (firing of a howitzer)
  • regularly decreasing winter traffic allowance to give the appearance that the numbers don’t justify winter maintenance
  • a bad precedent for public lands access
  • adds more traffic to already designated “traffic problem areas”
  • disregard for a newly reconstructed federal highway that provides an escape route for domestic violence victims
  • and violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act for limiting winter recreational activity through the East Gate (certain handicaps don’t allow for cross country skiing, but motorized over-snow travel allows the disabled to enjoy witer use).

Take your pick on the issues, closing the East Gate access to snowmobiles and snow coaches because of “avalanche danger” and allowing skiers access for the first six miles is just ridiculous. Especially when there is a 30 year history of no deaths during the winter use months on Sylvan Pass.

Now the Regional Director for the NPS has endorsed the preferred winter use plan. In a June 15 letter to Shut Out of Yellowstone, Michael D. Snyder expressed his support for Suzanne Lewis and Co’s plan for winter use, citing safety concerns:

…This danger must be effectively addressed. I do not want to lose the life of another employee or those of any visitors, whether to an avalanche or any other danger.

You’ve got to be joking! Has Mr. Snyder not read the reports about all the people that have not, I repeat, HAVE NOT died or been seriously injured on Sylvan Pass when avalanches are properly mitigated? I hesitate to bring up a mudslide that shut the pass down for almost a week in the summer of 2004. In that mudslide, 16 people were trapped in four vehicles. Even then, there were no injuries or deaths.

While we’re talking about safety, lets talk about how many people carelessly or intentionally step of a boardwalk/established trail and break the thin crust of the earth open only to be severely burned? What about the people that pay no attention to the signs and yellow fliers handed out at the entrances warning of the dangers of WILDlife and are seriously injured, even to the point of death? And that takes place during the summer!

Back to the winter use thing before someone gets a grand idea about summer use.

SOY members inquired about the Talus Slope near the Park’s South Gate. A June 5, 2007 Cody Enterprise article states:

Shut Out has been especially critical of Yellowstone’s decision, made several years ago, to completely eliminate avalanche forecasting and mitigation at the Talus Slope area south of Lewis Lake.

The park’s expert on avalanche control said the Talus Slope area has the potential for fatalities.

“We are deeply puzzled and concerned by the park’s inconsistent policies, because we believe all avalanche areas in Yellowstone are manageable,” Armstrong said. “We ask Superintendent Lewis to restore responsible avalanche control programs that will properly protect employees and the public while allowing us to enjoy Yellowstone in the winter.”

Going back to the Gazette’s article cited earlier:

“The kind of avalanche forecasting they are supposed to be doing at Talus Slope is taking temperature readings, digging snow pits and analyzing snow,” said Tonia Grdina, co-chair of the Shut Out group.

The revised draft Environmental Impact Statement on Yellowstone winter use notes that “routine forecasting and control occurs only on the East Entrance road” to maintain Sylvan Pass.

In his letter, Snyder said that an “extensive review” of Talus Slope determined that “the avalanche risk there would be best managed through careful observation of snow and weather conditions” and other measures, including temporary road closures.”

Talk about double-talk! And it gets only better. Mr. Snyder went on to cite the example of the 1980’s closure of Dunraven Pass. The reasons listed were lack of use giving little financial reason to maintain the pass. The revised DEIS also cites the avalanche potential as well as traffic volume, but no maintenance costs were included.

This has caused many to wonder if safety really is first on the Winter Use Proposal. Tonia Grdina notes that profit on a cost-per-visitor basis is not the job of NPS, and that some National Parks operate year-round on more expense than is involved in Yellowstone’s winter use season.

The Yellowstone Spokesman, Al Nash had to get his bit in as well:

I think we’ve been really clear that our focus and concern is on safety, but I don’t think we’ve ever ignored the fact that it’s expensive to conduct avalanche operations.

We acknowledge that the expense exists, and that it’s a part of this, but it’s not a situation of, ‘Is there a dollar figure that we can put on this that eliminates the risk?’

Yes, Mr. Nash, we all know, hazard prevention does cost money. Park County, WY has offered financial help. The State of Wyoming has offered financial help. We know, there are times the road just has to be shut down temporarily until conditions get better. We’re fine with that. I’m sure if you asked real nice, the Governor would be beyond more than happy to assign some National Guard troops to proper avalanche mitigation on Sylvan Pass. That would certainly take the pressure off of YNP employees to fire the howitzer right, and I’m sure you’d be fine with that. Cody is a very pro-military town, so there’s no question, we’d be fine with that.

What we’re not fine with is the inconsistent story of why someone wants to close the East Gate right after millions tax-payer dollars have been spent on rebuilding Sylvan Pass. One day it’s safety and the next it’s traffic counts don’t justify the costs. Sometimes it’s all the above in the same speech. Meanwhile, a dangerous avalanche zone that has even trapped snowplows gets to remain open with no mitigation program. Ironically, this is located near Jackson Hole, WY.

If you don’t like Cody, WY, would you please just write a letter to the editor of the Cody Enterprise that way we’d all know the real reason behind the winter use plan?

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Responses

  1. Thanks for the update!
    There are people in avalanche mitigation all over the country that are scratching their heads at what is going on in Yellowstone.

  2. You’re welcome! When I read the article while I was one of my breaks at work, I knew I had blog post to work on.


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