Saturday, February 21, 2015

So You Think That You Are Leaving Only Footprints: Think Again.

                                                      Comments due by Feb. 28, 2015

Leaving Onl Foottep? Think Again  CHRISTOPHR SOLOMON F. 13, 2015 ONE of the most popular places for backcountry skiing in North America is Teton Pass in Wyoming, high above the adventure playground of Jackson Hole. This winter, as skiers and snowboarders unload gear for a day of sweat and powder­skiing, the researcher Kimberly Heinemeyer has been moving among them with a clipboard. Dr. Heinemeyer, a senior scientist with the research group Round River Conservation Studies, explains that she’s studying the effect of recreation on wolverines. She asks skiers if they will wear a small orange GPS armband for the day that tracks their movement. Most people gladly agree. Wolverines, famously tough and elusive animals also known as “mountain devils,” are in trouble in the region. Roughly 300 are thought to remain in the northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest. Climate change is eroding the latespring snowpack that the animals depend on to survive. Even so, in August, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service withdrew its proposal to list the animal as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act. Environmental groups are suing. Over the last five winters, scientists have been trapping and fitting GPS collars to wolverines in Idaho and now in Wyoming while also affixing them to snowmobilers and those backcountry skiers. Then they’ve tracked the movements. Preliminary findings show that wolverines move faster and more often on weekends when people are playing in their mountain habitat. That may mean trouble for these animals during the brutal winters of the high Rockies, where every calorie counts. When we think of injuring nature, it is easy to point an accusing finger at mining companies and their strip mines or timber barons and their clear­cuts. But could something as mellow as backcountry skiing or a Thoreauvian walk in the woods cause harm, too? More and more studies over the last 15 years have found that when we visit the great outdoors, we have much more of an effect than we realize. Even seemingly low­impact activities like hiking, cross­country skiing and birdwatching often affect wildlife, from bighorn sheep to wolves, birds, amphibians and tiny invertebrates, and in subtle ways. Impacts from outdoor recreation and tourism are the fourth­leading reason that species are listed by the federal government as threatened or endangered, behind threats from nonnative species, urban growth and agriculture. Piping plovers and loggerhead turtles have been killed, and their nests disrupted, by beach traffic at Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina, for instance. Vernal pool fairy shrimp are threatened by humans walking through seasonal wetlands in California and Oregon. The major threat to manatees in Florida is being struck by recreational boats. And the list goes on. You’d be surprised by the ripples left by a day­hiker’s ramble through the woods. In 2008 Sarah Reed, an associate conservation scientist at the Wildlife Conservation Society, and her colleagues found fivefold declines in detections of bobcats, coyotes and other midsize carnivores in protected areas in California that allowed quiet recreation activities like hiking, compared with protected areas that prohibited those activities. “That is the kind of difference that you don’t see often in ecological studies,” Dr. Reed said. Dogs, a frequent villain, weren’t the issue for these carnivores; people were, according to her research. Birds get ruffled, too. Researchers who studied trails around Boulder, Colo., found that populations of several species of songbirds, including pygmy nuthatches and Western meadowlarks, were lowest near trails. “There’s something about the presence of humans and their pets when they go on hikes that causes a bit of a ‘death zone’ of 100 meters on either side of a trail,” said Prof. Rick Knight of Colorado State University. Running, canoeing, cycling and similar activities negatively affected birds in nearly 90 percent of 69 studies that researchers reviewed in 2011. Reductions were seen in the number of nests built, eggs laid and chicks hatched or fledged. In Connecticut, wood turtles, labeled a “species of special concern” in the state, vanished from one wildlife preserve over 10 years after the area was opened to activities like hiking, researchers found. It’s tempting for the muscle­powered recreation crowd (of which I’m a proud member) to argue that we’re lighter on the ground than those who roar into nature astraddle their growling snowmobiles and churning all­terrain vehicles. Surely motorheads are to blame for any problems in the forest. The uncomfortable fact is, we’re all complicit. In a not­yet­published review of 218 studies about recreation’s impacts on wildlife, researchers found more evidence of impacts by hikers, backcountry skiers and their like than by the gas­powered contingent. Cross­country skiers on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska, for instance, can be more disturbing to moose than noisy snowmobiles, one recent study found. Grant Harris, a biologist for the Fish and Wildlife Service and the main author of the study, explained that snowmobiles, while a noisy intrusion, announced their presence and then quickly departed. But cross­country skiers can sneak up on an animal without warning and then linger. Worse, animals “don’t know where the skiers are going to pop up next,” leaving them on edge. A century ago, nature had elbow room. Now, there’s a lot less of it, while recreational activities and nature tourism are growing in most parks, wilderness areas and other protected areas around the world. The National Park Service has allowed marathons in parks, for instance, and the controversial push by mountain bikers to ride in federal wilderness areas is heating up again. In British Columbia, more than three dozen snowcat skiing and heli­skiing operations and backcountry lodges have opened in the last 20 years in the province’s wild life ­rich south.Today, some kind of recreation is allowed in 99 percent of the protected natural areas in North America. Conflicts with nature are a result. Still, scientists insist they don’t want to lock people out of nature. Spending time on a mountainside, or hip­deep in a trout stream, is tonic for brain and body. Research bears this out. And people who recreate outdoors are among nature’s most ardent constituents. Without them, “our landscapes would erode even faster than they are now,” said Dr. Heinemeyer, the wolverine researcher. The challenge is to find a nuanced balance between enjoying nature and protecting it, recognizing that recreation does not necessarily complement conservation or preservation. Last spring, officials in Banff National Park in Canada closed a section of the Bow Valley Parkway, one of the best places in the park to see wildlife at night. Closing the road allowed wolves, grizzly bears and other wildlife more chances to move along the pinched valley bottom during springtime, a critical period when they have young to feed. Such restrictions aren’t new in the United States or Canada, but we should be prepared to accept more of them. We might also consider allowing more recreation in some parks and natural areas but less in others to achieve conservation goals across a broader landscape. And in the case of future parks and protected areas, we need to carefully consider the goals for such places and how recreation fits in or doesn’t, because once it is allowed, it is tough to restrict. “Whether or not to allow public access is probably the most important decision that gets made,” Dr. Reed said. Of course not all wildlife is the same. Some species flee; others habituate. Some populations might be healthy enough to withstand disturbance; others, too fragile. We now know recreation is having impacts in ways that we hadn’t imagined. We must plan accordingly. Only if nature is healthy will it be able to sustain and support us in the future, when we burst through the door after a long week and hit the trail, looking to lean on its strong shoulders.


