filed under: wildlife and environment

Wildlife And Trails Primer - Part G. A site’s existing impacts

Planning Trails with Wildlife in Mind

Assessing the amount of human disturbance already along a potential trail alignment can help set more real- istic wildlife goals for a trail project. Trail alignments may pass through one or more of the general levels of modification along a gradient from urban to pristine.

by American Trails Staff

photo credit: Stuart Macdonald

Sand Creek trail corridor includes wetlands and flowing water but it is also a highly industrialized area

It is very rare that an area proposed for a trail hasn’t already seen at least some impact from humans. The questions then become

  • How disturbed is the site?
  • What kinds of impacts to wildlife already exist there?

Key Concepts

With this kind of ecological evaluation, it will be easier to set reasonable wildlife goals for a trail or to evaluate the tradeoffs between wildlife and trails. Every trail project should have wildlife goals. The specific wildlife goals and rules of thumb you apply will partly depend on how disturbed a site is.

Typically, urban landscapes are heavily disturbed and restoring habitat may be the principal wildlife goal. In more pristine settings, preserving what is already there and minimizing impact may be the major concerns.

An important first step is determining where a site fits on the gradient of human modification ranging from urban (highly modified) to pristine (few modifications).

Even portions of wilderness areas may have had some human impacts from activities such as mining, forestry, or road building. Understanding these modifications can help guide trail alignments. For example, trails might follow ecological edges created by historic roads or timber cuts.

In gauging how modified an area already is, there are some practical questions to ask:

• Generally, what kind of wildlife habitat is present? What condition is it in?

• Are the plants and animals typically associated with that habitat actually present? Is the ecosystem already impoverished to some extent?

• What are and have been the human impacts to wildlife in the area?

• What are the surrounding land uses and condition of habitat? How close is any nearby develop- ment? Are there already roads bounding the area under consideration for a trail, posing obstacles to wildlife movement?

• Overall, to what extent is the site insulated from external forces?

• What opportunities are there to improve habitat on the site?

photo credit: Sutirta Budiman, Unsplash

Rules of Thumb

G.1 Patterns of disturbance.
The best trail alignments work with the existing patterns of disturbance already in a landscape, rather than imposing an entirely new set.

G.3 Urban limitations.
In urban landscapes there are often few options for routing trails other than streetside (where there are not many ecological implications) and along streams and other drainages often already transformed for flood control.

G.4 Restoring habitat. Trail projects can aid wildlife by being catalysts for restoring habitat, creating wetlands, and planting native plant species for food, cover, and visual screening.

G.5 Seeking professional help.
Without special training, it’s easy to overlook or oversimplify wildlife issues. Get professional assistance whenever possible.

Further Reading

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

Thorne, “Landscape Ecology,” in D. Smith and P. Hellmund, 1993. Ecology of Greenways. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, Minn., p. 27.

Forman R. and M. Godron, 1986. Landscape Ecology. John Wiley and Sons, New York, pp. 286-310.

Published September 08, 2018

More Articles in this Category

Equestrian Etiquette - Protecting Trees and Park Structures

Responsible equestrians should actively protect trees and other park structures when out on the trail. Equine expert Lora Goerlich gives her take on this topic.

National Wildlife Refuge System Land Protection Project

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with our partners, is charting a course for the future of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

A Landscape-Scale Approach to Refuge System Planning

Team (PIT) was chartered to address this recommendation from Conserving the Future: Wildlife Refuges and the Next Generation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 21st century strategic vision for the National Wildlife Refuge System. Our charge was to investigate how Refuge System planning will address large-scale conservation challenges such as climate change, while maintaining the integrity of management and conservation delivery within our boundaries.

Wildlife and Trails Checklist — Introduction

The Wildlife and Trail Planning Checklist is a sequence of wildlife-related questions and possible steps to consider in planning a trail.