Approved by the CCSO Board of Directors June 13, 2008


The Question: How does snowmobiling impact wildlife?

CCSO Position: The position of the Canadian Council of Snowmobile Organizations CCSO) is that interactions with wildlife are part of the recreational experience and as such snowmobilers have a responsibility to play a role and participate in the management and stewardship of the land and its inhabitants.

BACKGROUND: Wildlife in their natural habitat is an integral part of Canada’s outdoors and snowmobilers appreciate that their presence, like any human activity, will have an impact, especially during the more stressful winter season. When that habitat is found in a national park, managers of those parks must recognize their dual mandate to protect the natural resources and ecosystems while providing for their use and enjoyment by recreational visitors.

Many studies have been conducted to determine the effects of snowmobiles on wildlife with “the activity of snowmobiling being the third most commonly described issue as it impacts wildlife due to frequency of use, deliberate or unintentional harassment and the speed of travel” (Graves, Reams 2001). The potential impacts of snowmobiling on many species such as aquatics, ungulates, avians, canids have been studied looking at issues such as mortality, habitat, and disturbance in general (behaviour change such as increased energy production, reproduction problems, illness) related to noise, pollution, disruption of predator-prey dynamics, modification of habitats and simply human presence.

In completing an assessment of winter recreation, of 122 surveys conducted, 66% stated “impact to wildlife from snowmobiling was severe to moderate” (Raedeke, Taber 1983). Another study reached the conclusion that “impacts of snowmobiling on wildlife were judged to be moderate to high importance” (Graves, Reams 2001). One discussion paper on the impact of winter recreationalists on ungulates concluded that the scientific literature is inconclusive about the effects of snowmobiles on ungulates and noted “none of the published studies have proven that either type (snowmobiling or cross-country skiing) influences ungulates at the population level” (Welsh 2003).

Reviewing the results of wildlife studies in Yellowstone National Park, this position is supported as “there was no evidence of population-level effects to ungulates from motorized winter use because estimates of abundance either increased or remained relatively stable during three decades of motorized recreation” with authors concluding with the suggestion that “the debate regarding the effects of motorized recreation on wildlife is largely a social issue as opposed to a wildlife management issue”.(White et al. 2005). Researchers noted that human disturbance did not appear to be a primary factor influencing the distribution and movement of wildlife studied and concluded that “there was no evidence that snowmobile use during the past 35 years (in Yellowstone National Park) adversely affected the demography or population dynamics of bald eagles, bison, elk or trumpeter swans” (White et al 2006).

Any discussion of wildlife protection and management must clearly distinguish between “conservation” and “preservation”. While “conservation” allows for the use of the natural environment by the human community without humans automatically considered to be a threat but rather part of the environment with a responsibility to manage and steward the land, “preservation” implies a view that human use of the environment must be severely curtailed in order to preserve ecological integrity and protect animals from imminent extinction, requiring heavy regulation of human use of natural resources and natural areas. Wildlife biologists with “preservation” in mind have created a “crisis discipline of conservation biology which blends genuine science with advocacy to influence public policy” (Cooper et al 2002). The philosophy underlying conservation biology is one of prudence: “in the face of uncertainty, applied scientists have an ethical obligation to err on the side of preservation with anyone attempting to modify a natural environment and put biodiversity at risk is guilty until proved innocent” (Cooper et al 2002).


  1. All man’s activities have an effect on the environment. Snowmobilers understand the importance of “doing their part” to minimize their impact on wildlife. Wildlife and snowmobiles can co-exist.
  2. Snowmobilers are part of the solution, participating in land-use planning sessions, access management processes, wildlife recovery plans, developing trails in sustainable areas, maintaining and installing signs.
  3. Education is key. Snowmobile clubs produce and distribute informational pamphlets, helping to educate the public of areas that are off limits and educating snowmobilers of proper conduct when encountering animals.
  4. Studies show that animals habituate to the presence of snowmobiles.
  5. Studies show that the presence of hard packed snowmobile trails increases the winter survivability for many animals, allowing them to conserve energy when traveling and foraging for food.
  6. Snowmobiling is only one piece of a very complex environmental puzzle, including forest health, urban development, climate change, industrial activities.
  7. Snowmobilers continue to work with governments and interest groups to help in co-operative access management and stewardship programs.
  8. It must be recognized that national parks were created to protect natural resources and ecosystems that attract visitors for recreational purposes. Managers of those lands must accept their dual mandate of conserving those resources while providing for their use and enjoyment by people.
  9. Snowmobilers must advocate and promote public policies which embrace that dual mandate of conservation and enjoyment.