Why are environmentalists trying to get snowmobiles

Why are environmentalists trying to get snowmobiles banned from national parks?

Deborah Beck, Ketchum, ID

According to the San Francisco, California-based Bluewater Network, which wants to ban snowmobile use in national parks, 250,000 snowmobiles are operated in America’s park system each year, with some 60,000 snowmobiles zooming through Yellowstone National Park alone. Counting all snowmobile usage nationally, in and out of national parks, about 2.3 million take to the powder every year.

The main issue is the vehicle’s two-stroke engine, which is a major polluter. According to Bluewater, the air pollution from these dirty machines is so bad that some Yellowstone Park Rangers now wear respirators to protect themselves. Further, these engines dump 25-30 percent of their fuel unburned out the tailpipe onto vegetation and soil and into the water and air. According to Katy Rexford, Public Lands Associate for Bluewater, snowmobiles dump more than 100,000 gallons of fuel and 2,500 gallons of oil into Yellowstone’s ecosystem every year. Banning two-stroke engines in favor of four-stroke engines would make snowmobiles 80 percent cleaner, says Rexford.

But switching to four-stroke engines will not greatly affect the noise pollution. The piercing noise of snowmobiles is also at issue; studies have shown that snowmobiles can be heard 90 percent of the time in Yellowstone, thus destroying natural soundscapes and diminishing opportunities for more contemplative forms of recreation.

Another issue is their impact on wildlife: Canadian scientists found that the noise from snowmobiles disturbs animals up to 1,250 feet away. Even when restricted to approved and maintained trails, snowmobiles can push bison, wolves, elk, moose and bald eagles out of their preferred habitats.

CONTACT: Bluewater Network, (415) 544-0790, www.bluewaternetwork.org