1. Thrillcraft users are a major economic force for the regional economy
2. Thrillcraft can be operated in an environmentally benign manner
3. Thrillcraft users are mostly poor rural people
4. There’s just a few bad apples that gives all users a bad name
5. Thrillcraft allows one to get closer to nature
6. Owners of thrillcraft have a right to use the public lands
7. There is no place for thrillcraft to go?
8. Banning thrillcraft from public lands will prevent handicapped, young and old people from having access to nature or only the young and healthy can access wilderness areas
9. Snowmobiles do less damage than other machines

Thrillcraft users are a major economic force for the regional economy

Many thrillcraft supporters claim that their activities are an important economic force for rural communities. There are snowmobiling towns, dune buggy towns, and jet ski hot spots. There is no doubt in some very specific cases, the local economy gets a boost from thrillcraft, however, there are several alternatives that must be considered. First, in many cases, thrillcraft use drives away other potential economic activities. Cross country skiers and snowshoers avoid places where snowmobiling is popular, Canoeists avoid popular jet ski lakes. Quiet sport endeavors can provide a strong economic base for a community. In addition, much of the money spent on thrillcraft activities does not wind up in rural communities. Snowmobilers going to Yellowstone don’t usually purchase their sleds, trailers, clothes and other gear in nearby communities like West Yellowstone, rather they are purchased in larger urban centers where most thrillcraft users reside so the actual contribution to the communities is greatly exaggerated when proponents use overall sales of snowmobiles in a state to suggest that it contributes to rural economies. Third, if people were not spending money on snowmobiles or jet skis doesn’t mean they wouldn’t spend money on something. Thus they might spend their money on other forms of recreation or in other sectors of the economy, so that from a regional perspective lose of thrillcraft opportunities wouldn’t necessarily mean there would be no economic activity.

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Thrillcraft can be operated in an environmentally benign manner.

The truth is there is simply no way to uses thrillcraft without significant damage to the landscape, and quality of the natural world. Thrillcraft use does a tremendous amount of ecological damage, causing eroded soil, polluted waterways and air, and fragmenting wildlife habitat. ATVs, swamp buggies, dirt bikes and other thrillcraft tear up wetlands, destroy vegetation contributing to increased soil erosion, and soil compaction. For instance the traditional two stoke engine that powers many thrillcraft leaves as much as 30% of its fuel on the ground or in the water. And the operation of a single snowmobile put as much pollution in an hour as a car down that has been driven 100,000 miles. Studies of snowmobile use in Yellowstone National Park estimate that more than 100,000 gallons of fuel are leaked to the snow each season. The machines transport weeds into new places, and through damage and/or disturbance to the soil create the kinds of conditions conducive to the spread of exotics. Based on research by the Montana State University Extension Service, a single dirt bike or ATV can spread 2,000 seeds over a 10-mile radius. And because most thrillcraft are large and heavy pieces of equipment people transporting them require larger, more powerful vehicles that use more fossil fuels to get to the trailhead, and again once at the trailhead to operate the thrillcraft itself.

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Thrillcraft users are mostly poor rural people.

Proponents of thrillcraft like to suggest that efforts to ban these machines on public lands disproportionably affects poor rural residents who are presumed to be the dominant users of these machines. Nevertheless, despite common perception that rural people are the most likely to own and use thrillcraft, the reality is that most owners of thrillcraft are anything but poor rural folk. If you have ever priced a new snowmobile or jet ski you know quickly they are not the kinds of machines that are owned by the poor and down trodden. In the average snowmobiler $70,000 a year, considerably more than the national average, lives in a city or town and has some college education. A reader review of a popular ATV magazine found that 55% had attended college, more than 56.4% earned more than $50,000 a year. Such statistics demonstrate that if anything, the average thrillcraft owner is wealthier than the average American.

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There’s just a few bad apples that gives all users a bad name.

Whenever one goes to a public meeting to discuss thrillcraft use, one always hears that it’s a few bad apples who bend the law. But the entire thrust of thrillcraft advertisement promises that you can go where others don’t or go beyond the limits. And indeed, even in self-surveys, a majority of thrillcraft users admitted that they occasionally or even regularly went off designated trails or routes and otherwise flaunted restrictions designed to protect the land or other public lands users. For instance in one survey in Colorado 2/3 of those surveyed said they occasionally went off designated routes, and 15-20% admitted that they regularly did so. Furthermore, most public agencies do not have the money or staff to do effective monitoring and enforcement of ORV regulations. Without effective enforcement, designated routes are meaningless.

