Approved by the CCSO Board of Directors June 9, 2007
SNOWMOBILING AND FLORA & FAUNA
The Question: How does snowmobiling interact with flora and fauna?
CCSO Position: The position of the Canadian Council of Snowmobile Organizations on snowmobiling and flora and fauna is that any interaction tends to be minimal and easily mitigated through ongoing stewardship efforts. The CCSO encourages Canadian snowmobilers to embrace cleaner, quieter, advanced technology snowmobiles.
Backgrounder: Canada’s winter wonderland is a majestic spectacle that must be experienced to be truly appreciated. One of the best ways to enjoy this natural beauty and splendor is by going snowmobiling. That’s why snowmobilers travel into backcountry regions that are often only accessible in the winter and only by going snowmobiling.
Any discussion of snowmobiling and flora & fauna needs to be placed in a broader comparative context. Canada’s land mass is 9,970,610 square kilometers. The surface coverage of Canada’s 129,941 kms. of snowmobile trails amounts to less than 700 square kilometres (.007% of Canada’s total land surface) — spread across all provinces.
It’s estimated that less than 2% of Canada’s population consists of active snowmobilers. Of these 400,000 or so winter lovers, more than 85% do all or most of their riding about 225,000 active sleds on snow-covered snowmobile trails. This means that approximately 340,000 Canadians regularly travel by snowmobile on .007% of Canada’s total land surface, riding an estimated 300 million kilometres each winter.
By way of comparison, 10.7 million Canadian households own a passenger vehicle. People drive these 18.1 million vehicles on 1.4 million kilometres of paved highways, roads and streets each and every day of the year, racking up a total of 315 billion kilometres.
So which has more impact on flora and fauna? For instance, passenger vehicles kill hundreds of deer and moose each year; snowmobiles kill none. And what effect does all that salt, chemicals and sand used on winter roads have on nearby flora?
Next, consider that snowmobiling only occurs on its comparatively miniscule footprint for three months or less during a time when winter snow cover protects the earth, and plants are dormant. 85% of this riding occurs on snowmobile trails that are built to avoid sensitive areas, endangered species habitat and other areas of potential environmental susceptibility. In fact, most snowmobile trails, along with the bridges and culverts that protect water crossings, shore banks and spawning beds, are planned and exist with the ongoing input and approval of provincial Ministries of Natural Resources or their equivalent.
Many studies show that the average snowmobile exerts substantially less pressure on the earth’s surface than most other recreational activities, thereby causing minimal disturbance to what’s underneath. For instance, a sled and rider exert 0.5 pounds per square inch, compared to: 4 WD Vehicle – 30 lbs./sq. in.; horse and rider – 8 lbs./sq. in; hiker – 5 lbs./sq. in; and ATV – 1.5 lbs./sq. in. With today’s lighter weight sleds and longer/wider tracks, the pressure exerted by many sleds tends to be even less than 0.5 pounds per square inch. And remember, unlike most other recreational uses, all snowmobiling occurs on a blanket of snow that further protects earth and flora. At the end of the winter, most of these trails return to their natural state as part of Mother Earth, unlike roads and highways, which never do.
So how do snowmobilers interact with wildlife? Many studies clearly demonstrate that maintained snowmobile trails are the best way to control where snowmobiles travel. Snowmobiles move expeditiously from one point to another along these corridors with only a fleeting presence in any one place. So any sight or sound of a sled passing by animals tends to be momentary and limited in scale or magnitude to within a few yards of the trail. At the same time, these hard-packed trail surfaces increase the winter survivability for the many animals that conserve energy by using them to travel and forage when the snow is too deep in the bush.
Recent studies conducted in Yellowstone National Park, one of the most prolific and concentrated areas for wildlife, clearly show that “…snowmobile use is not causing now, and will not cause in the future, adverse effects on the populations or population dynamics of the Park’s wildlife.” Moreover, “additional new studies on the reactions of individual animals to snowmobiles produced the same consistent empirical conclusions: over 90 percent of bison and elk react with indifference to the presence of snowmobiles and the modest reactions of the others (to walk away) have no impacts on the Park’s wildlife or ecology.” The concentration of wildlife, virtually anywhere in Canada that snowmobiling occurs, is nowhere near Yellowstone Park levels. So it is reasonable to assert that snowmobiling in this country tends to be far less likely to encounter or interact with animals.
Over the years, snowmobiling has also done its part environmentally. Today, snowmobiles are significantly quieter (see Snowmobiling and Sound), with much lower emissions (see Snowmobiling and Emissions). Moreover, organized snowmobiling continues to participate as a good, willing and able partner in such initiatives as land-use planning sessions, access management processes, and wildlife recovery plans, all to help better manage its activities. Meanwhile, its education and public awareness efforts include the National Environment and Safe Riders Love This Planet Campaigns, along with many informational pamphlets, on-trail signage, and messages in snowmobiling magazines and other media.
Snowmobiling interaction with flora and fauna is only one piece of a much larger and more complex backcountry environmental puzzle that includes forest health, climatic change, urban development, industrial activities, etc. The winter presence of snowmobiling tends to be temporary, transitory and comparatively benign vis à vis other motorized uses, so it is able to co-exist in relative harmony with flora & fauna. Any minimal interaction tends to be easily mitigated through the ongoing stewardship efforts initiated, implemented and supported by organized snowmobiling as an integral part of its overall operations.
That said, the enjoyment of nature and the great outdoors is a primary reason many people go snowmobiling. Because they are actively in tune with the splendor of winter, snowmobilers, perhaps more than many others, understand and respect the need to keep nature beautiful.
Key Talking Points:
- Because snowmobiling is all about actively enjoying nature and the great outdoors, snowmobilers understand and respect the need to keep nature beautiful.
- The winter presence of snowmobiling tends to be temporary, transitory and comparatively benign, occurring for only three months or less on snow-covered earth, so it co-exists in relative harmony with flora & fauna.
- Snowmobiling tends to take place on only a miniscule footprint of Canada’s land surface and in far fewer numbers and occurrences than with passenger vehicles.
- Any interaction tend to be site or route specific, limited in scale or magnitude, and easily mitigated through the ongoing stewardship efforts initiated, implemented and supported by organized snowmobiling as an integral part of its overall operations.
– 85% of riding occurs on snowmobile trails that are built to avoid sensitive areas, endangered species habitat and other areas of potential environmental susceptibility.
– Many studies show that the average snowmobile exerts substantially less pressure on the earth’s surface than many other recreational activities, thereby causing minimal disturbance to what’s underneath.
– At the end of the winter, most snowmobile trails return to their natural state as part of Mother Earth.
– Any sight or sound of a sled passing by animals is momentary and limited in scale or magnitude to within a few yards of the trail.
– Hard-packed trail surfaces increase the winter survivability for the many animals that conserve energy by using them to travel and forage when the snow is too deep in the bush.
– Recent Yellowstone studies clearly show that snowmobiling does not have any adverse effect on either wildlife populations or individual animals.
- Snowmobiling interaction with flora and fauna is only one piece of a much larger and more complex backcountry environmental puzzle that includes forest health, climatic change, urban development, industrial activities, etc
- Organized snowmobiling is a willing and able partner, committed to working constructively and proactively on environmental issues and projects with governments, agencies, and other stakeholders.
All vehicle data – StatsCan, 2005