Sunday, December 11, 2016

New Study Details Recreationists’ Harmful Effects On Wildlife

dog-black-birdNewly published research in the journal PLOS ONE by scientists at Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Colorado State University (CSU), and University of California-Berkeley finds that human recreation activities in protected areas are impacting wildlife, and more often than not, in negative ways.

Nature-based, outdoor recreation is the most widespread human land use in protected areas and is permitted in more than 94 percent of parks and reserves globally. Inspiring an estimated eight billion visits per year to these areas, outdoor recreation is typically assumed to be compatible with conservation. Increasingly, however, negative effects of recreation on wildlife are being reported.

The authors reviewed 274 scientific articles published between 1981 and 2015 on the effects of recreation on a variety of animal species across all geographic areas and recreational activities.

More than 93 percent of the articles reviewed indicated at least one impact of recreation on animals, the majority of which (59 percent) were negative. Hiking, for example, a common form of outdoor recreation in protected areas, can create a negative impact by causing animals to flee, taking time away from feeding and expending valuable energy.

Studies of hiking and other non-motorized activities observed negative effects on wildlife 1.2 times more than motorized activities. Since motorized activities generally cover a larger area, their influence on animals, while less intense, is more widespread. Motorized activities can result in other environmental impacts such as soil loss and vegetation disturbance, which were not analyzed in the study.

Among the negative impacts observed were decreased species diversity; decreased survival, reproduction, or abundance; and behavioral or physiological disturbance (such as decreased foraging or increased stress). Negative effects were documented most frequently for reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates.

Positive effects of recreation on wildlife were most often observed on birds in the crow family and mammals in the rodent order. These effects included increased abundance and reduced flight responses.

The study also suggests that snow sports may impact wildlife more frequently than other activities popular in the summer, such as hiking and boating. Determining exact reasons for this result were beyond the scope of the study, though the authors said this may be an area to explore for future research.

In other results, the team found that the majority of the research on recreation impacts is conducted in North America and Europe. Most of the articles reviewed focused on impacts to mammals (42 percent) or birds (37 percent) while studies of amphibians, reptiles, and fish, were lacking.

The authors say that the results of the study present an opportunity for a broader discussion on balancing the accommodation of increased numbers of protected area visitors with those of wildlife.

Ways to help minimize recreational impacts to wildlife in protected areas mentioned in the literature include: staying on existing trails, respecting seasonal closures, minimizing noise, not approaching wildlife, and reducing speeds of motorized vehicles.

To view a copy of the article, click here.

This research was funded by a Local Assistance Grant to the Wildlife Conservation Society from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Photo courtesy Sara Bombaci.

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19 Responses

  1. Tanner says:

    At least trails define an impact corridor where contact with wildlife is confined. More and more people in the Adirondacks are bushwhacking and creating their own user trails. Unfortunately the Almanack glorifies these people by publishing their climbing and hiking “conquests”, but never once question their impacts on nature.

  2. Pete Klein says:

    Maybe we should just all people from going into the woods. Force everyone to live in cities – not!

  3. Bruce says:

    “Official” trails may confine where people go, but only to a point. One only needs to look at what’s happening in the HPW to see that. Perhaps it’s time to rethink our usage of wilderness areas and add an additional wilderness designation to the SLMP where the preservation level does not include people except for a few authorized scientists.

    In one of the early discussions about Boreas Ponds, one conservationist/writer found his way up to a little-visited mountain peak and remarked on the quality of the view. That same individual then suggested a trail be cut, encouraging greater human use as if that would be preferable to a few hardy souls finding their own way there.

    • Boreas says:


      But that brings us back to the question – which is better, disruption along a corridor or dissipated disruption throughout? My guess is the latter. First, as you suggest, there are a lot fewer bushwhackers. Second, I doubt there is much lasting effect on fauna with a rare interaction with a passing human.

      However I would hazard a guess that interactions with dogs (predators) are probably more significant than humans. Fauna that have evolved to fear 4-legged animals as predators would be stressed. Many critters just view humans as foul-smelling anomalies… avoided until they leave the area.

      • Tanner says:

        How about concentrating our energy on creating sustainable trails and limiting the number of people in sensitive areas.