Kobe Yank-Jacobs said...

I don't mean to be a contrarian here, but I respectfully disagree. I think that it's ordinary for species to shy away from another more powerful and numbers species when they infiltrate their area. I don't, however, believe that it should limit or make us feel guilty about appreciating the outdoors. The "death zone" created on either side of a human hiking train, as it's mentioned in the post, seem like quite an ordinary reaction to any foreign species. I just can't believe that the noise-level of an automobile traveling through the same area would be less of a threat than humans on foot. Even if so, I still don't believe that this should impede our desire to enjoy the outdoors. We have become a largely indoor society in terms of recreation and I believe it's good to get out. There are many more priorities relating to human activity of all sorts crowding out nature that we can tackle first that would do a lot more good for the environment.

Anonymous said...

The article has some important points on how humans degrade the environment sometimes through recreational activities. I agree with this because I work in a preservation and see some environmental degradation first-hand. One issue not mentioned in this article is the use of bug spray and sun lotion. Both of these products are made with toxic chemicals to the environment which usually leave a chemical footprint behind, in the area we are visiting. Secondly most humans make a lot of noise through recreational activities in nature. As stated in the article, noise pollution can upset wildlife and adds stress. The rise in human population without adding any new wildlife sanctuaries is adding to the problem. Preservations and parks are becoming too over-crowded. I believe the only solution is to add more parks and wildlife sanctuaries. By adding more national parks/preservation's, we can spread out our recreation therefore allowing everyone access to nature, with minimal effect on wildlife.

-Frazer Winsted

Anonymous said...

