Thursday, January 28, 2010

Recreational Trail Use and Wildlife Movement

Recreational Trail Use and Wildlife Movement

Spatial Analysis of Human Recreational Trail Use and Wildlife Movement in the Livingstone River Area, SW Alberta: Methodological Considerations for Monitoring the Ecological Effects of Trail Users

Presented at the 2006 IMBA Summit/World Mountain Bike Conference by Michael S. Quinn, Ph.D.; Miistakis Institute and Faculty of Environmental Design, University of Calgary; 2500 University Drive N.W.; Calgary, AB T2N 1N4; .

Recreational trail use results in direct and indirect effects to area wildlife. The nature and significance of the effects are a function of the type, timing, intensity, predictability and spatial distribution of the recreational activity. The responses are highly variable across wildlife species.

It is difficult to identify statistically significant causal relationships due to confounding variables, response lags and non-linear responses. In addition, it is hard to distinguish and ascribe the effects of any individual use from the cumulative effects of all uses. The speed, distance range and silence of mountain bike travel are thought to be factors that characterize its potential for negatively affecting wildlife. Dispersed use (e.g., wildland trail) is expected to have different effects than concentrated use (e.g., mtn bike park). The presentation focused on the results and transferable lessons learned from an on-going study of motorized trail monitoring in the mountains of Alberta.

The Livingstone River Area in southwestern Alberta is an ecologically significant area of public land that provides an important connection between adjacent protected areas. Most of the area is zoned for multiple use, which means the area is available for resource extraction and recreational activity. Recreational use in this area consists primarily of off-highway vehicle (OHV) use, random access camping and fly fishing. Recreational use is largely unmanaged and increasing. The proliferation of trails and campsites has become extensive in the past decade. Furthermore, much of this activity is concentrated along critical riparian movement corridors and in sensitive montane, subalpine and alpine environments. Human use and associated linear disturbance is recognized as among the most significant habitat fragmentation factor limiting sensitive wildlife (especially large carnivores) in the region.

We have developed a sampling method that employs remote digital infrared cameras on known human trails and wildlife trails. The cameras have proven to be very effective for monitoring all trail use. Initial results show clear patterns of wildlife response both spatially and temporally. For example, animals clearly shift their use patterns in response to busy weekends. Another interesting preliminary finding is that large carnivores may preferentially select human trails. In areas frequented by grizzly bears, this may increase the potential for negative interactions with trail users (this may be an issue for fast moving, quiet mountain bikes). The presentation reviewed the qualities to evaluate in selecting trail monitoring cameras. Durability, weather resistance, strength of infrared illuminator and battery consumption were identified as critical factors.

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