Wildlife And Trails Primer - C. Tools for a broader view

Planning Trails with Wildlife in Mind

Looking at resources from a regional or landscape-wide perspective helps identify where trails should go and which areas should be conserved for wildlife.

by American Trails Staff

Landscape ecology provides many useful tools for understanding and documenting the landscapes through which trails pass. By identifying a landscape’s patches (such as stands of trees), corridors (e.g., a stream), and surrounding matrix (e.g., grasslands), it may be easier to find the best alignment for a trail, one that fits the landscape.

Key Concepts

It’s only when looking at the broader landscape over time that one can discover how wildlife use a place and what impacts activities in one area will have in another.

Fortunately, the relatively new discipline of landscape ecology provides useful tools for describing and analyzing broad landscape patterns and functions.

Looking across a landscape, especially from above, you typically see a mix of patterns— a wetland patch here, a stream corridor there. These components of the landscape function in varying ways for wildlife.

Knowing the locations of patches, corridors, and matrices— the structural elements of the landscape— helps identify edges and habitat blocks. How these elements of the landscape are used by wildlife varies from species to species: what is an edge for one species may not be for another.

Part of understanding the broader picture is looking at the landscape over time. Such a perspective makes clear that how wildlife use the landscape can be very dynamic. There may be substantial changes in how wildlife use the landscape from season to season and year to year.

Looking at changes across landscapes and over time, it is easier to make a trail compatible with a larger conservation effort. Such a regional plan seeks to balance trails and wildlife goals across the region. This is one way to make certain that there is a balance between streams with roads and trails and undeveloped streams devoted to wildlife habitat.

One framework for making a plan for a landscape or region— a part of which could be a trail plan— is that developed by Noss and Cooperrider (1994). Their approach divides an area into core biological reserves that are surrounded by buffers and connected by wildlife corridors. The core areas are strictly for nature preservation. In each successive buffer more human activities are allowed.
Trails might go into the core areas only rarely but would be more common in buffer areas.
With this kind of coordinated plan there it is easier to accommodate competing objectives.

The Noss and Cooperrider approach is similar to the Forest Service’s landscape assessment and planning effort.

photo credit: Peter Aschoff, Unsplash

Rules of Thumb

C.1 Regional view.
Plan a trail consistent with a regional or landscape-wide plan that identifies where trails should go and which areas should be conserved for wildlife. Balance the needs of wildlife and recreationists across that larger perspective.

C.2 Already disturbed areas.
Site a trail where there are already human-created disturbances or in areas of less sensitive habitat.

C.3 Landscape structure.
Analyze the landscape noting the patches, corridors, and matrix— the landscape structure— as they might be used by species of special interest.

C.4 Corridor crossings.
Minimize the number of times prominent landscape corridors— such as riparian zones— are crossed by a trail. These corridors may serve as important conduits and habitat for wildlife.

C.5 Smaller, isolated patches.
Avoid smaller, isolated patches when laying out a trail, but do give users an experience of the varied landscape.

C.6 Sensitive patches.
Avoid patches that are habitat for threatened, endangered, or other species of concern.

C.7 Involving conservation advocates.
Enlist the help of conservation advocates in planning trails. Find opportunities to integrate trails and open space planning.

Further Reading

[Older publications may be available from libraries and used booksellers. Titles with links may still be in print.]

Dramstad, W., J. Olson, and R. Forman, 1996. Landscape Ecology Principles in Landscape Architecture and Land-Use Planning, Island Press, Washington D.C.

Noss, R. and A. Cooperrider, 1994. Saving Nature’s Legacy: Protecting and Restoring Biodiversity. Island Press, Washington, D.C

Thorne, James 1993. “Landscape Ecology,” in Smith, D. and P. Hellmund, 1993. Ecology of Greenways. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, Minn., pp. 23-42.

Forman R. and M. Godron, 1986. Landscape Ecology. John Wiley and Sons, New York, pp. 83-225.

Forman, R. 1995. Land Mosaic: The Ecology of Landscapes and Regions. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

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