This article raises an interesting point of unintended negative human impact on the environment. I'm very interested how the article discusses that there is "something" about human presence that upsets wildlife and how humans create a 100 meter "death zone" when trekking through the wild. Humans are technically animals, but we are immensely more advanced than even our closest evolutionary ancestors and are by far the top of the food chain, so the adverse effects of our presence is not surprising. As Spiderman's Uncle Ben once said "With great power, comes great responsibility." Humans clearly have "great power" when it comes to the environment, yet we have not "great responsibility." I like that the article presents a possible solution to this issue that it is up to us to gather enough information to determine the right balance between enjoying wildlife and preserving it. Another factor to this is to not let money get in the way. The article discusses how many new backcountry lodges, ski resorts, etc. have opened in the last 20 years. It may be necessary to give up on some of these businesses for the greater good of the environment.

-Chris Magnemi

Anonymous said...

I found this article interesting because I was not aware of some of the ways in which humans degrade the environment. I am guilty of some of these things because I have never been educated about them before. I think this is an important article for anyone to read to get a better understanding of the fact that the world isn't just for humans. We should still enjoy the outdoors and outdoor activities but maybe we should not treat some of these degrading activities toward the environment to be our "right". As humans we have big senses of entitlement and do not give nature or animals the thought that they deserve.

- Victoria Kusy

Anonymous said...

I was unaware of the impacts we make by simply cross country skiing, hiking and simply just enjoying the outdoors. I like how the article points out that such simple activities could have such a negative impact on the wildlife around us. The article brings out a better understanding of what is specifically happening to certain species instead of just informing us that enjoying nature is a bad thing. I don't necessarily think taking a walk or hiking through areas will make a significantly large impact on the wildlife around it. I do think that when hiking people should be more aware and considerate of the nature around them. For example, just because a person hikes doesn't mean they're a "tree hugger". People who hike could leave loads of trash on the trails and could disrupt the trails by making fires and making their owns paths, etc. Besides that, I believe humans should also be able to enjoy the outdoors if they have the opportunity, but I do believe people should be less careless and more aware of their surroundings when entering a wildlife environment.
-Katherine Murphy

Chelsea Dow said...

In the lens of compromise, humans need to protect their natural surroundings, yet they also want to enjoy the recreational opportunities posed by such environments. This article shined an interesting perspective on recreational activities such as hiking, snowboarding, and back country skiing, past times that many humans would consider to be "connecting themselves back to nature." On the contrary it seems, engaging in such activities can disrupt animal behavioral patterns and threaten their habitats. Indeed, when discussing environmental issues, it can seem to be a dismal subject, reflecting on the ways in which humans fail to coexist with the natural world. However, I think that this article brings up discussion of both error and possible positive change. What struck me about the possibility of reform and change is when the author stated, "only if nature is healthy will it sustain us in the future." Thus comes the full circle idea of environmentalism, where perhaps the answer to humans wanting to continue their recreational practices in nature relies on their dedication to preserving all facets of the environment, not just the woods in which they find themselves on weekends. Becoming a steward of the environment in all aspects: knowing what you eat and where you get it from, limiting consumption and recycling, and opting for mass transit or walking/biking, could help to alleviate current environmental ecosystem pressures.

Anonymous said...

The peice of the article that talks about the snowmobile riders reminds me of a video I remember seeing my first semester here in The Naturalists course with prof. Spillo. The video overall was about national parks like Yosemite, and how sometimes people would come in on snowmobiles and Bison herds would get all riled up because of the noise and essentially go on a rampage (I'm pretty sure there's a word for it, I just can't remember it right now). I feel like there shouldn't really be any snowmobiles in areas where there's endangered wildlife, like on the mountain mentioned in the article, or in places like Yosemite. Either that or a strict limit, like ___ amount of snowmobiles can operate within these limits between this time and that time.

-E. Piper Phillips

Anonymous said...

