Winter recreation the responsible way | BC SPCA
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Winter recreation the responsible way

January 21, 2019

Whether you enjoy zipping over fields on a snowmobile or tramping through the woods in snowshoes, British Columbia is a spectacular place to explore during the winter.

Winter is tough on wildlife

Though beautiful, winter is a harsh season for wild animals throughout the province — and we can unknowingly add to their troubles. Recreational activities can disturb wildlife, forcing animals to search out new places to eat and rest at a critical time when they are already under stress.

Studies on moose, for instance, have shown that energy expenditure increases by close to 20 per cent when animals are disturbed by snowmobiles. Energy costs can increase even further in deep snow conditions.

Close up shot of wild moose standing around thin trees
Photo credit: Dennis McLaren

What impact does winter recreation have on wildlife?

When wild animals are disturbed, they go on the alert. Assessing danger takes time away from other important activities such as feeding, resting and even hibernating.

Should animals decide to flee from the disturbance, they may have no choice but to settle in a new area that is far from optimal — an area with more predators, fewer resources and greater competition.

Adult male elk, for example, are often in relatively poor condition as winter begins. Many have sustained injuries as a result of rutting activity in the fall. The quality of winter habitat alone may determine whether some males survive the season.

Photo credit: Dmitry Varennikov

The impacts of winter recreation on wildlife add up

While a single disturbance may not seem significant, consider the impact of multiple interactions with multiple outdoor enthusiasts over the course of the season.

Chronic stress can impair immune responses, making wildlife more susceptible to parasites and diseases. Animals may lose weight and die of malnutrition, or be less able to escape predators. The consequences are often subtle and delayed. People can traverse through backcountry and never know there are lasting effects.

Wild grizzly bear lounging over tree branch in snow. Photo by Chris Aaron Gale
Photo credit: Chris Aaron Gale

Responsible winter recreation

Before you head out to enjoy the crisp air and breathtaking views, take a moment to discover some ways you can minimize disturbance to wildlife. The provincial government makes the following recommendations:

  • Where possible, remain on established trails or in areas of high visibility where no wildlife is present.
  • Obey all signs and area closures.
  • Never chase wildlife!
  • When on a motorized vehicle in an open area, try to keep a distance of 500 metres away from large mammals. For non-motorized activities, stay 100 metres away.
  • Keep dogs on a leash and away from wildlife.
  • When you spot wildlife crossing a road or trail while on a motorized vehicle, turn off your engine, remain on the machine and yield to the animals. For non-motorized activities, remain still or retreat when animals are encountered and react to your presence.


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