Lisa Grabowski

                                                                                                Geology 201

                                                                                                October 14, 2000



Does Recreation Justify Pollution? -

Snowmobiles in the National Parks


            The interests of recreational visitors to the National Parks and those of environmentalists have come into conflict recently over the issue of snowmobile use in the parks. Visitors want to use their snowmobiles to explore park trails that, in wintertime, might be difficult to access by hiking. The National Park Service and conservation groups like the Blue Water Network and National Parks Conservation Association argue that snowmobiles cause too much pollution and threaten wildlife.

            For more than four decades, the National Park System has allowed snowmobile users into the parks. Until recently, more than 30 park units permitted snowmobiles, including Yellowstone (WY), Denali (AK), Grand Teton (WY), Voyagers (MN), and Rocky Mountain (CO). 6 Approximately 180,000 snowmobiles enter the Park System each year. 1

            Recently, several environmental issues have arisen due to the alleged impact of snowmobile use on wildlife and air quality. Wild animals use groomed trails as efficient travel routes, impacting population dynamics, movements, distribution, and habitat use patterns. 4 “Groomed snowmobile trails encourage bison to leave park boundaries at an unprecedented and deadly rate.” 10 More than 1,300 bison were shot outside of Yellowstone National Park’s boundaries last year to protect cattle from an alleged disease. 10 Voyageurs National Park (MN) found that grey wolves, an endangered species, abandon areas of moderate snowmobile use, even if these regions are traditional hunting grounds. 10

Air pollution is also caused by snowmobile use. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), two-stroke engines (which power nearly all snowmobiles) dump up to 30 percent of their fuel, a mixture of gas and oil, directly into the surrounding environment. 7


“The California Air Resources Board (CARB), using data from the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association, concluded that one hour on a typical snowmobile produces more pollution than driving a modern car for a year.” 7  


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