Snowmobiling Fact book: Effects of Snowmobiling on...
|Return to Snowmobile Fact Book Index
||Next: Future of Snowmobiling
EFFECTS ON WILDLIFE
Dr. Andres Soom participated in the University of Wisconsin’s comprehensive three-year study on the effects of snowmobile sound levels on deer and cottontail rabbits. His report, titled Emission, Propagation and Environmental Impact of Noise from Snowmobile Operations, concluded that “only minor reactions were noted in the movements of cottontail rabbits and white tailed deer to moderate and intensive snowmobiling activity.” He stated that it had not been possible to determine sound levels at which there is a clear reaction on the part of the deer “because
snowmobiles must be so close to deer to generate the higher levels that other factors such a visible presence…are likely to be more important.”
The Wisconsin study also compared the reaction of deer to the presence of cross-country skiers. When cross-country skiers replaced snowmobiles on the test trail systems, the deer moved away from the trail more frequently.
A three-year study, Response of White-Tailed Deer to Snowmobiles and Snowmobile Trails in Maine, conducted by wildlife scientists for the Maine Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife revealed that
“Deer consistently bedded near snowmobile trails and fed along them even when those trails were used for snowmobiling several times daily. In addition, fresh deer tracks were repeatedly observed on snowmobile trails shortly after machines had passed by, indicating that deer were not driven from the vicinity of these trails...The reaction of deer to a man walking differed markedly from their reaction to a man on a snowmobile...This decided tendency of deer to run with the approach of a human on foot, in contrast to their tendency to stay in sight when approached by a snowmobiler, suggests that the deer responded to the machine and not to the person riding it."
In a study entitled, Snow Machine Use and Deer in Rob Brook, conducted by the Forest Wildlife Biologists of White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire, snowmobile operations and deer movement were monitored. A summary of the study indicated that deer travel patterns were not affected by periodically heavy snowmobile use. In addition, continued use of established snowmobile trails was recommended.
The University of Minnesota issues a study by Michael J. Dorrance entitled Effects of Snowmobiles on White Tailed Deer which found no meaningful difference in the deer’s home range during periods of snowmobile use and non-use.
Addressing the subject of snowmobile operations in Yellowstone National Park, Jack Anderson, a former Superintendent of Yellowstone commented, "We found that elk, bison, moose, even the fawns wouldn’t move away unless a machine was stopped and a person started walking. As long as you stayed on the machine and the machine was running, they never paid any attention. If you stopped the machine, got off and started moving, that was a different story. The thing that seemed to be disturbing to them was a man walking on foot."
Wolverines and Winter Recreation Use: In 2010 the Round River Conservation Studies group, along with the US Forest Service Rocky Mountain research station, concluded a thorough study of the wolverine activities and health in the western United States.
The study found that a threat of climate warming has not resulted in any detectable population level effects to the wolverine, and the Forest Service’s evaluation found that the effects are not imminent. As a result the agency’s limited resources will be devoted to work on listing determinations for species at risk – not the wolverine. The service will proceed with proposing other species for protection prior to addressing the wolverine. Any further activity on the wolverine will be subject to public review and comment through the rulemaking process.
The record snowfalls that occurred in the western mountain regions of the United States in 2010-2011 will lessen the impact of any environmental change on habitat for the wolverine or other species.
Snowmobiles do not impact on Wolf Activity: On Thursday, November 29, 2001, Voyageurs National Park reopened 11 of the Bays located in the park to snowmobiling. Snowmobiling is now allowed on these Bays in the Park as the result of a study that was conducted by Michigan Tech researcher Rolf Peterson, who is renowned for his study of wolves. Peterson found that there was no significant correlation between wolf activity and human use on 11 Bays within the Park that were closed in 1992 to snowmobiling based on ‘Junk Science”. Barbara West, the Voyageurs National Park Superintendent, states, “The Bays were now open in the year 2001 due to the best available information now being available to guide our decisions.” The in depth research supported positions supported by the snowmobiling community.
Wyoming Game, Fish & Wildlife Biologists support snowmobiling: In December 2001 the leading Wyoming Game, Fish & Wildlife Biologist, Mr. Stetler, announced studies recently conducted in Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park show that regulated snowmobiling in the park minimizes harmful effects to wildlife. Careful, active management of the Park allows snowmobiling to continue in the National Parks so that there will be virtually no adverse effects.
