Snowmobile tips to help maintain the environment

By Sarah Doty

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

With winter just around the corner, snowmobile enthusiasts are anxiously awaiting their first ride. However, a national nonprofit organization is reminding riders to follow a number of tips to "minimize their environmental impact" this winter.

Founded in 1985 by the U.S. Forest Service, Tread Lightly! was established to address concerns about the impact of an increasing amount of visitors to the outdoors for recreational purposes. Their goal is to "balance the needs of people who enjoy outdoor recreation with our need to maintain a healthy environment," with a special focus on motorized and mechanical recreation — four wheeling, motorcycling, boating and snowmobiling.

In an effort to do this, they have released a top 10 list to answer the questions that many snowmobilers have about their sports impact on the wild, said Monica Clay of Tread Lightly!.


  • Ride only in designated areas where snowmobiling is permitted.
  • Avoid areas with inadequate snow cover, where young trees and plants are visible.
  • Stay on trails wherever possible. Snowmobiling on groomed trails causes no harm to the soil beneath the snow.
  • To minimize harmful emissions, keep your engine in tune and use only recommended and certified fuels, lubricants and additives.
  • Protect the soundscpae by avoiding unnecessary noise created by your vehicle and not overstaying your welcome in high traffic areas.
  • Dispose of all sanitary waste properly by burying it in the snow or packing it out.
  • Use a fire pan to minimize impact if you build a fire. Properly dispose of ash and fire debris by packing it out.
  • Be respectful of wildlife’s wintering habitats.
  • Remember, designated Wilderness areas are reserved for the most primitive outdoor adventure. Motorized and mechanized vehicles are not allowed.
  • Pack out what you pack in. Don’t litter or bury trash.

"In most cases snowmobiling can be done without causing any lasting environmental damage," said Lori McCullough, executive director of Tread Lightly!. "But riders must follow a few simple principles to have a fun and responsible ride."

  • Understand how to operate your vehicle and its controls.
  • Prepare for the unexpected by packing a small backpack full of emergency items.
  • Wear a helmet, eye protection, and other safety gear. 
  • Make sure your snowmobile is mechanically up to task. Be prepared with tools, supplies, spares and a spill kit for trailside repairs.
  • Avoid sensitive areas such as meadows, lakeshores, wetlands and streams, unless on designated routes. This protects wildlife habitat and sensitive soils from damage.
  • Low snow, don’t go. Riding in these conditions can damage plants and soils just below the snow’s surface.
  • Avoid disturbing historical, archeological, and paleontological sites
  • Be respectful of wildlife’s wintering habitats. 
  • Avoid "spooking" livestock and wildlife and keep your distance. 
  • To minimize harmful emissions, keep your engine in tune.

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