Narrowing the Impact of Outdoor Recreation on Wildlife
Monday, August 21, 2023
Wyoming has seen a rapid increase in outdoor recreation in recent years, and biologists are uncovering new details about how people are impacting wildlife health.
Using motion-triggered speakers and trail cameras, researchers are capturing what happens when wild animals hear humans.
Meghan Riley, public lands and wildlife advocate for the Wyoming Outdoor Council, said hikers or mountain bikers frequently enter what's called a "zone of influence" along a trail, which is especially stressful in winter months.
"An animal might hear or smell you, and bolt, and you might not even see that has happened," Riley explained. "It might not look like a big deal, but that animal is expending energy at the time of year when it most needs to conserve energy."
People making noise in wild spaces can lead to habitat fragmentation, and animals on constant high alert are more stressed and spend less time feeding. The U.S. Forest Service is collecting data on how human sounds affect animals calling the Bridger-Teton National Forest home as it considers revisions to its land management plan.
Riley pointed out the research is important for land and wildlife managers working to ensure Wyoming's wild spaces do not become "loved to death." Earlier this year, state lawmakers created a trust fund to finance recreation infrastructure. Riley added officials can tap the findings as they consider where to install new trails and campsites.
"I think there's a way to make sure that people have the access to the outdoors that they need to thrive, but do it in a way that is intelligent and protective of the wildlife resources that we all cherish," Riley emphasized.
Riley noted officials can also ensure wildlife are getting a break from human disruptions through brief seasonal closures in key areas and at specific times of year.
"Trying to keep people out of big game winter range," Riley suggested. "Or in the summer, when animals are having their babies, keeping people out of nesting areas, places where calves are being born."
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