Mr. Stetler was joined in his position by John Keck, Director of Parks and Cultural Resources Dept. for Wyoming. Mr. Keck stated that their philosophy is different from some staff of the NPS and certain environmental groups that are using the “Museum Approach” to Yellowstone in an effort to lock up the park to assure that it meets their own value system needs. Keck agrees with snowmobilers in stating his position that the parks needed to be managed for all individuals so that we don’t lost the important resource.
Finally, the Wyoming Tourism Director, Lori Green, joins Keck and Stetler in announcing that snowmobilers and wildlife can coexist very well and have done so for many years.
The Organic Act Duel Mandate: The NPS is subject to a duel mandate in managing the National Parks. The Park Service is required to conserve resources AND provide for visitor use and enjoyment. The Organic Act, passed in 1916, imposes this duel mandate and discretion to balance the duel mandate. Because the Organic Act does not address how to achieve this balance of conservation and visitor use, the Act grants a broad deference to the Park Service to strike the balance. This discretion is further expanded by the fact that the Organic Act does not place one of these mandates as above, or more important than the other. Therefore, the Organic Act does not make the conservation mandate more important than all other considerations and the Court’s conclusion that it does is in error.
Montana State University supported a thesis in 2002 by Amanda Hardy that concluded “Winter Recreation in Yellowstone National Park is coexisting with Bison and Elk, without causing declines in population levels and the continued use of traditional winter range remains unchanged, despite an increase in winter visitation.”
The thesis concluded by Hardy helped the Park Service acknowledge that “Literature does NOT contain evidence that over snow motorized use adversely affects Ungulate populations in the National Parks.”
Yellowstone National Park Studies
ENVIRONMENTAL SUPPORT FOR SNOWMOBILERS
- A National Park Service study in Yellowstone (White 2006) concluded that ‘human disturbance did not appear to be a primary factor influencing the distribution and movements of the wildlife species studied; there was no evidence that snowmobile use during the past 35 years adversely affected the demography or population dynamics of bald eagles, bison, elk, or trumpeter swans.’
- A previous Yellowstone study conducted by the Park Service (White 2005) concluded that ‘responses by these wildlife species to over-snow vehicles were relatively infrequent, short in duration, and of minor to moderate intensity; ungulates habituated somewhat to motorized recreation; 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 prior to wolf colonization in 1998. Thus, we suggest that the debate regarding the effects of motorized recreation on wildlife is largely a social issue as opposed to a wildlife management issue.’
- A road survey which monitored wildlife/human interactions in Yellowstone (Jaffe 2003) observed that 87% of 21,936 animals observed during road surveys had no visible response to over-snow vehicles (OSVs). Of the 13% of total animals which exhibited an observable response, 68% looked directly at the people viewing them and then resumed their activity. 32% (of the 13% which had a response) were more active, including walk/swim away, rise from bed, attention/alarm, flight, agitate (buck, kick, bison tail-raise), jump snow berm, and charge. Of the 17,209 animals counted within 100m of the road, 17% showed an observable response to the presence of OSVs that stopped, while only 3% of 7,924 animals counted further than 100m from the road showed any visible response.
- A workshop sponsored by the National Park Service, which included experts from federal agencies, state agencies, and universities, was held in Denver, Colorado on April 10-12, 2001 to summarize the state-of-science on monitoring the effects of snowmobiles on wildlife in national parks and surrounding lands.
The report from this workshop (Graves 2001) states that ‘experts in the field of wildlife (and wildlife reactions to disturbance) are uncomfortable passing judgments on whether snowmobiles adversely (or, for that matter, positively) affect wildlife. Even under circumstance with the best available information, the question of when an impact becomes serious enough to warrant taking action is a subjective value judgment, and many respondents recognized this. The majority felt that insufficient data exist to even begin to understand the issue. Only for ungulates are some scientists willing to say data are adequate, but even for these commonly studied species, most respondents have serious concerns.’
- Wildlife: “Winter use will have some effects on wildlife, just like every other form of visitor access to the park. Extensive studies of the behavioral responses of five species (bison, elk, bald eagle, trumpeter swans and coyotes) to over snow traffic showed that these animals rarely showed high-intensity responses (movement, defense postures, or flight) to approaching vehicles. For individual animals, 8 to 10 percent of elk and bison show a movement response to snowmobiles and snowcoaches. Approximately 90 percent of elk or bison either show no apparent response or a “look and resume” response. This level of reaction was consistent for a wide range of daily average oversnow vehicle use (ranging from 156 to 593 vehicles per day).
