Off-trail snowmobiling endangers sensitive species and habitats, warns Chequamegon-Nicolet Forest team

Officials are asking snowmobilers to do their part to protect sensitive wildlife
A sharp-tailed grouse rests in the Moquah Barrens snow on the Chequamegon-Nicolet National...
A sharp-tailed grouse rests in the Moquah Barrens snow on the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.(Alexandra Lehner | Northern News Now)
Published: Jan. 23, 2023 at 5:41 PM CST
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RHINELANDER, WI. (Northern News Now) - The Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest team is responding to snowmobile tracks found throughout prohibited areas in Bayfield County.

Substantial snowmobile and snow vehicle tracks have been found in the Moquah Barrens of the Washburn Ranger District.

The Moquah Barrens, part of the Chequamegon Nicolet National Forest, is home to rare habitats and sensitive species that are negatively impacted by snowmobiling.

Officials are asking snowmobilers to do their part to protect sensitive wildlife and habitats by staying on designated trails.

“When snowmobiles operate off-trail in places like the Moquah Barrens, on the surface it may seem fine, but on closer inspection, we find that the noise and disturbance caused by these machines can be detrimental to the many wildlife species that are using these areas to survive harsh winter weather,” said Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest Wildlife Biologist Brian Heeringa.

Species like the sharp-tailed grouse are only found in a few locations around Wisconsin, including the Moquah Barens. The birds use drifts of snow under the right conditions to “snow roost,” enduring the cold temperatures and severe winter weather. When a snowmobile drives through otherwise undisturbed areas, it compacts the snow, creates trails for predators, and causes disrupted wildlife to flee.

The Chequamegon-Nicolet Forest contains more than 800 miles of groomed snowmobile trails. This year’s substantial snowfalls have made the forest an excellent location for enjoying outdoor recreation, like snowmobiling. Snowmobiling is currently allowed on routes and trails posted open and designated for their use. They may also travel on normally unplowed, open roads within the National Forest when snow accumulations exceed four inches. For these reasons, it is important to know where you are operating because in many places, like the Moquah Barrens, off-trail/road operations are prohibited.

Over-snow vehicle operators are encouraged to exercise the “rules of the road” and have a travel plan in place before heading out. Take the time to know before you go and only operate in designated areas for the safety and enjoyment of all, including the wildlife.

The following resources are available online to help everyone make the most of their experience and to stay safe this season:

  • County snowmobile trail maps are available through the CNNF website.
  • The Wisconsin Department of Tourism updates trail condition information regularly on the Travel Wisconsin website.
  • The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources offers snowmobile safety classes; learn more here.