Two-strokes are out in parks

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2000:

WASHINGTON D.C.– – Recognizing that the most invasive of all species are humans on vehicles with noisy exhaust-spewing two-stroke engines, the National Park Service on April 28, 2000 banned recreational use of snowmobiles at 29 National Parks, National Monuments, and National Recreation Areas.

The ban will be implemented by enforcing existing prohibitions on off-road vehicle use, adopted in 1972, and other disruptive vehicular activity, adopted in 1977.

Exempted from the Park Service edict are only Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota and 11 sites in Alaska, including Denali National Park, where specific legislation permits snowmobiling.

U.S. Forest Service chief Mike Dombeck followed the Park Service announcement on May 9 by proposing a ban on any new roadbuilding on 43 million acres of the 54 million acres of now roadless National Forest, while leaving decisions on whether to bar logging, mining, and recreational off-road vehicle use up to local foresters. USDA undersecretary Jim Lyons told media that the Dombeck plan is expected to reduce the volume of logging in roadless areas by 73%. A decision on whether or not to extend the ban to the roadless greater portion of the 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest in Alaska was deferred pending completion of four more years of study.

The Park Service and Forest Service actions are significant setbacks for the so-called wise use movement. Two of the biggest wiseuse fronts over the past decade have been the Alliance for America, dominated by timber interests, and the Blue Ribbon Coalition, whose major backers include the two-stroke engine and vehicle makers Honda, Yamaha, Ski-Doo, Polaris, and Horizon.

Two-stroke engines are used to power most snowmobiles, personal watercraft, dirt bikes, and other light vehicles.

The Park Service decree and Forest Service proposal are victories, however, for the Bluewater Network, a coalition of more than 60 environmental and animal protection groups which in 1998 jointly sued several leading two-stroke engine manufacturers.

In a June 1999 out-of-court settlement, the Bluewater Network won an agreement that the manufacturers will put warning labels on their vehicles about the environmentally hazardous effects of two-stroke engines; will develop a trade-in program to take older, noisier, less fuel-efficient vehicles out of use; and would pay the network $300,000.

The National Parks Conservation Association estimates that about 180,000 snowmobiles per winter enter national parks, monuments, and recreation areas. About 85,000 of them traverse Yellowstone National Park. As many as 75,000 travel from West Yellowstone, Montana, to the Old Faithful geyser.

Yellowstone spokesperson Marsha Karle told media in mid-March 2000 that the Park Service expected to ban snowmobiles within two years, in the wake of several lawsuits brought by the Fund for Animals and other groups, alleging that packed and groomed snowmobile trails encourage bison to migrate out of the park and into Montana. During the winter of 1996-1997, Montana authorities shotabout 1,100 bison lest they transmit the cattle disease brucellosis to beef herds. In 1998-1999, rangers hazed 615 healthy bison back into Yellowstone, while 90 bison were slaughtered after testing positive for brucellosis.

Relatively few bison tried to enter Montana in 1999-2000. The only reported mass exodus came on April 23. A Park Service helicopter drove a herd of about 60 back to safety.

Personal watercraft

The Park Service has also tried to curtail use of personal waterjets since 1996. Personal waterjets were initially banned at Everglades National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Canyon-lands National Park in Utah, and Glacier National Park in Montana.

When the results proved positive for both wildlife and most human visitors, the Park Service in June 1998 announced that personal waterjets would also be banned at Lake Crescent in Olympic National Park, Washington, and along protected stretches of the St. Croix River in Wisconsin.

Bans or restrictions on personal waterjets were eventually proposed at 87 different sites. Use remained open at 10 sites, mostly where the habitat is created by dams, and where personal waterjets were already heavily used.

The Park Service action encouraged the boards of supervisors in Marin County, California, and San Juan County, Washington, to introduce local personal waterjet bans. Both counties are known for marine mammal viewing opportunities.

Marc Koenings, superintendent at Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland, said on March 31 that the federal bans will be enforced.

“Personal watercraft are at odds with why the Park Service was established,” Koenings told reporters. “People have told us that it is insane to have them in the parks. We need to get them under control.”

The 14,385 personal waterjets registered in Maryland in 1998 made up only 7% of the private fleet, but accounted for 28% of the reported accidents, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Nationwide, more than 1.5 million personal waterjets have been sold since 1990.

But the Park Service action outraged Bill Schoeberlein, owner of Schoeb’s Skis in Ocean City, Maryland.

“No one tells me I can’t do something that I know is my God-given, inalienable right to do,” fumed Schoeberlein to Washington Post s t a f f writer April Witt.

“The animals will move out of your way,” added personal waterjet user Scott Willig. “They’ve always got somewhere else to go. The people who want peace and quiet should go somewhere else. This is Ocean City. It’s a party town. It’s like you put 50 people inside a beer bottle and shake it up.”

Willig, 28, was described by Witt as “an Ocean City construction worker with a nose ring.”

In fact, animals can’t always get out of the way of personal waterjets. Fish and other underwater creatures tend to have extremely sensitive hearing, yet species dependent upon coral reefs and other shallow habitat cannot escape the sounds of personal waterjets, which may go on from dawn until dusk in the most accessible waters. Shore birds cannot hunt where personal waterjets are churning the waves and scaring fish.

And slow animals such as manatees are easily run over––as occurred on both April 30 and May 1 during a personal waterjet race and other events at the Indian River Festival in the Titusville Marina basin.

While Save the Manatee club volunteers and staff from Sea World in Orlando searched for the hurt manatees, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reprimanded the U.S. Coast Guard for authorizing the race without USFWS review.

Personal waterjets are not the only high-powered boats that hit manatees, and it may be argued that they harm manatees much less often than vessels with outboard motors, whose propellers may be the leading human threat to the species. But prop wounds are rivaled in number by blunt trauma injuries––and boat-inflicted manatee deaths are up sharply in recent years, parallel to personal waterjet sales.

Before 1994, boats had never killed more than the 1989 toll of 53 manatees. Since then, the record has risen from 60 in both 1994 and 1996 to 66 in 1998, and 82 in 1999. At least nine of the 1999 victims were killed by personal waterjets. And the killing pace picked up in 2000. By mid-May, more than 60 manatees had already been killed by watercraft. The total Florida manatee population had fallen to about 2,200, from the 1998 recent high of circa 2,400.

The number of dugongs, closely related to manatees, has fallen 50% along the Great Barrier Reef of Australia since 1990. Gill nets are believed to be their leading cause of human-induced death. But there too the fall coincides with the rising popularity of personal waterjets.

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