Excerpt from Snowmobile Impacts Report

Excerpt from: SNOWMOBILING IN THE ADIRONDACK PARK: Environmental and Social Impacts 
Elizabeth Baker 
Eric Buthmann 
St. Lawrence University 
Department of Biology 
Effects on wildlife 
A number of studies have been conducted around the world that look at the ways in which wildlife are negatively affected by snowmobiling. Effects on wildlife include elevated heart rates, elevated glucocorticoid stress levels, increased flight distance, pollution impacts, habitat fragmentation as well as community and population disturbance. 
There are still observable as well as unobservable responses in wildlife to snowmobiling. Studies have been conducted with white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), elk (Cervus elaphus), coyotes (Canis latrans) and wolves (Canis lupus). Even though not all of these animals are present in the Adirondack Park it is still important to include information about these studies to show that there is a significant negative impact on a number of different species. While most animals are well adapted to surviving winter conditions, the season creates added stress to wildlife due to harsher climate and more limited foraging opportunities (Reinhart, 1999). 
An interesting effect that snowmobiling has on wildlife is how species use the trails the machines create when driving over and compacting the snow. A study conducted by the Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife of Orono, Maine found that deer use snowmobile trails for short distances (rarely exceeding 0.2 km of their daily movements). Deer tend to follow the trails slightly longer in early and late winter than in mid-winter, coinciding with the general pattern of activity observed in deer through the long winter months. It is suspected, however, that deer follow snowmobile trails through habit and not need. Deer show a tendency to run when approached by a snowmobile in the open and an increased tendency to stay when approached in softwood stands. It seems like a deer’s response to snowmobiles depends on its apparent security (Richens et. al, 1978). In one study, researchers found that large ungulates such as caribou are disturbed by snowmobiles from distances over 1250 feet (Bluewater Network, 2002). 
 Snowmobiles cutting trails through winter habitats can be in a way increasing edge effects in the habitats. Trails and roads that dissect the forest can create edge environments around the perimeter of the disturbance that is substantially different from the forest interior (Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, 2002). Edge effects refers to the negative influence of the edge of a habitat on the interior conditions of a habitat. Various edge effects can include changes in the climate and other physical factors; changes in biota due to increases in aggressive edge-adapted species (ie. Coyotes); increased human activities; and increased rates of invasion by noxious weeds (Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, 2002). The term also refers to the effect of adjoining habitat types on the populations in the edge ecotone. The result is usually more species in the edge than in either habitat alone. Many species are attracted to the edge habitat created by the snowmobile trails, which function as a sort of “ecological trap” (Meffe, 1997). For game species such as deer and elk, edge created by snowmobile trails may not be as much of an issue as it would be for smaller species. In an area where a deer might cross a snowmobile trail to adjacent habitat, a smaller mammal might use the edge as a boundary, thus constricting its home range. Wind speed, air and soil temperatures, and isolation are significantly higher for edges when compared to the interiors of forests. Soil and air moisture are substantially lower in edge environments. Generalist species can flourish in edge habitats, but interior forest species are usually found away from road edges (Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, 2002).  
The Department of Ecology at Montana State University conducted a study to measure the glucocorticoid stress responses in wolves and elk to snowmobiles. Immunoassays of fecal glucocorticoid (GC) levels is a non-invasive way to measure the physiological stress responses of wildlife to disturbances. Through measuring the GC levels in the feces of various species the study found that GC levels were significantly higher in elk during snowmobile season in Yellowstone than during the wheeled vehicle season. Elevated GC levels can suppress some immune function in wildlife and disrupt activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis. An interesting finding from this study was the observation of wolves using snowmobile trails in much the same way that the white-tailed deer were observed following trails in Maine (Creel et. al, 2002). The continuous packed surface and excellent supportability for large animals make them desirable places for these animals to travel. Traveling on snowmobile trails greatly reduces the energy expenditure of deer and wolves, but greatly increases their risk of getting hit (Richens et. al, 1978). 
A study conducted in Northern Wisconsin found that deer use snowmobile trails when convenient, but do not prefer them over their own trails. Therefore, trails should be routed away from forest types where deer tend to congregate. During severe weather deer concentrate in Northern White Cedar, Eastern Hemlock and swamp conifer areas (Eckstein et. al, 1979). 
Another negative impact snowmobiles have on wildlife is increased heart rates. In a study conducted on captive white-tailed deer, snowmobiles increased the animals’ heart rates on average 2.5 times the pre-stimulus rates when the snowmobile moved tangentially to the deer and on average 2.9 times when it circled the deer. These deer did not show habituation to the snowmobiles after days of experimentation (Moen et. al, 1982). 
Mule deer in north-central Colorado displayed responses to snowmobiles that ranged from benign to panic. Some of the less overt responses include increased metabolism, lowered body weight, reduced fetus size and a withdrawal from habitat that is suitable for the species. When compared to responses deer have to people approaching on foot, snowmobiles elicit less of a response. When directly approached on foot, deer ran longer, more frequently and expended more energy. The factors that influence the flight distance are the species, the intensity of sport-hunting (are the deer associating humans with hunting?), the types of vegetation, and the season (Freddy et. al, 1986). A study conducted at St. Croix State Park in east-central Minnesota found that home range size, movement and distance from radio-collared deer to the nearest trail increased with snowmobile activity (Dorrance et. al, 1975). Deer are already quite stressed in the middle of winter, so snowmobiles only increase their stress.
Snowmobile use can result in mortality, habitat loss, and harassment of wildlife. White-tailed deer show signs of displacement and increased movement (Boyle and Samson, 1985). Studies have shown that shorter flight distance and a higher tolerance for vehicles and humans is a result of habituation. Habituation, however can lead to an increased attraction to human-use areas and thus and increased stress response from the animal as well as human-caused mortality (Reinhart, 1999). 
Generally speaking, within the Adirondack Park public lands provide pretty poor habitat for white-tailed deer when compared to the managed forests. Deer wintering areas may provide protection from the elements, but they are extremely deficient in available and/or nutritious foods that deer need to survive the winter. Severity of weather, availability of good deer habitat and hunting may be more influential factors affecting deer mortality in the winter in the Adirondacks (DEC Draft), but snowmobiling certainly adds to the stress these animals endure during these harsh months. Coyotes aggressively compete with or prey upon a number of different vertebrate species that are adapted and limited to deep snow. Snowmobile trails give coyotes access to bobcat and lynx habitats that they never had before, and if prey is in short supply the coyote always wins (Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, 2002). Some small species depend on the space between the frozen ground and the snow to live. When snow compaction from snowmobiles occurs the subnivean (below snow) space temperatures decrease, which can lead to increased metabolic rates in these small mammal species. If the subnivean air space is cooled by as little as 3 degrees Celsius, the metabolic demands of small mammals living in the space would increase by about 25 calories per hour. These small mammals must work harder to find food (Neumann and Merriam, 1972). Compaction can restrict these small mammals’ movement to the point of causing asphyxiation (Smith), as oxygen flow is restricted and deadly levels of carbon dioxide build up (Canadian Wildlife Federation 1998). When the snow is compacted, barriers are created that restrict movement of these small species that travel through tunnels in the subnivean space. As the subnivean trails are cut off these small mammals are forced up to the surface where hungry predators are waiting to attack (Canadian Wildlife Federation 1998). 
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