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Ban on Snowmobiles in Parks Sought

January 21, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Environmentalists want the government to ban snowmobiles from national parks and consider new safety and pollution restrictions for them everywhere else, saying the increasingly popular machines are a nuisance.

``Our national parks were not created in order to serve as national playgrounds, available for any and all uses,″ a coalition of groups known as the Bluewater Network says in a petition being filed today with the National Park Service.

There are plenty of places outside the national parks where snowmobilers can ``pollute the air, disturb the flora and fauna, and disrupt peaceful contemplation″ of nature, the petition says. Snowmobiles are permitted in 28 park units, but the heaviest use is in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks in Wyoming, and in Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota.

Separately, the groups are asking the Environmental Protection Agency, Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to consider new emission and safety standards for the machines.

Snowmobiles use the same two-stroke engines as personal watercraft such as Jet Skis and many boats, making them one of the nation’s largest sources of ``unchecked pollution,″ the groups say in a letter to the EPA.

Environmentalists recently lost a bid to ban Jet Skis from the park system. The park service decided last fall to allow their continued use at 25 recreation and seashore areas. The complaints about Jet Skis are similar to those for snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles, which are permitted on some national seashores and recreation areas.

U.S. sales of snowmobiles have doubled since 1992 to more than 160,000 units a year, according to the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association.

Jeff Mausolf, a former president of the Minnesota United Snowmobilers Association, said snowmobiles unfairly are accused of being dangerous and polluting. ``More often than not the facts and figures are twisted. They paint the worst-case scenario whenever possible,″ he said.

Some 120,000 snowmobiles go into Yellowstone each year, and the air around the park’s west entrance, where they congregate, is sometimes thick with their blue smoke. At Old Faithful geyser alone, snowmobiles create more pollution in one weekend than a year’s worth of automobile traffic, the petition claims.

In addition to working with manufacturers on developing cleaner burning models, park officials are considering new regulations on their use, including reduced use in some areas, said park spokeswoman Cheryl Matthews.

The groups making up the Bluewater Network include the National Resources Defense Council, Friends of the Earth, American Lands, and numerous regional organizations.

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