Thirty-five years of census data do not reveal any relationship between changing winter use patterns and elk or bison population dynamics. No wildlife populations are currently declining due to winter use (swan populations are declining, but this is being experienced regionally and due to factors unrelated to winter use in the park or region). Use will be well below levels previously studied by NPS wildlife biologists and well within the limits recommended by those studies. There is no reason to suspect that recent winter use levels pose a risk of unacceptable impacts or impairment to any wildlife population. All visitors utilizing motorized oversnow vehicles travel with commercial guides, learning about and enjoying the abundant wildlife sightings.”
In 2009 Winter Wildlife monitoring showed that 80% of Trumpeter Swans had no reaction to snowmobiles. 11% responded with ‘a look and then resume’ reaction. No swans had a flight response. It was reported by behavioral response monitoring that 92% of the Bald Eagles in Yellowstone had no response to snowmobile events. 5% had a ‘look and resume’ response and there was 0% flights initiated by snowmobiling.
- Snowmobiles vs. Snowcoaches in the Park: In the February 2013, Yellowstone National Park Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, the Park Service found that their comparability analysis of snowmobiles and snowcoaches reveals that
- One mode of transportation is not conclusively cleaner, quieter or less harmful to wildlife than the other
- One mode of transportation is not conclusively more harmful to the health and safety of visitors and employees than the other
- At the recommended levels of the Park Service, neither form of oversnow transportation will result in a level of adverse impact on the park resources.
The following comments were made by John Monarch, President of an ecological consulting firm in Colorado. His input reflects the reality of just how twisted the process of “protecting our environment” has become.
I have been a wildlife biologist who has conducted wildlife studies for over 35 years in the intermountain west. During that time I have used snowmobiles to access areas where I have conducted studies.
Having observed wildlife responses to snowmobiles over that time I would support Ed’s (Klim, President of the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association) observation that there have been no studies to support the notion that there have been significant impacts to wildlife. As a matter of fact I would doubt one could prove even through studies that elk, deer, bison and other wildlife are affected at not only the population level, but the individual level.
The potential risk to wintering wildlife by snowmobile activity is minimized by the fact that most snowmobiling occurs in non-winter use areas. An example is the White River National Forest where less than 3% of the forest is considered to be winter habitat for big game animals. And of this area portions of that are not accessible to snowmobilers.
The argument that snowmobiling affects humans is driven primarily by the cross-country skiers who feel the snowmobilers are impacting their wilderness experience. They are unwilling to accept that with the new exhaust systems sound levels are very low and one can’t hear them very far away. I enjoy cross-country skiing as much as snowmobiling and have never had a problem with noise or discourteous riders.
As for the environment there are no studies to prove snowmobiles affect the environment. There may be evidence that sleds have been in an area, but no evidence that the environment has been harmed. The special interest groups don’t want to accept the fact that snowmobiling occurs on the snow and, with few exceptions, do not affect vegetation or habitat.
The few exceptions I reference are those instances when snowmobilers ride during marginal snow conditions and tear up the vegetation. This is an education and self-policing issue that we must continue to work on and not a reason to close down national parks or portions of the forests or BLM lands.
Whenever I deal with environmental issues, I find that they have an opinion and are pushing an agenda and don’t care what the facts or lack thereof show. What people need to do is spend as much time in the field as I have over the past years then maybe they would have a better understanding of how wildlife reacts to not only winter, but year around recreation and other activities. Then, maybe they wouldn’t be so inclined to get on the bandwagon in opposition of motorized recreation.
I should further point out that over my many years of observations I have found that wildlife reacts more to a person walking or cross country skiing than when they are in a vehicle, or on a snowmobile or ATV.
MONTANA STATE UNIVERSITY STUDY SHOWS BISON DON’T FAVOR GROOMED ROADS IN YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK - January 2001 – According to a study by a former Montana State University graduate student who spent two winters documenting the shaggy beasts’ precise movements in the park’s western section, most of bison travel is not taking place on groomed roads. Dan Bjornlie, who finished his master’s degree in ecology at MSU last spring and currently works for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, is the first person to directly address the issue with field studies.
The study, funded by the Biological Resources Division of the U.S. Geological Survey and accepted for publication in the Journal of Wildlife Management, found only 8 percent of the time were bison traveling on roads. More often, the bison followed natural corridors, streambanks and packed (ungroomed) trails.
In 28,293 bison observations in the Madison, Firehole and Gibbon river drainages from November 1997 to May 1998 and from December 1998 to May 1999, Bjornlie found of all bison activities, a really small part is traveling, and most of that, a small part is travel on the roads. What’s more, bison road use peaked in the months before and after the roads were groomed, especially after mid-April when spring thaws opened up new foraging areas.
