Are snowmobiles overpowering parks?

  • Snowmobilers on Togwotee Pass in Wyoming

    John Brecher photo
  During the peak of the snowy season in Yellowstone National Park, as many as 1,000 snowmobiles a day roar over its groomed roads. Critics say the machines cause more noise and air pollution than the park should have to handle. Park rangers who sell entrance tickets complain of headaches and nausea from breathing in clouds of exhaust from long lines of idling snowmobiles (HCN, 4/1/96). In the town of West Yellowstone, snowmobile exhaust permeates hotel rooms

Recently, 60 environmental groups representing over a million people petitioned the Interior Department to ban snowmobiles from the 30 national parks where they are allowed.

"Snowmobiles are not appropriate in national parks," says Sean Smith of the Bluewater Network, an advocacy group leading the petition effort. "I've snowmobiled and it's fun, but parks are our national heritage, and they need to be protected."

Besides petitioning Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, the network also asked several other federal agencies to regulate snowmobiles for safety and health.

Snowmobile enthusiasts, estimated at over 2 million people, say critics exaggerate the impacts of the sport.

"It's an opportunity to get out in the winter and have a great family experience," says Allen Brown of the Montana Snowmobile Association. "I don't think snowmobiling has any detrimental effects."

But the EPA isn't convinced. Last month, the agency announced it will issue new emissions standards next year.

The Bluewater Network of the Earth Island Institute is based at 300 Broadway, Suite 28, San Francisco, CA 94133 (415/788-3666, ext. 110).

* Juniper Davis

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