  4. I am amused when I read things about the negative effect of humans on animals. We **are** animals. We eat, sleep, wander around, procreate and do all the same things other animals do. We have a greater impact because we are high-level predators, not just killing other animals but also consuming more of the available resources. The elephant in the room when discussing the environment is our exploding numbers. It is not that we shouldn’t be in nature disturbing “the animals” (as if so-called wildlife was something entirely removed from “us”). We belong just like they do but our population is out of control relative to the environment.

  5. Charlie S says:

    “Increasingly, however, negative effects of recreation on wildlife are being reported.”

    “Since motorized activities generally cover a larger area, their influence on animals, while less intense, is more widespread. Motorized activities can result in other environmental impacts such as soil loss and vegetation disturbance, which were not analyzed in the study.”

    Tell this to the DEC and the ADK and all of those who have sway in the Boreas debate,ie…whether to allow motorized vehicles as close to the shore as possible, more intense use,etc!

  6. James Marco says:

    In the past, I have written that people should be removed from the wilderness in strictly scientific terms. Even the act of observing the flora/fauna making up the wilderness is disturbed by the presence of the observer. Or was that phisics, that magical form of science to most? Stepping on a new tree sprout, kills it preventing the tree from growing, preventing the shade to a river, raising the average temperature a 1/4 degree, favoring one bacteria over another, favouring one zooplankton over anothet, favouring one fish over anoter, well…you get the butterfly sneezes all over Slobovonia.

    This is OUR world presently, as the top level predator. We, fortunatly, have a choice in which items we will or will not consume, a situation unique to our species. Mostly, we have developed the rather bad habit of consuming EVERYTHING, indeed this is the very action of a lesser species. But, we can now make the CHOICE. We can bushwack to a popular peak, or, walk the trail. Either way, people will go there. Yes, and disturb a few birds, a few smaller mamals, a larger mammal or two, maybe a bear, … We cannot NOT go. It is our nature to go to the next mountain over.

    I do not believe in invasive species, unless we are talking a truly off planet species, I guess. Various regional differences are dependant on isolation. When isolation fails, the region moves towards an average. We can call it whatever, but this is a natural process. And, hardly invasive. People are just an example, perhaps the first, of a planetary capable species, not realy an invasive one. From arctic/antarctic cold to equatorial heat, we can find people. Yes, for example: it requires technology in warm clothing, ways to make heat, and ways to breath -50F or colder air, but this is just an example of the latest tools in our little bag of tricks.

    Even with our technology, or perhaps because of it, the wilderness becomes more important than ever. As a thru hike becomes more formalized, we will become more ritualized in it’s acceptance. We have to go “kill our lion” so to speak. Our children will do this, too, as the bilions become more and more homogenized in genetic makeup, people will NOT change their basic instincts.Today, with the Boreas Ponds debate, we need to make room for our children and their children, and their children… Not everyone will choose to walk a trail. Some will choose mathematics rather than hiking. Some will choose music over mathematics. Some will become bike riders, nurses, macinists, carpenters, software engineers, sanitation engineers, poets, farmers, inventors, etc. But, the need to conquer the unknown will always exist within each and every one of us. We NEED to supply a place to go to and remember where we started. A wood fire, a rough log shelter, and the simple violence of shooting a rabbit and eating it…simple things that bring spiritual peace against the “unknown” universe of the dark and not so quiet woods at night. We need the wilderness more than ever. It is not a goal, it is a PART of us, and I pray it always will be.

    We cannot pass this way without changing things. I thank you for that supporting article.

  7. Tim-Brunswick says:

    Apparently all but “Pete Klein” actually buy into a “scientific” study by “Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Colorado State University (CSU), and University of California-Berkeley”??….I mean really folks….this is just one more self-serving study commissioned by groups that historically foster the “:Chicken Little” approach to almost any controversial environmental situation. In too many cases the word “scientific” translates into the study being conducted in a regulated manner by “scientists”, many of which “may” be totally biased at the onset of the study anyway, thus skewing or steering the end result….

    For crying out loud, thanks to the original “conservationist” movement initiated by sportsmen and women we now have more white-tailed deer, wild turkeys and a host of other wild creatures/furbearers, etc. that have come back to the point some are now considered a nuisance. Most were reintroduced and repopulated areas due to the intervention of hunters/sportsmen who also were the first to request that seasons limiting harvest be established to protect and conserve many wild species.

    It was not “Hikers”, “Paddlers” and many other outdoor recreational outdoor groups who cried first for wildlife in trouble.

    The high-peaks area is being wrecked by Vibram soles, certainly not motorized vehicles. Animals adapt very nicely to human presence in the wilderness…..loss of habitat is another story.

