Land & Environment

A Close Look at the Big Picture

USU Professor Chris Monz of the Environment and Society Department in Quinney College of Natural Resources

Utah State University environment and society professor Chris Monz, his former student Ashley D’antonio and Kevin Gutzwiller demonstrate the impacts of recreationists on wildlife populations in a recent paper published in the November issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, titled “Wildland recreation disturbance: broad-scale spatial analysis and management.”  

“There are all kinds of ways the presence of people in the environment can influence wildlife,” said Kevin Gutzwiller, a Baylor University biology professor. “Humans engaging in non-consumptive recreational activities in natural areas can displace many animals from their habitat, raise their caloric expenditure, damage their resources, attract their predators, disrupt their behavior and decrease their survival.

Past research has looked at these disturbances, he said, but at scales much smaller than most animals’ territories. Consequently, current management approaches may be off the mark—managers may be over- or under-estimating the level of recreation disturbance depending on the situation, he said.

To measure these effects on wildlife, the team turned to technology that landscape ecologists typically use. Over the last couple years, Gutzwiller and co-authors D’Antonio, an Oregon State University assistant professor and Monz, a Utah State University professor, used three spatial software systems to determine how much disturbance recreationists were causing on the landscape. With data from hikers carrying GPS units at three national parks—Acadia National Park in Maine, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, and Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming—they quantified trail use disturbance in terms of the number of hikers and the density of informal trails.

Combining such recreation disturbance metrics with wildlife data would enable managers to model how visitors might impact species’ occupancy or reproduction, the researchers suggested.

“We wanted to start assessing and trying to manage wildland recreation disturbance at broader spatial scales,” Gutzwiller said. 

Millions of recreationists take to the trails of America’s natural spaces every year to hike, bike, ski, and picnic, but even if they take only photographs and leave only footprints, these visitors have the potential to negatively affect wildlife. Monz and his colleagues demonstrated that this approach has the potential to help all species. 

Related Link
Quinney College of Natural Resources

Contact: Christopher Monz, 435-797-2773, chris.monz@usu.edu
Public Information Officer: Traci Hillyard, 435-797-2452, traci.hillyard@usu.edu

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