Sharing the backcountry with fellow snow lovers - Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative

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Sharing the backcountry with fellow snow lovers

Wildlife Wise in BC
Wildlife Wise in BC

Be wildlife wise this winter

The mountains of the Yellowstone to Yukon region attract powder hounds from around the world. The deep snow is incredible for all kinds of recreation, from snowmobiling to skiing, snowshoeing to fat biking and more.  

People aren’t the only pow-seekers around here, though. Special wildlife also thrive in our winters, including rare wolverines and mountain caribou. Bobcats, fishers, porcupine, mountain goats, grizzly bears and other animals also rely on the habitat here. 

Wolverines depend on deep snow for denning and mountain caribou “float” on top of deep snow to reach lichen (an important winter food source) in tall trees.  

As backcountry recreationists, we need to do our part to not disturb these sensitive and threatened fellow snow-lovers. You can help limit impact on sensitive species such as mountain caribou and wolverines by being wildlife wise this winter. 

What to know

Wolverines

Rare and widely distributed, wolverines are isolated, tough carnivores that spend much of their time in the alpine. They have large home territories and are quite sensitive to human disturbance, especially females who den and raise their kits in the winter.

Recent research suggests that recreation can displace wolverines and change their behavior. Unsustainable levels of trapping and recreation in areas wolverines reproduce are also a concern. In addition, a growing road network and traffic threatens to cut off U.S./Canada populations from each other.  

We still have wolverines in the parts of the Yellowstone to Yukon region, but we need to help them out so they can thrive into the future.

Watch for wolverine signs:  

  • Wolverine tracks are distinct, often in a 2×2 or 3×3 pattern, in long, straight lines;
  • Dens are deep holes in the snow, about 30 centimeters across. What helps set them apart from other holes are multiple tracks going to and from the hole and being near the treeline;
  • Female wolverines are extremely sensitive. If you accidentally stumble on a den, take a photo and then leave the basin immediately. Even a single skier can cause a female to abandon her den. Don’t piss off a mama wolverine! 

Mountain caribou habitat protection | Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative

Mountain caribou

The caribou in this region are special as they are unique on the planet. During winter they head up mountains and have evolved to rely on deep snow. 

Once abundant, today’s mountain caribou herds are at serious risk of disappearing locally, or being “extirpated.” Some of the herds in the Yellowstone to Yukon region are already gone. 

Mountain caribou numbers have declined due to the cumulative effects of habitat loss, changes in predator’s patterns, displacement, and the increasing impacts of climate change. Backcountry recreation can disturb these already stressed animals, especially in winter when they need all the calories they can get.

Watch for caribou signs:  

  • As herd animals, caribou tend to migrate the same areas year-after-year. Look up caribou closures in your area before you head out. In British Columbia, the province lists closures.

Before you go

As recreationists in the area, we share the landscape with some amazing, rare animals. By taking a few steps, help them thrive!  

No matter how you’re enjoying the snow here are some tips to be wildlife wise this winter:

  • Ski and ride responsibly. Follow and obey posted signs for wildlife in the area; 
  • Follow and locate closures for caribou;  
  • Stay alert, listen and watch for wildlife or signs of animals to reduce chances of an encounter; 
  • If you come across an animal, STOP. Don’t approach caribou or wolverine. If riding, turn off your engine. Wait until the animal has moved on and then leave. It’s best to find another area to ski or ride in; 
  • Take photos or video! These are rare animals and to see one is special. Drop a pin in a map so you can share the GPS coordinates later; 
  • If you see lone wolverine tracks in the mountains it’s a good indicator that you are in some wild country, but there is no need to turn around; wolverine can travel huge distances; 
  • If you see a network of wolverine tracks, there may be a wolverine den nearby — avoid the area; 
  • If you suspect a wolverine den, please avoid recreating in that basin during the denning season; February to May, especially if you see tracks on more than one occasion during that period; Additionally, wolverines may re-use dens, look for new sign in the next season;  
  • Report wolverine dens or tracks to wolverinewatch.org;  
  • Stay and play safe! 

Share our handy Wildlife Wise winter recreation tips poster. Print and post it in your neighbourhood to encourage others to be Wildlife Wise:


Enjoy the snow

Here are some tips for specific activities:  

Skiing and snowboarding

  • If you’re a backcountry skier heading to a new area, make sure you know about special changes to recreation. For example, any caribou closures or refer to Wolverine Watch to find out what to look for and how to identify tracks. 
  • Ski and shred responsibly. Follow and obey posted signs. Prevent a wildlife encounter by being aware and alert to sights and sounds of wildlife.

Snowmobiling

  • Decrease your disturbance. Check local sledding or snowmobiling clubs to see what best practices are. Check out the BC Snowmobile Federation’s Environmental Stewardship and Operational Practices to learn about mountain caribou or other closure areas and how to reduce disturbance.  
  • Ride responsibly. Follow and obey posted signs. Prevent a wildlife encounter by being aware — reduce your noise and tune your eyes and ears.  

What to do and who to call  

Regardless of your activity, if you see something, take a few extra steps:

  • In Alberta or B.C., post sightings of wolverines to Wolverine Watch – let regional researchers know you may have seen tracks or an animal. This will contribute to an even better understanding of wolverines in our region.  
  • If you see a caribou or caribou tracks in B.C., let the Ministry of Environment know by submitting your wildlife observation online.
  • In Alberta, report a caribou sighting to Caribou Patrol.
  • Tell your fellow skiers and riders. Let others know if there are places to avoid.  

Watch Wildlife Wise workshops and learn more about wolverine research:

Y2Y has previously hosted workshops with caribou and wolverine experts who shared their knowledge on recreating in these regions. Watch to learn more for some good tips:

If you’re recreating in the North Columbias

If you’re recreating near Upper Arrow and Slocan Lakes

If you’re recreating near the Kootenay Lake and Lower Columbia


Thank you for being wildlife wise this winter.  

Special thanks to the researchers who have helped us build a better understanding of sensitive wildlife in our region and thanks to the snowmobile clubs and backcountry ski associations for encouraging best practices while in the mountains. With well-managed recreation and making good choices, both people and wild animals can thrive in these amazing mountains we both call home.  

Interested in doing more? 

TAKE PART IN WOLVERINE RESEARCH

If you see or a wolverine den, sign or even a wolverine in Alberta or B.C., take part in important community research. Share your sighting with Wolverine Watch researchers.

Report Your Observation

Photos: Nadine Raynolds, Shutterstock, and Pexels