New report particulars varied impacts that outside recreation can have on Washington’s wildlife, urging the necessity for strong recreation administration


Nature Conservation Northwest / 01.09.2022 / Public land, recreation

In partnership with Home Range Wildlife Research, Conservation Northwest is publishing a report summarizing existing science on recovery and wildlife dynamics.

Below is the summary of the report. Read the full report here!

Outdoor recreational opportunities and participation have increased significantly in recent decades, and the impact of recreation on wildlife behavior, fitness and populations is a growing conservation concern. Numerous reviews of the literature on the effects of outdoor recreation on wildlife have been produced in recent years, with the rapidly growing body of scientific literature demonstrating that recreation can affect wildlife at individual, population and community levels. Recreation can affect wildlife in a myriad of ways and varies depending on the interaction of numerous variables, including wildlife species, habitat type, and recreational activities.

As a result, targeted, local scientific review of wildlife recreation research is needed to mitigate potential negative impacts of recreation on wildlife and promote coexistence. This is especially important for the western United States, which has both the largest percentage of public lands, protected wildlife habitats, and has some of the highest rates of population growth.

Washington state has the second-largest population in the West (7.7 million people and counting), and its capital city of Seattle has consistently been one of the fastest growing cities in the country. Washington is home to countless unique ecoregions, diverse wildlife communities, and remarkable recreational opportunities. Features that highlight the importance of a holistic understanding of the connections between wildlife and recreation.

As recreation intensity increases, so does the impact on wildlife. Recovery management needs to be responsive to address any adverse impacts that may occur. Photo: Nicole Flores.

This report aims to provide a species-specific summary of impacts on animal recreation in Washington that are of interest to Conservation Northwest and show how animals may respond to locally important types of recreation. The scope of this report focuses on the impacts of year-round, terrestrial motorized and non-motorized recreational activities on terrestrial mammal and bird species. For each type we have summarized the relevant literature on specific recovery implications and concluded with a discussion of both areas for future research and specific considerations for recreational coexistence in Washington. Our goal is to collate Washington-specific knowledge gaps to help conservation practitioners identify and protect habitats that support robust wildlife populations while enabling outdoor recreation.

The bulk of the literature identified for review in this report documents short-term behavioral changes and patterns of spatial and temporal displacement of wildlife in response to recreational disturbances. Wildlife responses to recovery have been fairly negative, but few studies relate these responses to species fitness, abundance, or the distribution of wildlife populations.

Our findings support the broader trends and patterns in wildlife recovery discussed in other reviews and We have identified key areas where conservation practitioners in Washington can focus management and policy efforts. These include determining the extent of wildlife and recovery overlap, measuring the thresholds at which different levels of recovery affect wildlife populations, protecting critical spatial and temporal retreats from recovery, and implementing management actions to mitigate impacts on recovery. Within these key areas, we highlight the following areas of focus:

Identifying intersections between wildlife and recreation in Washington

  • Mapping and modeling the extent of Washington’s recreation footprint with species ranges to identify overlaps and priority areas to focus wildlife coexistence and recreation efforts.

Measurement of recovery intensity and frequency

  • Prioritize data collection in recreational areas statewide that can be used to quantify timing, frequency, magnitude, predictability, locations and areas of recreational impact.
  • Pairing recovery intensity levels with species-specific tolerance thresholds to prioritize and guide management strategies on a fine scale.

Protect spatial and temporal refuges

  • Protection of critical habitats that serve as spatial refuges from recreational development. This is particularly important for widespread umbrella species that are sensitive to disturbance and have specific habitat requirements.
  • Careful planning of future recreation development with an emphasis on concentrating recreation impacts on low-grade habitats for endangered species and consolidating hiking trail networks to limit habitat fragmentation and the spatial footprint of recreation.
  • Encourage recreation seekers to consolidate the use of developed recreation areas and reduce their overall recreation footprint.
  • Reduce road density through wild areas by closing selected roads and limiting new road construction.
  • Maintaining temporary retreats for species that can adapt their behavior to avoid peak periods of recreational use, such as B. nocturnal closures of heavily frequented hiking trail networks.
  • Seasonal closure and/or restriction of off-road and off-trail use in key breeding or wintering areas to limit disturbance to species of interest during vulnerable seasons and life stages (e.g., mule deer winter range, wolverine Denning habitats) .

implement management measures

  • Using information from the literature and mapping efforts as a basis for adaptive management studies.
  • Applying adaptive management practices to implement actions that work towards conservation goals, even in situations where limited data is available.

Conservationists need wildlife recreation information that is aggregated at the local level to best manage recreation, advocate for effective policies, and protect habitats that support robust wildlife populations while enabling outdoor recreation activities. As human populations continue to grow, wild animals increasingly face man-made challenges that affect their persistence and survival. This can be especially important for Species from Washington that are particularly sensitive to disturbance, including threatened and endangered species such as Canada lynx, grizzly bear, sage grouse, marmot, wolverine, bighorn sheep and mountain caribou.

The impact of outdoor recreation is one piece of this larger puzzle, and recent increases in outdoor recreation participation underscore this Urgent and immediate need to better understand and mitigate the impact of recreational activities on wildlife. The information in this report provides a starting point for practitioners seeking to limit biodiversity loss and promote wildlife coexistence and recreation in the future.

Visit our Wildlife and Recreation Coexistence page to learn more.