Date of this Version
Gese, E.M., J.L.B. Dowd, and L.M. Aubry. 2013. The influence of snowmobile trails on coyote movements during winter in high-elevation landscapes. PLoS ONE 8(12): e82862. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0082862.
Competition between sympatric carnivores has long been of interest to ecologists. Increased understanding of these interactions can be useful for conservation planning. Increased snowmobile traffic on public lands and in habitats used by Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) remains controversial due to the concern of coyote (Canis latrans) use of snowmobile trails and potential competition with lynx. Determining the variables influencing coyote use of snowmobile trails has been a priority for managers attempting to conserve lynx and their critical habitat. During 2 winters in northwest Wyoming, we backtracked coyotes for 265 km to determine how varying snow characteristics influenced coyote movements; 278 km of random backtracking was conducted simultaneously for comparison. Despite deep snow (.1 m deep), radio-collared coyotes persisted at high elevations (.2,500 m) year-round. All coyotes used snowmobile trails for some portion of their travel. Coyotes used snowmobile trails for 35% of their travel distance (random: 13%) for a mean distance of 149 m (random: 59 m). Coyote use of snowmobile trails increased as snow depth and penetrability off trails increased. Essentially, snow characteristics were most influential on how much time coyotes spent on snowmobile trails. In the early months of winter, snow depth was low, yet the snow column remained dry and the coyotes traveled off trails. As winter progressed and snow depth increased and snow penetrability increased, coyotes spent more travel distance on snowmobile trails. As spring approached, the snow depth remained high but penetrability decreased, hence coyotes traveled less on snowmobile trails because the snow column off trail was more supportive. Additionally, coyotes traveled closer to snowmobile trails than randomly expected and selected shallower snow when traveling off trails. Coyotes also preferred using snowmobile trails to access ungulate kills. Snow compaction from winter recreation influenced coyote movements within an area containing lynx and designated lynx habitat.