Commercial Use Authorization Plan
Established by an Act of Congress on March 1, 1872, Yellowstone National Park encompasses 2.2 million acres in adjacent areas of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. Yellowstone hosts over 3 million visitors annually, including 194,000 winter visitors. Commercial visitor services are an important aspect of park operations, visitor experience, and preservation and conservation of park resources and values. The impact of park commercial services on the regional economy exceeds $500 million annually. The 2011 Yellowstone National Park Visitor Survey conducted by the University of Idaho found an average expenditure of $382 per group inside the park and $1,111 outside the park.
More than 280 Commercial Use Authorizations (CUAs) currently operate in the park with annual gross receipts exceeding $7 million. The authorizations allow activities and services year-round. Except for the road from the North Entrance to the Northeast Entrance, the park’s 370 miles of paved roads are only open to oversnow vehicles from November to April.
36 CFR Section 5.3 states, “Engaging in or soliciting any business in park areas, except in accordance with the provisions of a permit, contract, or other written agreement with the United States, except as specifically authorized under special regulations applicable to a park area, is prohibited.”
CUAs, a type of permit, fall under the authority of Section 418 of the National Park Service Concession Management Improvement Act of 1998 (16 U.S.C 5966 Public Law 105-81). The section authorizes the National Park Service to issue CUAs to individuals, corporations, and other entities to provide commercial services to park visitors in limited circumstances. These authorizations are not concessions contracts. There are no implementing regulations for CUAs.
In November, 2005, the NPS Director issued Interim Guidelines for Commercial Use Authorizations. On November 12, 2015, the NPS Director issued a supplement to the Interim Guidelines regarding Public Law 105-391, requiring the National Park Service (NPS) to collect a reasonable fee for CUAs. The revised October, 2016 Yellowstone National Park CUA plan incorporates the guidelines from this supplement.
The NPS uses CUAs to authorize businesses to provide suitable services that are consistent with the park’s mission. CUAs are managed and impacts are monitored to ensure protection of park resources. Comprehensive financial reporting requirements ensure cost recovery and the collection of reasonable fees.
The NPS identified the following objectives for the CUA program:
The operating plan for each service category is written to minimize resource impacts and optimize visitor safety and satisfaction. The plan includes methods to ensure minimal impacts through limits on group size, number of trips, etc. Operating plans are reviewed annually and updated as necessary. If, in the future, a service must be limited due to resource impacts, qualified applicants will be selected through a fair and unbiased process.
Authorization Service Categories
NPS staff monitors CUA operators to ensure adherence with the terms and conditions of the authorization and its operating plan. Staff will also monitor the impacts on cultural and natural resources, public safety, and public health. They may evaluate the CUA holder’s interpretive and informational services to ensure accuracy, quality, and appropriateness to park themes.
All applicants must submit a completed Commercial Use Authorization Application. Applicants for any service category must complete the Experience Questions, unless and the NPS has their Experience Questions on file from a previous application. The application fee must be submitted with the application. Complete application packages will be reviewed by park staff.
Upon review, applicants will be notified of their CUA approval. The Commercial Use Authorization will not be issued until all required documents have been received. All documents must be received by April 1st. Required documents are: proof of insurance, signed operating plans, acknowledgement of risk, and firearm policy. Guide lists can be submitted at a later date but must be submitted prior to operating.
NPS will issue a CUA to qualified applicants for a one-year term. Those who currently have a two-year CUA for December 14, 2015 to December 15, 2017, do not need to reapply for a one-year CUA until the open application period beginning October 1, 2017.
NPS will evaluate the application by the following criteria:
Application Fee: A mandatory non-refundable fee of $300 for each service category must be submitted with the completed annual application. The CUA holder should deduct the application fee from the percentage of gross receipts (or management fee) before remitting at the end of the season.
Management Fee: A year-end annual report and management fee will be due by January 31. The NPS will provide a calculation tool to determine the percentages of gross receipts.
The percentage of gross receipts for Services will be calculated by:
“Gross receipts’’ means the total amount of all revenues received from services offered within Yellowstone National Park, excluding services provided by other concessioners. Those services might include transportation, lodging and meals.
Services conducted outside the park are not included in the gross receipts when calculating the percentage to be assessed as a fee.
Accounting Records and Reports
The CUA holder shall maintain an accounting system under which accounts can be readily identified with its system of accounts classification. Such an accounting system shall be capable of providing the information required under this CUA. The NPS will provide blank, fillable annual reports.
Closure of areas in the park because of fire, severe weather, or the need for resource protection, or other circumstances that may prevent a CUA holder from providing a service are not reimbursable events.
CUA holders and their guides must comply with all requirements of the Commercial Use Authorization and its associated appendices or exhibits. Written approval from the Superintendent must be obtained prior to any deviation from these requirements.
A CUA may not be sold or transferred. If a change in ownership or majority stock holder occurs, the CUA will be considered terminated and the new operator/business must submit an application for a new authorization during the open CUA application season.
The CUA holder must provide the NPS with a Certificate of Liability Insurance with the required amount of coverage.
Reporting documents will, at a minimum, include a list of guides and dates of standard first-aid and CPR certification, monthly use reports, annual financial statements, rate sheets, and brochures.
The NPS is not responsible for lost business due to closures or a revocation of the authorization.
NPS concessions management staff will review the CUA program annually and, if necessary, recommend changes to park management. If public health or safety concerns or imminent impacts to park resources are anticipated, changes may be implemented immediately.
NPS staff will monitor resources and evaluate CUA operations. Typically evaluations will consist of contact by a Concession Management Specialist, Park Ranger or other NPS representative at a campsite, trailhead, or on a park road. Evaluations may also be done by internet site reviews and visitor feedback.
The NPS will collect information to determine the need to limit use based on documented resource concerns or impacts. The NPS may also limit use of a specific activity by time period, area, and number of trips, user days, and/or party size. Instances of service interruption or area closure may occur due to weather closures, fire closures or resource protection.
Environmental National Policy Act Compliance
The plan has been excluded from further National Environmental Policy Act compliance by the following Categorical Exclusion as listed in NPS Director’s Order 12: “Incidental business permits (which have been replaced by commercial use authorizations) involving no construction or potential for new environmental impacts.”
Changes in the 2016 Commercial Use Authorization Plan
 Photographers that are hired (receiving compensation) to take portraits (photos) of individuals (including domestic animals). This includes wedding photography, student and family portraits and documentary style portraiture. Service must originate in a park gateway community.Gateway communities include West Yellowstone, Big Sky, Bozeman, Livingston, Gardiner, and Cooke City, Montana; Cody and Jackson, Wyoming;and Idaho Falls, Idaho
Last updated: November 13, 2017