How we got here

Snowmobile Selkirk Pilot Project

In collaboration with local stakeholders, we have developed an innovative approach for managing snowmobiling, and reducing impacts on Central Selkirk caribou. We developed a dynamic system to allow snowmobiling in areas of un-occupied habitat and prohibit snowmobiling in areas occupied by caribou by using GPS collar data to inform moving closures as the winter progresses. The system will use a total closure across the caribou range and then manage access through exemption permits. 


Under this system all caribou habitat in the Central Selkirks will be closed to snowmobiling year-round under the Motor Vehicle Prohibition Regulation within the Wildlife Act (Figure 1). This is the same legal mechanism as most snowmobile closures in the province, however, with one key difference. Access to the closed areas or management areas will be granted through exemption permits to two local clubs and their members (Arrow Lake Ridge Riders and Trout Lake Recreational Club). Members will have access to these exempted areas according to a web map, that will be updated daily, available via internet link.  Closed zones within the management area will be determined by caribou locations via daily GPS collar transmissions. A condition of the permit will be that members are required log-on to view the web map daily before riding. 


Over the summer of 2019 government caribou biologists and local snowmobile club representatives developed this system. The system is a fully automated model that uses watershed boundaries, elevation and major geographical features to create zones that are turned off or on based on the presence or absence of caribou. We used 2 winters of GPS collar data to help understand the needs of the caribou and we use the location of riding areas and the access to riding areas to understand the needs of the snowmobile community. We made every attempt to create a model that would work for both caribou and snowmobilers.

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Operational Practices for Snowmobiling in Caribou Habitat

It is every snowmobilers responsibility to know where they are and be accountable

Snowmobilers will be personally responsible for knowing the details of snowmobile regulations in the area they are riding.

Only ride in open areas

Riders will check the map each day and not ride in areas designated as closed to snowmobiling that day.  Have a plan B in case you encounter caribou or tracks.

Obey all posted signs.

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Do not approach caribou

If caribou are encountered in a play area or on a trail snowmobilers will not approach them. They will shut down their machines and stay seated on their snowmobile to give animals a chance to move away, then leave the area.

Do not follow tracks

If caribou tracks are observed, snowmobilers will not follow the tracks

Ensure there is enough snow

Snowmobilers will ride only where the snow is greater than 30cm deep.

Disturbance

Disturbance, why it matters?

Caribou survive on a lichen based diet throughout the winter months. The crude protein content of lichen is ~3%, which is very low, and means caribou are on a negative energy budget over winter. Cow caribou depend on body fat reserves built up during spring/summer/fall to survive the winter while growing a healthy calf to be born in spring. Unnecessary energy expenditures or stress can impact their calves’ survival. 


There are two types of disturbance that caribou can experience as a result of back country recreation: 


1. Behavioural Response, a visible change in observed behaviour

  • increased movement and vigilance 
  • reduced foraging and resting
  • increased energy expendure
  • avoidance or displacement from preferred ranges


A reputable example of a literature on this type of disturbance is from (Seip et al. 2007):  Seip, D., C. Johnson and G. Watts. 2007. Displacement of mountain caribou from winter habitat by snowmobiles. J. Wildl. Manage. 71(5):1539-1544.


2. Physiological Response, an invisible change in internal body processes:

  • Acute stress (fight or flight response) serves a purpose – immediate mobilization of energy that depletes fat reserves, can last for hours to days until the body returns to normal
  • Chronic stress – prolonged or repeated stress responses can decrease a caribou’s individual fitness. Can lead to suppression of appetite, poor body condition, hypertension, decreased disease resistance and reduced reproductive output

 A reputable example of literature on this type of disturbance is (Freeman 2008): Freeman, N. 2008. Motorized backcountry recreation and stress response in mountain caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou). MSc. Thesis. University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C. 75p.


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