The COVID-19 pandemic has fired up interest in outdoor activities in our parks and forests. Now a new Canadian study—published in Conservation Science and Practice—highlights the need to be mindful of how these activities may affect wildlife living in protected areas.
Researchers from the University of British Columbia placed motion-activated cameras on the trails in and around the South Chilcotin Mountains Provincial Park in southwestern B.C., a region popular for its wildlife and recreational activities such as hiking, horseback riding, ATV riding and mountain biking.
Overall, they found that environmental factors—like the elevation or the condition of the forest around a camera location—were generally more important than human activity in determining how often wildlife used the trails.
However, there were still significant impacts. Deeper analysis of trail use captured by the cameras showed that all wildlife tended to avoid places that were recently visited by recreational users. And they avoided mountain bikers and motorised vehicles significantly more than they did hikers and horseback riders.
The researchers focused on 13 species including grizzly bear, black bear, moose, mule deer and wolf.
“We wanted to better understand the relative impacts of human recreation in this region, given its increasing popularity. We already know that motorised vehicle access can disrupt wildlife; our initial findings suggest that other types of recreation may also be having impacts,” study author Professor Robin Naidoo said.
Like many parks, the South Chilcotin Mountains provincial park and nearby regions are experiencing growing pressure from human activities—both recreational and industrial.
“Outdoor recreation and sustainable use of forest landscapes are important, but we need to balance them with potential disruption of the ecosystem and the loss of important species,” study co-author Professor Cole Burton added.