Outdoor recreation such as hiking and cycling can take a toll on wildlife

Researchers say outdoor recreation can change the way animals behave, removing them from critical habitats.  This endangers the safety of Washington wildlife such as the mountain lion.

Researchers say outdoor recreation can change the way animals behave, removing them from critical habitats. This endangers the safety of Washington wildlife such as the mountain lion.

Image courtesy of the National Park Service

In western Washington, it appears as if a backpass or mountain range can be seen in almost every direction. With Three national parks And almost 700 miles of trails Across the state parks, there are plenty of outdoor spaces to explore and nature to experience.

The state’s natural areas are also home to a variety of animals such as elk, black bears, and mule deer. If you’re exploring a trail outside and pass near one of these animals, chances are it will spot you and run away. Although these encounters appear harmless, researchers say they can do wildlife more harm than good.

Outdoor recreation in natural areas poses an increased risk to Washington’s wildlife now more than ever, according to a Fall 2022 report Published by the Washington Organization Principal Wildlife Research Range and a nonprofit wildlife organization Northwest Conservation.

The biggest current threats to wild animals are habitat loss and climate change, Curt Hillman, coordinator with Conservation Northwest, said in an interview with The News Tribune. He added that recreation could also play a role in disturbing wildlife and further endangering their safety.

When humans encounter wild animals more frequently, Heilman says, it has the potential to displace species from their native habitats and can affect their overall health and reproductive patterns.

“We are entering an age when recreation can, more easily than ever, prove absolutely detrimental to wildlife populations across the board,” Heilmann said. “We only require a higher consciousness for people to understand that their presence, as harmless as it may seem, can affect wildlife very hard.”

Public Land Recreation Map_Primary Ranges for Wildlife Research.  jpeg
A map of the Earth operated by US and state agencies. This graphic is included in a report from Home Range Wildlife Research and Conservation Northwest. Principal Wildlife Research Range

Increase in WA entertainment

Human activity within state parks has increased dramatically over the past several years, according to Andrea Thorpe, program director for natural resources with Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission.

Leisure is on the rise because more and more people are turning toward active lifestyles, Thorpe said, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Another reason for the high levels of entertainment is that the population rate in Washington is on the rise. Statistics website World Population Review He says Washington has the eighth-highest population growth rate in the United States. From 2021 to 2022, the state’s population grew by more than 83,000. During this period, 86% of the population increase in Washington came from people who moved from out of state, according to Report 2022 From the State Office of Financial Management.

Recreation affecting wildlife in Western Western Australia

Depending on the area, common human activity that can disturb wildlife includes:

  • Walking tour
  • backpacks
  • horseback riding
  • Cross-country skiing
  • Snowboarding
  • Riding non-motorized vehicles such as a mountain bike.

Other actions such as leaving food in the woods or camping for extended periods of time affect certain animal behavior as well.

What WA state animals are affected?

According to the report, 15 animal species are discussed as being particularly threatened by recreational use. These include:

  • bighorn sheep

  • caribou

  • elk

  • Mountain goat

  • Deer

  • black bear

  • Lynx Canada

  • mountain lion

  • wolf

  • Wolverine

  • bald eagle

  • The golden eagle

  • Marble morelite

  • Sage grouse

Some of these animals live in critical habitat areas statewide, such as elk, black bearAnd mountain lionAnd bald eagle And The golden eagle. Some live in more selective areas, such as Marble morelite, which can be found in the western side of the state. Others are more selective, eg Wolverine, which is closely associated with the Cascade Mountain Range. the Lynx Canada It also inhabits select areas of North Central Washington.

The study authors encourage land managers to identify where recreation and wildlife intersect, measure recreation use and protect critical habitats for some wildlife. The report also called on conservation agencies to collect local data so they can implement more targeted protections for specific wildlife species.

MRNP black bear, August 2012. Photo Chase Gunnell.jpg
Black bears will change their movement patterns and behavior to avoid humans. Recreational activity may prevent them from crossing paths, and they may switch to being more active at night. Chase Jonell Northwest Conservation

Measures to protect wildlife in Washington

Currently, WDFW has it Land management plans For the 33 Wildlife Districts, according to Communications Director Erin Koch. The department updates these plans periodically based on the conditions of the wildlife species, their habitats, and general recreation. The department also takes steps to conserve wildlife and its habitats State Wildlife Action Plan. According to Couch, the plan only contains about 5% of the funding needed. WDFW is working to secure more funding from state and federal governments.

WDFW also has plans to handle recreational use.

In 2022, the ministry released an 82-page document outlining its documents 10 year plan To manage state lands and includes measures to protect wildlife. Clarity surrounding trail use, management, maintenance, and enforcement, Couch says, is set out in Recreation’s decade-long strategy. The estimated budget for implementing the plan is between 40 and 60 million dollars.

NW Trek Elk Bull_Keiko Betcher.jpg
Researchers say elk are one species vulnerable to human reproduction. The species lives in areas across Washington, including the Olympic Peninsula, Cascade Mountain Range, and northeastern regions of the state. Kiko Beecher Northwest Conservation

The Department of Fish and Wildlife coordinates with the state Parks and Recreation Authority And Department of Natural Resources to Data collection To measure and monitor the effects of recuperation. Thorpe of the Parks and Recreation Commission said her office plans to collect local data by examining footage on wildlife cameras and monitoring recreational use via trail meters. Each organization will then use this information to prioritize habitat restoration and park management.

Aside from the ongoing budget proposals, lands managed by the WDFW have seasonal closures and restrictions on recreation deemed essential to wildlife, according to Couch. For example, the organization may impose winter closures in some areas so that elk are not disturbed in their winter range or restrict campfire activity in places with a high risk of fire.

The Parks and Recreation Commission also has closures in place to protect wildlife, Thorpe said.

“We certainly want to be able to provide entertainment experiences for our citizens,” said Thorpe. “But stewardship is also part of that core mission of parks.”

Marbled morelite Rick Powers Aududon.jpg
Concentrations of marbled morelites can be found in and around Olympic National Park and other areas of western Washington. Rick Powers Northwest Conservation

Keeping Wildlife Safe in Washington State

If you’re an outdoor recreationist, Hellmann with Conservation Northwest offers some tips that recreational enthusiasts can use to be more aware of wildlife:

  • Visit outdoor areas in the middle of the day rather than closer to dusk or dawn, when wildlife is usually most active.

  • Statewide species such as mountain lions and black bears are most active during these parts of the day.

  • Be predictable in your leisure habits.

  • Stick to trails so you don’t inadvertently encounter and scare wildlife.

  • Understand that some recreation areas are closed for the season for a reason. This may be because a particular time of year is important for animal breeding or foraging.

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