GPS tracking gives snowmobilers access to sensitive B.C. caribou habitat

Members of two B.C. Interior snowmobile clubs will get access to parts of the province’s backcountry that were previously off limits, as provincial biologists use GPS to track the movements of the dwindling caribou herd that relies on the rugged habitat.

The access will be based on maps updated daily to show which areas snowmobilers can use within the Central Selkirk Snowmobile Management Area, which is near Nakusp, about 150 kilometres north of Castlegar.

The area was closed to snowmobiling in an effort to save the threatened Central Selkirk caribou herd. Provincial biologists counted 227 animals in the herd in 1997, but this year they found only 25.

The herd tends to stick together, leaving vast swathes of the area uninhabited at any given time as the caribou move around, so snowmobilers have been pushing for a rotating closure system.

“This new, innovative technology provides us with the opportunity for continued snowmobile access, while minimizing disturbance to caribou herds,” said Donegal Wilson, executive director of the British Columbia Snowmobile Federation, in a written statement.

The GPS equipment was already fitted to a few members of the herd by provincial biologists in 2017, according to a release from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.

Members of the two snowmobile clubs that will have access won’t be able to see the actual GPS coordinates, but rather maps prepared each day to indicate which areas would remain off limits.

Membership required

To access the maps and to snowmobile in the permitted areas, backcountry users must buy annual memberships with either the Trout Lake Recreational Club or the Arrow Lake Ridge Riders.

According to the ministry release, conservation officers patrolling the Central Selkirk Snowmobile Management Area can demand to see photo ID and a club membership card — anyone without the required documents could face a $575 fine. Using the off-limits area could also lead to a $575 fine.

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