    Bottom line is I don’t “buy” what the above referenced study is “selling”

    Thank you

    • Boreas says:

      “Animals adapt very nicely to human presence in the wilderness….”

      From what “scientific study” do you cite for this statement?

      Perhaps you misunderstand scientific papers. Or misunderstand science. It is a study – experiment if you prefer. It isn’t a law or necessarily fact. It is a compilation of data with some interpretation thrown in at the end. The interpretation and conclusion is always subjective and yes, often biased. Only numerous identical studies can approve or refute the claim(s). A single study doesn’t mean much. That is where scientific peers delve into the substance and procedures of the study to see if the conclusions are valid. But that doesn’t mean it is wrong because it doesn’t fit with your view of the world. It also doesn’t mean it is correct if it reinforces your views. It is what it is – a single research study requiring further research.

      • Boreas says:

        I just got my second wind…

        This about far more than a few select game species given a helping hand by “sportsmen”. What about the majority of species that can’t be legally shot & trapped? What about the methodical extirpation of predator species by the same group in the name of game conservation?

        Current nuisance populations of prey are a result of lack of predation and constantly shifting habitat changes that favor certain species over others. They are a large factor in ecological disruption. But bring up re-introduction of predators and immediately shouts of sheep, cattle, and wanton baby-eaters are heard.

        The issue is there are far more than a few game species at stake. Significant losses in many plant, amphibian, reptile, avian, and other species (that are often indicators of healthy ecosystems) have occurred – even in the last 30-40 years. Who is going to champion their cause? Sportsmen? Conservationists? Politicians? Scientists are simply the messengers – don’t kill the messengers.

        The amount we don’t know is the scary part…

    • Dan Ling says:

      This is not “just another study.” If you bothered to click the link, you would see that it is a meta-analytical study, in other words a study of studies. The research team looked at over 270 studies to try to discover repeated findings, find out where studies are lacking, etc. This type of study is, in fact, the most important and potentially revealing and valuable of all. Your comment displays obvious and egregious ignorance of science in general, and certainly of the study itself. Your failure to read it gives you insufficient reason to disparage it, but I think is not due to laziness on your part, but rather simple bias – confirmation bias, to be precise. The same sort of problem that causes people to reject science outright because it doesn’t fit with their views (climate change).

    • Bruce says:


      “The high-peaks area is being wrecked by Vibram soles, certainly not motorized vehicles”

      Does it really matter how the wreckage occurs? Just look at the Loj parking area on a busy holiday weekend in good weather. Are you saying cars don’t play a part?

      Cornell University had a study called “Birds in a Forested Landscape” in which I took part. It was about how man-made fragmentation from any source, trails, roads, clearings, etc. had a negative effect on forest bird breeding behavior even though there were still plenty of significant forest lands around. The folks involved in the survey were not “biased scientists,” but people like myself who were simply counting and reporting the count.

      This seems counterintuitive because birds can fly over man’s works, right? There were fewer breeding forest birds, and more birds which typically have a closer association with man.

    • Tanner says:

      The original conservationist movement was NOT initiated by sportsmen and women. That is a false statement. Sportsmen DECIMATED game species in the east, and white tail deer, elk and beaver had to be reintroduced, while predators are still absent. (Except the coyote, which is rabidly “hunted” by ‘sportsmen” for no reason other than to kill a beneficial creature). And your attack on science is, let’s just say, telling of your lack of understanding of what science actually is. Scientists do not think of animals in terms of “harvests”. All life forms are part of an integrated system that requires a certain level of balance. Too much human interface produces stress that can have impacts far beyond that one species. Sure, animals can adapt to change over time. That’s called evolution. But sudden change and stress can have severe negative consequences, and the Park is a place where more than human needs should be actualized.

  8. Charlie S says:

    I too believe that animals adapt to human presence in the wilderness Tim but this does not mean that there is no negative impact on them. There have been studies done over and again on this theme and the science is there to prove the above report. They have done studies in the national parks and in Canada. Our incursions into the woods whether by foot or automation most certainly have an impact on ecosystems and it only makes sense that this also changes the behavior of wild animals not necessarily for the better.

    We may be unaware of the influences we have on the natural world whenever we intrude upon it,and in many cases we do not care,but we do bear an impact beyond what we will ever know until it is too late as is most often the case. There is an obstruction to sight in our peripheral vision is why.

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