The study yielded no evidence that the animals used groomed roads for traveling long distances. Most – 68 percent – traveled less than 1 kilometer while on groomed terrain refuting the travel hypothesis repeated so frequently by the media. Citing the increasing population since control efforts were halted in 1967, researchers said the bison are moving because of range expansion, not because of the roads.
Snowmobile Use and Trails Assist Wildflower Survival- Professor William Mitchell of the Landscape Horticultural Program at the University of Maine has been involved for years in a study of Maine Wildflowers.
Through his observations he has reached the conclusion that maintaining snowmobile trails plays an important role in the survival of a number of the state’s most beautiful flora.
Professor Mitchell has created and maintained a photo album and documentation over the last few years showing with amazement the abundance of wildflowers located along Maine’s snowmobile trail system. The professor claims the trail systems are a critical component for the survivability of native wildflowers in Maine, especially those considered to be critical or imperiled. The grooming and the sledding of the trail system effects the survival of the wildflowers by encouraging and maintaining suitable habitats for the wildflowers.
Yes, snowmobiling and snowmobile trails do provide a truly beneficial relationship with our environment while providing a wonderful opportunity for recreational access in the winter.
EFFECTS ON SNOWMELT
The effect of snowmobile emissions on the chemistry of snowmelt water was extensively studied in Yellowstone National Park during several consecutive winters, beginning in 2003 (Arnold 2006). This study represents the most extensive body of information on this topic. Snowmelt runoff samples were analyzed for nine volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including benzene, ethylbenzene, ethyl tert-butyl ether, isopropyl ether, meta and para-xylene (m- and p-xylene), methyl tert-butyl ether, ortho-xylene (o-xylene), tert-pentyl methyl ether, and toluene. Of these nine compounds, only five were detected during any one sampling event. The detected compounds included benzene, ethylbenzene, m- and p-xylene, o-xylene, and toluene. However all water quality measurements were within acceptable limits and the concentrations of all VOCs detected each year were considerably below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s water quality criteria and guidelines for VOCs targeted in this study. During the course of the study, VOC concentrations of snowmelt runoff in Yellowstone National Park were well below levels that would adversely impact aquatic systems.
A USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station study (Musselman 2007) in the Snowy Range of Wyoming also measured water chemistry and snow density from snow samples collected on and adjacent to a heavily used snowmobile trail. Snow on the trail was denser and more acidic with higher concentrations of sodium, ammonium, calcium, magnesium, fluoride, and sulfate than in snow off the trail; however all levels were within acceptable limits and well below levels that would adversely impact aquatic systems. The study also found that snowmobile activity had no effect on nitrate levels in snow.
EFFECTS ON PEOPLE
Operated in a normal, considerate manner, snowmobiles are barely audible from inside a home. From a distance of 50 feet, snowmobiles generate between 68 - 73 dB(A) at 15 mph. Since doors and windows are almost always closed in winter, snowmobiles operating outside at a
distance of 50 feet only create an interior sound level between 41 and 47 dB(A). From a distance of 200 feet, snowmobiles produce an interior sound level between 29 and 35 dB(A), This is well below the average evening household sound level of 47 dB(A).
Dr. Andres Soom, (University of Wisconsin) concluded from his study that the newer, quieter machines can travel within 45 feet of a residence without adverse effect.
Natural sound barriers, careful trail planning and reduced speed limits in residential areas further reduce snowmobile noise. Snowbanks or trees can cause a 20 dB drop in sound levels if they are between the machine and listener.
U.S. Forest Service researcher Robin Harrison reported that under usual wildland conditions, snowmobile operation is undetectable to the human ear at distances of more than 750 feet. He reported that snowmobiles were barely detectable above normal campground sound levels at a distance of 400 feet.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF MOTORIZED RECREATION:
York University, in Toronto Canada, released a study titled “The Fitness and Health Benefits of recreational Off-Road Vehicle Riding.” The study characterized the physiological demands of OHV riding under typical conditions for recreational riders. The study analysis of exercise intensity during riding revealed that between 14-38% of an OHV ride are within the intensity range required to achieve changes in aerobic fitness. Riding on a representative day leads to some muscular fatigue, particularly in the upper body.
The study concludes that “on the basis of the measured metabolic demands, evidence of muscular strength requirements and the associated caloric expenditures with OHV riding, this form of activity conforms to the recommended physical activity guidelines and can be effective for achieving beneficial changes in health and fitness.”
