Most people living in the eastern United States are not aware of a great pollution problem confronting the western United States each winter. The problem is the snowmobile. During the winter in the western and northwestern United States, roads are often closed due to inclement winter weather forcing inhabitants to use snowmobiles. Snowmobiles are able to move quickly and effortlessly through snow. Therefore, it is a popular winter transport in this area of the country. Snowmobiling is a popular sport as well throughout Canada and is consistently growing in the northern United States. It also is very popular in the colder regions of Europe. Many environmentalists contend that snowmobiles are a threat to wildlife, plant life and air quality. In addition, snowmobiles are very noisy machines and are generally used in rural areas disturbing the peaceful out-of-doors.
A typical snowmobile includes: two short skis in the front, a wide track belt, if you will, toward the rear, throttle cable, carburetor, fuel filter, manual starter, storage compartment, bogie wheel set, fuel tank, brake shoe, muffler, 2-cylinder engine, and a steering column.
The primary source of pollution is the 2-cylinder engine. The way a 2-cylinder engine operates is by firing at each stroke of the piston, thereby distributing mixed oil and gasoline from the carburetor to a chamber for lubrication. After this process has taken place, the remaining oil and gasoline is dispersed out of an exhaust pipe into the environment. This combination of oil and gasoline produces carbon dioxide fumes that substantially pollute the air. According to the Earth Island Journal Volume 11 Issue 3 from the summer of 1996, "High Country News reports that [Yellowstone National] park officials say 'engine fumes make workers so dopey they sometimes can't count change.'" It also cites that Yellowstone National Park is the location of the most polluted air in the United States due to the steady use of snowmobiles, which increase carbon dioxide levels. In the March 1999 issue of Occupational Hazards, there is an article titled, "Snowmobiles pollute parks." It reports that besides dumping more than 50,000 gallons of raw gasoline into Yellowstone National Park each winter, snowmobile emissions are making park rangers sick. Fifty thousand gallons of gasoline is quite a large amount. This is Yellowstone National Park we are talking about, a recreational place for activities such as camping, fishing, cross-country skiing and honeymooning, if you like. It is not a place someone would think of as having the highest level of air pollution. In contrast, Yellowstone is traditionally thought of for its lush forests, abundant wildlife, fresh-water streams, and of course, Old Faithful.
Earth Island Journal gives statistics concerning snowmobile use at Yellowstone in an article titled, "Yellowsmoke National Park USA." Yellowstone has 1400 snowmobiles in service that are constantly in use during the winter, each of which is powered by noisy, "smoke-belching" two-stroke (cylinder) engines. Carbon dioxide levels have risen to as high as 36 parts-per-million (ppm). The federal limit is 35 ppm, which is outrageously high in the first place. As I previously stated, Yellowstone's gatekeepers and other staff members have complained of "dizziness, headaches, and nausea." The snowmobile rental industry, which grosses thirty million dollars ($30,000,000) per year, opposes any regulation.
Organizations throughout Canada, such as Tread Lightly, are conjuring up possible solutions. Alberta Newsmagazine states in a recent report titled, "Walking softly in the Wilderness" that the main purpose of these environmentalist groups is to raise awareness. Tread Lightly Canada plans to distribute brochures, posters and other educational material to schools, Junior Forest Wardens, 4-H groups and snowmobile, all-terrain vehicle, mountain bike and four-wheel-drive clubs in an effort to educate the public. The group's prime objective is to inform kids about environmental problems so they can teach their parents. These environmental problems include: being aware of where off-road vehicles are driving, the speeds at which off-road vehicles move, and off-road vehicles going on trails prematurely and spin their wheels instead of using other traction techniques. A few weeks ago the National Parks Service band the use of snowmobiles in national parks across the United States, in hopes to lessen the levels of pollution.
A recent article in the Western Edition of the Wall Street Journal reports that teams of student engineers from several colleges in the United States will compete in Snowmobile Challenge 2000. This is an effort is to address complaints about snowmobiles such as snowmobile design, pollution and noise.
It is encouraging to record endeavors seeking to decrease snowmobile pollution. The first goal of every group trying to solve a serious problem is to increase awareness. A common belief that each of the groups seems to site is that the current population of pre-teens and teenagers is the generation that should and can make a large difference in the preservation and purification of the environment.