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Thrillcraft allows one to get closer to nature.

One of the rationales given for thrillcraft use is that it allows one to get closer to nature or out in nature. But if one takes the industry advertisement as some kind of insight into the mind of the user, communing with nature is not the primary goal, rather tearing up the land, gaining a sense of power and independents and even a good social outing are more likely to be the dominant goals of use. One does not need to tear up Nature to get closer to it. Furthermore, roaring along at high speeds on a loud machine is hardly conducive for communing with nature. If anything thrillcraft use exacerbates our society’s alienation from nature, creating a barrier that separates people from experiencing nature on its own terms. One of the major reasons why people go to the woods is for solitude—indeed, one survey of visitors to Great Smoky Mountains NP found that 90% thought that solitude should be an important part of the park experience, and worthy of preservation.

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Owners of thrillcraft have a right to use the public lands.

No one has a “right” to use anything. We all have responsibilities and earn the right to use public resources. No one just because they own a motorcycle has a right to drive it down the stairs of the Lincoln Memorial though no doubt a dirt biker could do it. No one has the right to hold a street party in a residential neighborhood or public park just because they pay taxes. We restrict many activities in public places and one does not automatically have a right to infringe on the enjoyment and intrude upon the solitude of the vast majority of public lands users who seek quiet relaxing experience in natural landscapes.

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Banning thrillcraft from public lands will prevent handicapped, young and old people from having access to nature or only the young and healthy can access wilderness areas.

One of the favorite but often disingenuous responses that motorized proponents like to level at anyone who talks about restricting use of public lands is that it will keep handicap and other groups like the old and young from enjoying the land. A ban on thrillcraft is not a ban on people. It’s a ban on specific kinds of machines. Anyone can still access public lands. And most use of public lands does not involve strength, special skills, or special equipment. Most of our public lands can be accessed with nothing more expensive than a good pair of shoes, and a desire to walk. For the truly handicapped or infirmed there are non-motorized means available to facilitate experience our public lands such as on the back of a horse, in a canoe or raft.

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There is no place for thrillcraft to go?

There are more than 400,000 miles of roads on public lands that are potentially open to thrillcraft use. Thrillcraft users can use their machines on private lands and waterways—if they can convince private property owners to allow them access. There are private snowmobile trails, old gravel pits for dirt bikers and the like where people can trash the earth to their heart’s content. But they disproportionately affect a much larger area greater than their numbers would otherwise indicate. All people using public lands should do so in a manner that does not compromise the landscape for present and future users—and by this definition there is no way to use thrillcraft in a manner that does not directly impact a large area of the landscape. They should not be permitted to trash public lands.

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Snowmobiles do less damage than other machines

A common misconception is that snowmobiles are somehow more benign than other ORVs. For instance, though ATVs are banned in Yellowstone NP and other public lands, snowmobiles are permitted based on the presumption that oversnow travel prevents damage. However, snowmobiles like their other thrillcraft counterparts leak fuel and oil, along with heavy metals into the snow that is subsequently are released as a big surge of toxic compounds when snow melts that can negatively affect aquatic life and creatures like amphibians that have water porous skins. Snowmobiles also cause tremendous noise pollution. One can hear a snowmobile up to several miles on either side of the travel corridor disturbing the winter silence for miles. Snowmobiles stress wildlife in winter at a time when their energy reserves are lowest. The packed trails also provide a convenience corridor for some wildlife altering habitat use patterns. For instance, coyotes can travel on the hard packed snowmobile tracks and prey upon everything from spruce grouse to snowshoe hare negatively affecting other wildlife like lynx that may depend on the hare for food.

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Published . . . . .
Foundation for Deep Ecology
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Distributed . . . . .
Chelsea Green, Nov. 2007
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Edited by . . . . .
George Wuerthner

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George Wuerthner
Foundation for Deep Ecology
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Sausalito, California 94965
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Copyright 2008 - Thrillcraft :: The Environmental Consequences of Motorized Recreation

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