Some interesting conclusions of the study include:
It was noted in the study that muscular endurance is enhanced through OHV riding and that upper body strength action can lead to beneficial training increases in musculoskeletal fitness.
- OHV riding was found to require a true physiological demand that is expected to have a beneficial effect on health and fitness.
- OHV riding was determined to be a recreational activity associated with moderate intensity cardiovascular demand and fatigue induced muscular strength challenges similar to other activities such as rock climbing and alpine skiing.
- Oxygen consumption, an indicator of physical work, increased by 3.5-6 times the resting values respectful of the riders. This falls into the moderate intensity activity level, according to the American College of Sports Medicine guidelines.
- The duration of the typical ride of 2-3 hours and the frequency of riding 1 to 2 times per week, creates sufficient opportunity to stimulate changes in aerobic fitness, which falls within the physical activity guidelines of the American College of Sports Medicine.
The study also underlined the positive social effects of riding and the enhanced quality of life and stress reduction effects of snowmobiling.
Finally, the study reflects on the importance of physical activities such as OHV riding to promote physical activity to individuals who might otherwise forgo exercise altogether.
COMPACTION AND VEGETATION
Everything we do has some effect on the environment. When a hiker steps on a flower, he affects the environment. When land is paved over for a bicycle path, it affects the environment. Many of the foot paths man has used for centuries still exist and are clearly visible throughout the world.
However, it’s a fact that a snowmobile and rider exert dramatically less pressure on the earth’s surface than other recreational activities (i.e., just one-tenth the pressure of a hiker and one-sixteenth the pressure of a horseback rider). Average pounds of pressure per square inch exerted on earth’s surface:
(All vehicle weights considered include 210 lbs. estimated weight of one person and gear.)
|Four-Wheel Drive Vehicle ||30
|All-Terrain Vehicle ||1.5
Moreover, the snowmobile’s 1/2 pound of pressure is further reduced by an intervening blanket of snow.
In many jurisdictions, snowmobiles are not classified as off-road vehicles. By both definition and management policies, these jurisdictions have completely separated snowmobiles from off-road vehicles. As the U.S. Department of the Interior concluded in an environmental statement:
"A major distinction is warranted between snowmobiles and other types of off-road vehicles. Snowmobiles operated on an adequate snow cover have little effect on soils - and hence cause less severe indirect impacts on air and water quality, and on soil-dependent biotic communities, than other ORV’s do."
Given adequate snowfall and responsible operation, all evidence of snowmobile operation disappears when the season changes and the snow melts.
In its environmental statement regarding off-road vehicle use of public lands, the U.S. Department of the Interior stated: "Where snowmobiles are used exclusively over snow on roads and trails, the impact on vegetation is indeed virtually nil."
A University of Wisconsin study of J. W. Pendleton entitled Effect of Snowmobile Traffic on Non-Forest Vegetation discovered that snowmobile traffic had no effect on grain yield of winter wheat, alfalfa, red clover plots or grass legume. Species of turf grass showed slightly reduced yields at first harvest, but were not negatively affected in subsequent harvests.
Research undertaken by Dr. James C. Wittaker and Dennis S. Wentworth of the University of Maine concluded that “compaction by snowmobiling does not alter the grain weight yields of alfalfa in Maine.”
A Utah Water Resource Laboratory study found that snow compaction, caused by snowmobile tracks, does not damage wheat crops. Instead, the compaction increases the yield and eliminates snow mold. Erosion is also reduced.
There is no evidence that snow compaction caused by snowmobiling, ski-touring or snowshoeing has a significant impact on the population of small burrowing animals. Since these recreations take place over a minuscule portion of the total land area, the ecosystems of burrowing animals tend to be overwhelmingly affected by natural forces-such as wind-induced compaction, early and late snowfalls, temperature fluctuations resulting in thaws and freezes, etc.
VERMONT ASSOCIATION OF SNOW TRAVELERS SNOW PACK CHEMISTRY STUDY. VAST and VHB Pioneer, an internationally recognized Environmental Laboratory, completed a snow pack chemistry study that evaluated the potential environmental impacts associated with the use of snowmobiles on public land in Vermont. Snow melt and run off chemistry monitoring indicated no detectable levels of volatile organic chemical compounds or petroleum hydrocarbons in surface waters that are located on snowmobile trails.
The data in the study suggests that snowmobile usage does not have any impact on the surface water quality in the vicinity of heavily used snowmobile trails that were evaluated.
||Next: Join a Club