Whether you prefer zipping over fields on a snowmobile or tramping through the woods on snowshoes, British Columbia is a spectacular place to explore during the winter.
Though beautiful, winter is also a harsh season for many wild animals throughout the province – and we can unknowingly add to their challenges. Recreational activities such as skiing and snowmobiling can disturb wildlife, forcing animals to find new dens, roosting sites or feeding grounds. Doing so causes them to expend more energy at a critical time when they might already be experiencing food stress.
“Studies on moose, for instance, have shown that energy expenditure increases by close to 20 per cent when animals are disturbed by snowmobiles,” says Meghann Cant, BC SPCA animal welfare educator. “Energy costs can increase even further in deep snow conditions.”
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,” says Cant. Then, should animals 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,” Cant says.
While a single disturbance may not seem significant, consider the impact of multiple interactions with different recreationists 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,” says Cant. “People can traverse through backcountry and never know there may be lasting effects.”
So 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:
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.
The BC SPCA is a non-profit organization funded primarily by public donations. Our mission is to prevent cruelty and to promote the welfare of animals through a wide range of services, including cruelty investigations, emergency rescue and treatment, sheltering and adoption of homeless and abused animals, humane education, advocacy, farm animal welfare, spay/neuter programs, and wildlife rescue and rehabilitation.