Original Paper

European Journal of Wildlife Research

, Volume 60, Issue 1, pp 45-58

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Effects of winter recreation on northern ungulates with focus on moose (Alces alces) and snowmobiles

  • Grant HarrisAffiliated withUSDA Forest ServiceUnited States Fish and Wildlife Service Email author 
  • , Ryan M. NielsonAffiliated withWEST, Inc.
  • , Todd RinaldiAffiliated withAlaska Department of Fish & Game
  • , Thomas LohuisAffiliated withAlaska Department of Fish and Game


Winter recreation can displace ungulates to poor habitats, which may raise their energy expenditure and lower individual survivorship, causing population declines. Winter recreation could be benign, however, if animals habituate. Moreover, recreation creates trails. Traveling on them could reduce energy expenditure, thereby increasing ungulate survivorship and generating population benefits. Balancing recreation use with wildlife stewardship requires identifying when these effects occur. This task would be simpler if guidelines existed to inform assessments. We developed and tested such guidelines using two approaches. First, we synthesized literature describing the effects of winter recreation—motorized and nonmotorized—on northern ungulates. This synthesis enabled formulating six guidelines, while exposing two requiring further attention (ungulate habituation and displacement). Second, we tested these two guidelines and evaluated the others by quantifying the behavioral responses of moose to snowmobiles, in two areas of south-central Alaska, differing by snowmobile predictability. For each location, we modeled moose preferences during the snowmobile period using different combinations of eight variables—static (elevation and slope), biotic (habitat and cover), and anthropogenic (distance to roads, railroads, snowmobile trails, and trail density). We identified the model with the most support and used it to estimate parameter coefficients for pre- and post-recreation periods. Changes in coefficients between periods indicated snowmobile effects on moose. Overall, we produced and evaluated six guidelines describing when winter recreation is potentially detrimental to ungulates as follows: (1) when unpredictable, (2) spanning large areas, (3) long in duration, (4) large spatial footprint, (5) nonmotorized, and (6) when animals are displaced to poor quality habitats.


Alces alces Moose Recreation Resource selection function Snowmobiles Ungulate