Wildlife and Trails Checklist — Step A: Getting the Whole Picture

Planning Trails with Wildlife in Mind

by American Trails Staff

The checklist focuses specifically on wildlife issues of trail planning and is designed to mirror comprehensive planning processes. This should make it easier to integrate the information into the ways trails are already being planned. If you are beginning to plan a trail and want to find appropriate ways of including wildlife issues, the checklist will raise important questions through each step of the planning process.

Step A. Getting the Whole Picture

1. Include wildlife in the trail vision

Look at the broader landscape.

  • What opportunities or constraints are there for trails and wildlife in the broader landscape?
  • What plans are there for other trails or wildlife across the landscape?
  • In general, what kinds of landscapes would the trail pass through?
  • Would any be areas that currently have no trails and little human modification?
  • Do you foresee any cumulative trail impacts by adding a new trail?

Develop preliminary goals for the project.

  • What activities do you foresee for the trail?
  • What are your wildlife goals for the project?
  • What destinations, users, and activities do you foresee for the trail?

Keep wildlife concerns within the focus of the project vision

  • Are there biologists or other professionals available to advise you on wildlife and trails concerns?

Look for opportunities to coordinate your trail project with conservation and other complementary projects.

  • Are there opportunities to coordinate habitat restoration, protection, or acquisition with the trail project?
  • Where?

photo credit: Nathan Anderson, Unsplash

2. Organize & communicate

Create a profile of the kinds of users who are likely to use the trail.

  • What are likely levels and seasons of use?
  • Are there organizations that would be interested in the trail project?
  • Would any help monitor the trail area for wildlife issues?

Identify the groups interested in wildlife in your trail area.

  • What wildlife and conservation organizations would be interested to know of your trail project?
  • Would any help monitor the trail area for wildlife issues?

Share your ideas and findings with other community members, including both trails and wildlife enthusiasts, property owners, and land managers.

  • Who are people and organizations that would feel strongly for or against the project?
  • How can you inform and involve them?

Meet with agency planners.

  • Are there city or county land-use planners and federal or state resource planners who understand the broader context of the area where you are considering a trail?
  • Is there an area-wide land-use, open space, or trails plan?
  • If the trail might cross federal land, is there an existing management plan?
  • Is your trail concept consistent with these plans?

Start a public discussion of the trail and its implications for wildlife.

  • What are the best ways to reach the various groups interested in your trail?
  • Community meetings, field trips, a web site?
  • What are the wildlife issues that must be addressed in planning the trail?
  • Do the ideas you hear seem to complement or conflict?

3. Research and inventory

photo credit: Gunilla S Granfalk, Unsplash

Determine the physical extent of the project.

  • Over what area might the trail extend?
  • What elevational ranges?

Conduct a preliminary biological inventory.

  • What are the area’s sensitive plants, animals, and wildlife habitats?
  • Are there any special opportunities for wildlife education?
  • How impacted already are wildlife in the area?
  • How much modified is the area— is it urban, suburban, agricultural, pristine?

Determine the habitat/ecosystem types present in the area of the proposed trail and the potential species or communities of special concern.

  • What do state agency and other sources indicate are likely species or communities of special interest in the area?

Draw inferences from scientific studies done in similar habitats or with similar wildlife species.

  • Does the state wildlife/trails bibliographic data base include any such relevant references?

Learn from others who have completed projects with similar wildlife issues.

  • Are there project descriptions with similar wildlife issues (see Case Studies section)?
  • What other trails projects have been built through similar environments?
  • What lessons can you draw from the experiences of others?

Review data found to date and conduct a site visit with a wildlife biologist or other scientists to identify potential wildlife opportunities and constraints.

  • Are there areas to avoid because of resource sensitivity or areas to consider because of restoration potential or lower sensitivity?
  • Which areas would provide the most interesting route and have the least impact on wildlife?
  • Are there special opportunities for wildlife education?

Identify seasons of special concern for the important wildlife species or communities.

  • Are there times of year, such as elk calving or eagle nesting season, that are particular sensitive to disturbance from people?
  • Are there alternatives for the trail away from such areas?
  • Would seasonal closures of a trail near such areas be workable?

Identify important plants in the area.

  • Are there any sensitive plant species or communities in the area?
  • Are there ways to present these communities to trail users without disturbing sensitive species?

Evaluate the extent of existing impacts to wildlife and the landscape.

  • What are the existing impacts to wildlife?
  • How much have humans already modified the area?
  • Is the area primarily natural, managed, cultivated, suburban, or urban?
  • Will the trail provide access to back-country or areas that have never had trails before?
  • How can you minimize the trail’s contribution to habitat fragmentation?

Take a step back.

  • Given what you have learned to this point, how well do you think this project will fit into its larger ecological context?

Formalize the project goals.

  • How would you revise the preliminary project goals based on what has been learned?
  • What do members of the public and others think of the project goals?

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