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Snowmobile effects on the Enviroment

posted Oct 12, 2009, 4:33 PM by   [ updated May 6, 2010, 5:42 AM by Dennis Harris ]
Everything we do has some effect on the environment. When a hiker steps on a flower, he affects the environment. When land is paved over for a bicycle path, it affects the environment. Many of the foot paths man has used for centuries still exist and are clearly visible throughout the world.

However, it’s a fact that a snowmobile and rider exert dramatically less pressure on the earth’s surface than other recreational activities (i.e., just one-tenth the pressure of a hiker and one-sixteenth the pressure of a horseback rider). Average pounds of pressure per square inch exerted on earth’s surface:
Object Lbs. of Pressure
Four-Wheel Drive Vehicle 30
Horse 8
Man 5
All-Terrain Vehicle 1.5
Snowmobile 0.5
(All vehicle weights considered include 210 lbs. estimated weight of one person and gear.)

Moreover, the snowmobile’s 1/2 pound of pressure is further reduced by an intervening blanket of snow.

In many jurisdictions, snowmobiles are not classified as off-road vehicles. By both definition and management policies, these jurisdictions have completely separated snowmobiles from off-road vehicles. As the U.S. Department of the Interior concluded in an environmental statement:

"A major distinction is warranted between snowmobiles and other types of off-road vehicles. Snowmobiles operated on an adequate snow cover have little effect on soils - and hence cause less severe indirect impacts on air and water quality, and on soil- dependent biotic communities, than other ORV’s do."

Given adequate snowfall and responsible operation, all evidence of snowmobile operation disappears when the season changes and the snow melts.

In its environmental statement regarding off-road vehicle use of public lands, the U.S. Department of the Interior stated: "Where snowmobiles are used exclusively over snow on roads and trails, the impact on vegetation is indeed virtually nil."

A University of Wisconsin study of J. W. Pendleton entitled Effect of Snowmobile Traffic on Non-Forest Vegetation discovered that snowmobile traffic had no effect on grain yield of winter wheat, alfalfa, red clover plots or grass legume. Species of turf grass showed slightly reduced yields at first harvest, but were not negatively affected in subsequent harvests.

Research undertaken by Dr. James C. Wittaker and Dennis S. Wentworth of the University of Maine concluded that “compaction by snowmobiling does not alter the grain weight yields of alfalfa in Maine.”

A Utah Water Resource Laboratory study found that snow compaction, caused by snowmobile tracks, does not damage wheat crops. Instead, the compaction increases the yield and eliminates snow mold. Erosion is also reduced.

There is no evidence that snow compaction caused by snowmobiling, ski-touring or snowshoeing has a significant impact on the population of small burrowing animals. Since these recreations take place over a minuscule portion of the total land area, the ecosystems of burrowing animals tend to be overwhelmingly affected by natural forces-such as wind-induced compaction, early and late snowfalls, temperature fluctuations resulting in thaws and freezes, etc.
Dennis Harris,
Jan 7, 2010, 7:28 AM