Why and How To Monitor [skip to "how to"]

Why: Refute Snowmobile Industry Myths

As a backcountry observer, YOU can witness, record, and report the consequences of snowmobile misuse.

The American Council of Snowmobile Associations claims that a person exerts ten times more land pressure than an operating snowmobile. The ACSA goes on to state that "...a snowmobile and rider exert dramatically less pressure on the earth's surface than other recreational activities." However, winter backcountry users are impacted by what snowmobiles do to the snow, not the ground underneath, and a snowmobile can cover 10 times more territory in a day than a pedestrian can.

Hyperbole aside, a snowmobile is not a magic carpet; the conduct of the operator can make a big difference in the severity of the impacts that accompany snowmobile activity. Documenting evidence of unlawful and destructive snowmobile activity is a compelling way to show that snowmobiles in the wrong hands, or when driven to excess, can have significant impact on the living land and on visitors' enjoyment of it. 

Why: Force the Forest Service to Enforce Existing Rules and Manage Snowmobile Activity

You should monitor our snow lands to demonstrate the need for more effective snowmobile management by the Forest Service.

The United States Forest Service has no institutional reason to challenge the snowmobile industry's myths. Under-funded forest districts have inadequate resources to manage off-road motorists during snow season. Since snowmobile motorists in California and Nevada are exempt from almost every rule, even license plates, that applies to ordinary motorists, snowmobile operators are, in effect, exempt from individual accountability. 

The result is a disproportionate impact on the backcountry. Snowmobiles can adversely effect roughly ten times more terrain per visitor-hour than self-propelled travelers on public lands. Noise, toxic fumes, machine-rutted snow, and physical hazards proliferate across the public commons under the banner of ‘sharing.’

Across public snowlands of western states, Snowlands’ partner organization Winter Wildlands Alliance has documented the stunning imbalance in winter recreation opportunities that has occurred as snowmobilers mastered the roads and scattered overland in the blink of an agency's eye. 

Why: You Are the Most Important Observer

You should monitor our snowlands because you directly experience the impacts of snowmobiles, and your report is first-hand.

Forest visitors like you are the best eyewitnesses to provide hard evidence of the impacts of unmanaged snowmobile use on our public lands. Without your personal testament, abuse of our common heritage will expand while the Forest Service does little or nothing.

How To:

Study and learn the appearance of snowmobile impacts on our snowlands, use a map that shows snowmobile limits, and keep an eye out for the impacts of motorized recreation on public land.

The following is a list of indicators of snowmobile misuse. If you encounter any of these, please report the incident using the Snowlands Network online reporting form. Snowlands will record your report and forward it to the proper land management authorities.

  • Reckless snowmobile activity endangers nearby people. Recklessness includes acts such as approaching or passing pedestrians at speed in deliberate acts of hazing, exposing bystanders to a potential avalanche trigger, and even hazardous on-highway snowmobile staging or use.

  • Snowmobile use damages soils and vegetation where snowmobiles are operated with marginal snow cover. Seeking isolated or remnant snows, a snowmobiler may traverse asphalt and muddy dirt roads and then drive overland across sodden meadows, dwarf shrubs, or other vegetation.

    Snowmobile damage to vegetation occurs when snowmobiles are used off-road in unsupportive or thin snows or when brush or small trees protrude above the snow surface. Damage can be done to green or dormant vegetation. Snowmobile contact with vegetation can produce a range of injuries from minor to outright destruction, so report such damage only when the observed injury appears likely to result in plant mortality, disfigurement, disease, or diminished seed or forage value.

  • Snowmobile parts or debris are often found along popular snowmobile routes, including unauthorized routes. The parts and debris include accidentally or deliberately abandoned or jettisoned items. Jettisoned parts are the result of in-the-field replacement where the old, expended parts are simply left behind. Snowmobile debris includes torn track lugs, paddles, bungees, red shards of shattered reflectors, broken plastic windscreens, busted engine cowls, suspension parts, torn drive clutch belts or NGK BR9ES (OSV manufacturer spec) spark plugs.

  • Hazardous waste release includes spilled or leaked neon green glycol coolant, or colorful spills of raw fuel and oil from refueling operations or overturned snowmobiles.

  • Snowmobile exhaust waste includes snowmobile pollution readily identifiable as exhaust or raw fuel odor and sooty, discolored snow where a snowmobile has idled or gotten stuck. A quick sniff of the stained snow will confirm the presence of scorched oil and raw fuel.

    Most snowmobiles are designed to pump their engine exhaust downward, into the snow beneath the vehicle in order to reduce exposure of the operator to airborne exhaust. Some of this waste stream, especially its oily fractions, does not vaporize but settles into the snow pack. Thus, virtually every snowmobile plow-line on the snowscape is laced with a continuous thread of hydrocarbon waste. In deeper snows where snowmobiles may run at full throttle, the exhaust stream may be so concentrated that you'll actually see a swath of discolored snow streaking the vehicle rut. Whether or not the snow-bound soot and oils are plain to see, the embedded waste travels into lakes, streams, soils, and meadows as soon as the snow melts.

  • Snowmobile noise pollution is most apparent as the audible, often repetitive, open-throttle outbursts of accelerating high-power, two-stroke snowmobile engines. The composite sounds of engine, exhaust, and spinning clutch and track create the distinctive bellowing and whine of distant snowmobiles at high throttle.

    Note that any sound test of a stationary snowmobile measures only the sound of its engine and exhaust system. Also note that topography, atmospheric conditions, snow conditions and terrain features such as forest density all affect the spread of snowmobile sound.

    Under some conditions, snowmobile sound can travel line-of-sight in excess of two miles from the vehicle, and may echo across wide-open, snow-slick slopes and ravines. A simple audio/video record of this phenomenon captured by a lightweight digital camera offers reliable evidence of the wide spread of unmanaged snowmobile sound emissions. Most digital cameras with a video mode record sound as well.

  • Snowmobile trespass is non-compliance with designated vehicle use-boundaries. You may witness the infraction in progress or, more often, the telltale plow lines and ruts after the fact. These affects demonstrate an unwillingness on the part of some motorists to abide by the rules and a lack of respect for the rights of visitors seeking a serene, natural environment. Use a map that shows where machines are not allowed, and look for tracks beyond closure signs.

    Snowmobiles are not allowed in any designated Wilderness area, nor are snowmobiles permitted on the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail and some other special locations. Documenting the occurrence of snowmobile trespass helps to show where law enforcement resources are most needed and helps to pinpoint the most popular portals used for unlawful motor vehicle entry.

  • Impairment of lawful access and displacement of forest visitors and their use is the end result of the combined impacts of noise, odor, physical hazards and shredded snowscapes. Under Federal land-use regulations, user impacts which perturb and displace other forest visitors are impermissible. The most practical way to demonstrate the pervasive impacts of snowmobile misuse and excess is citizen monitoring.

    Don't forget that snowmobile motorists are also significantly impacted by activity from other snowmobiles. Just as muscle-powered winter recreationists move to get away from snowmobile activity, snowmobilers likewise keep reaching for untouched and untrammeled snow to the extent that they leap-frog one-another, driving farther and farther afield, and even beyond bounds, in the search for undisturbed snow.

    The current paradigm of unmanaged snowmobile recreation condemns more and more muscle-powered winter recreationists to slopes cross-hatched with frozen snowmobile trenches that make knee-reliant travel unpleasant and hazardous if not impossible.