All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) make fauna assessments in remote areas much easier

All terrain vehicles (ATVs) have been with us for a long time, but they are not routinely used by environmental consultants undertaking fauna assessments in remote areas. Quite often a targeted fauna assessment or conservation significant fauna habitat assessment is required in an area that is devoid of tracks, where access is difficult and it is much too far to walk. ATVs are an ideal solution to this problem. They also do significantly less damage to the environment than driving a 4WD across the terrain.

There are two basic types of ATVs – single rider (Plate 1) or side-by-side (UTV; Plate 2).

ATVS plate 1 ATVS plate 2
Plate 1. Fully equipped ATV used in fauna habitat assessments Plate 2. Fully equipped side-by-side UTV
used in fauna assessments

Our ATVs when used in reasonably flat spinifex terrain will get about 100km on a tank of fuel. This is normally the distance covered in half a day’s work, so they need to be refuelled at the beginning of each day and at lunch time. Driving them in 4WD and working in hilly, rugged terrain reduces the fuel economy. We have two custom made heavy duty trailers that can be towed behind the ATVs (Plate 3). These trailers are very useful for deploying traps in remote areas and being heavy duty will comfortably cope with the tough terrain.

ATVS plate 3 ATVS plate 4
Plate 3. ATV with custom made trailer Plate 4. Two ATVs on a custom made trailer

We have also found the UTV very useful because of its ute configuration, which enables us to carry a reasonable pay load. For example, when we only had the ATVs, we distributed motion sensitive cameras throughout the rocky landscape by carrying 15-20 cameras in a back-pack, as it was too rough to carry them in the box mounted on the back. The size of the ute space on the UTV means that all 50 cameras can be carried along with the bait pods, bait, staff lunches, spare fuel, drinking water and assorted other field equipment.

We need to be particularly vigilant working in spinifex as the seed pods and spines build up in the grill and in any of the joints or spaces in the undercarriage and can cause a fire. We use compressed air to remove spinifex seeds from the radiator and other places that are difficult to access.

We have added lots of extras to both our ATVs and UTV to increase the rider safety and protect them from damage. Essential add-ons are bash plates on the entire undercarriage, fire extinguisher, a mounted GPS so that you can operate the GPS ‘hands-free’ and UHF radio. The UTV also has a custom made bull bar, which is essential for working in the Pilbara or Goldfields, flashing beacon, engine isolation switch and reversing beeper making it mine compliant.

We have found ATVs particularly useful for doing fauna habitat assessments in remote locations where access is limited. Plate 5 shows the track map for a conservation significant fauna habitat assessment that we did for a mining tenement in the Goldfields. The systematic search covered the entire area. In this situation we were also looking for Malleefowl mounds, diggings and scratchings. The yellow dots are the locations where we stopped and recorded a suite of data about the habitat from a fauna perspective.

ATVS plate 5

Plate 5. Track map of conservatyion significant fauna habitat assessment for a mining tenement

The ATV is ideal moving through dense, large spinifex tussocks on an uneven rocky surface. Plate 6 shows the track map for two ATVs in a rail corridor in the Pilbara. During this assessment we were able to undertake a very thorough search of the rail corridor and detect all Bilby diggings and scats. When we found diggings or scats then we undertook a detailed search of the area for burrows.

ATVS plate 6

Plate 6. Track map of a conservation signifcant fauna habitat assessment for a rail corridor

We also very successfully used our two ATVs to lay out baited wire cage traps to survey for Northern Quoll over a reasonably large area of the Pilbara. Two hundred baited traps could be laid along a linear corridor approximately 100m apart and two people could check the traps each morning within 3 hrs of sunrise. It would not be possible to clear the traps by walking and a 4WD would have done substantial damage to the vegetation.

What is your experience in using ATVs for environmental assessments?

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