Helium filled balloons are often let go to celebrate an accomplishment, a life or another significant event and can end up in places or in things unimaginable.
Helium-filled latex or mylar balloons are used for a variety of different things, from decorations, celebrations or checking the weather. These balloons fly up and then disappear and can travel miles and miles before finding their resting place on the Earth’s floor.
“I found a mylar weather balloon while hunting in Idaho,” Kevin Paulson, a longtime hunter said. “It was launched near Seattle.”
Weather balloons have an address on them for the finder to send it back.
Currently there are no regulations in Colorado Forest Service areas related to releasing these balloons, said Rachelle Fish of San Juan Forest Service. There are other states that have created laws against releasing balloons such as New York, Florida and California.
“They are bad for our wildlife,” Mia Anstine, a local hunter, said. “I’d hate to see more animals die due to our carelessness.”
Cattle are likely to eat these balloons by mistaking them for nutrient rich foliage. Once swallowed they can block the digestive tract which can lead to death, Berklee Ruthart, vet assistant at Durango Animal Hospital said.
The release of these balloons has become regulated because of the effect they have on wildlife. According to the non-profit group, Balloons Blow Don’t Let Them Go (BB), many sea animals are drastically affected by consuming these balloons and getting tangled into the ribbon tied to them.
These latex and mylar balloons take many years to break down and release chemicals from dyes according to BB. Not only do the latex balloons release chemicals but the mylar balloons can also cause fires.
Mylar balloons are made out of foil, and when they come in contact with power lines, they can burst into flames, states power line companies. There have been reports of fires caused by these balloons in other areas and even melted electrical outlets reported San Diego 7 News.
These balloons aren’t just affecting cattle or ocean life. Hunters have shared their stories of finding mylar balloons while scouting for and pursuing game, or out on hikes looking for shed antlers in the spring.
One man in Indiana, Dan Richardson, has found over 350 balloons while out on his adventures.
“They are just an eye sore,” Anstine said.
There have been many accounts of hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts finding and gathering these on the forest floors. Al Quackenbush from Southern California is working to team up with these outdoor enthusiasts to create a better outdoor environment.
Quackenbush started the Mylar Challenge to encourage hunters, hikers and outdoor enthusiasts via social media in 2018 to pick up any balloon they happen to come across in the outdoors, he said.
He started the hashtag and would give prizes to random participants and has carried on the challenge this year, he said. Once found a person is to snap a selfie with the balloon and post it on social media with the hashtag #MylarChallenge2019.
“I wanted to encourage others to help clean up and have some fun while doing it,” Quackenbush said in an email.
Colorado hunters have shared their finds and helped clean up public lands one balloon at a time.
“I run across balloons all the time,” Rivors Koskinen, local hunter said. “I began to find so many, I started treating them as good luck, each time I found a balloon I would find a shed or finally see elk after days without. I still always pack them out.”
For other options to celebrate a special occasion, consider using more environmentally friendly options such as planting a tree, blowing bubbles and using streamers, banners and flags says BB.