I have lived in the country for most of my life - I'm from Vermont. Even though we live in a slightly more populated town than other parts of the state, we still have deer and other wildlife in our yard almost daily. So I grew up loving the outdoors and wanting to spend most of my time just walking through the woods. Reading this article was interesting because I never thought of the consequences that a walk through the woods could have on the wildlife. I was washing dishes one night and I looked out the window and was face-to-face with a black bear. Wildlife certainly doesn't seem to have a problem with coming up to me, so I don't think about the possibility that a walk through the woods can have on the wildlife. Maybe that's just because I am so used to living in the country, and it's different in other areas where there are less forests and more people. I guess it's all just a matter of perspective and what your surroundings were like growing up.

-Marrina Gallant

Joan Podolski said...

This article is an eye opener. who knew that all of the recreational stuff that we did could cause such a ripple effect on the animals in the wild. Me being an animal lover, i get frustrated at the people who are very well aware of these dangers and they continue to do it. If i knew the effect it had and i was the one building and hosting these activities, i would take extra precaution. Animals in the wild are a huge part of this environment and the more that we destroy their territory, the more it effects us in the long run. In the article it states, “There’s something about the presence of humans and their pets when they go on hikes that causes a bit of a ‘death zone’ of 100 meters on either side of a trail,” said Prof. Rick Knight of Colorado State University. Who would of ever thought just by walking near these sights can cause such damage. Another thing that as said was how the biggest decision was deciding whether or not the recreational activities should be held. In my thoughts, if it is such a big decision and can cause such damage, then we shouldn't be doing it.

Anonymous said...

This article raises the long debated conflict of human benefits over environmental preservation. However, it poses a new light on the situation. It is undoubtable that human impact on natural areas are negative, it is vital for humans to have access to their environment for recreational purposes. The more humans feel the need to explore and take advantage of their surroundings in an unobtrusive and beneficial manner, the more the case for environmental preservation will be stressed, and the more done to conserve endangered species and areas. It is as simple as supply and demand. It is also extremely healthy for humans to be spending more time outside and less time indoors, as it both promotes exercise, but education as well. In the end, it comes down to the decision of whether one would put his own needs over those of the environment, and how much of a compromise between the two can be made.

Anonymous said...

-Rachael Pepper (forgot to put my name on the above comment)

Anonymous said...

I think the article emphasizes the fact of how humans have become so disconnected from nature. Many look at a forest or a lake and only see a site of recreation. They don't see a delicate ecosystem that is vulnerable to disturbances. We don't appreciate and value nature as much as we should and that's the bottom line. We should increase our preservation efforts and strictly enforce rules in national parks to reduce our impact on wildlife.
-Emma Weis

Victoria said...

This article illustrates how society has not only lost touch with nature but, do not value it for the way it is. We as a whole we constantly alter something that already has its purpose and sometimes abuse nature for our own benefit. As for the "death zone" I feel that in Boulder something is being done on these trails that animals are fleeing. From personal experience I've stayed in suburban areas in the U.S. as well as very humble close to nature parts of the Dominican Republic and wildlife was living along side humans with no problem.
- Victoria Viguera

Michael Giordano said...

I never thought about hiking, cross country skiing, and or bird watching in national parks as destructive to wildlife. I have always thought it was important for people to visit national parks and immerse themselves into nature so that way more people could see the good that comes when we save and protect land from human population growth. As someone who loves, respects and cares for nature and our untouched land, I believe it is important that people see the land we save and I disagree with the notion to completely cut it off to humans. I do believe there should be some restrictions that coincide with the wildlife movement much similar to what the article said about the national park in Canada and how they close some of it off in the spring to allow bears and other wildlife to easily feed their young without the disruption from humans. Closing off the protected land from the public wouldn't allow the public to learn about why these efforts are going about and wouldn't give them a chance to see their great efforts in trying to protect land from development.

Anonymous said...

Im not sure how to think about this. As someone who enjoys the outdoors and outdoor activities i have always knows what im doing has some effect on the environment around me, but i have always hoped this effect would be negligible. This really makes me wonder if there is a way we can enjoy the outdoors without simultaneously harming it. And if there is another way i fear for the future as i dont see humans avoiding nature all together, ironically i especially dont see those who care about it leaving it alone. I believe the only possible outcome is limiting the amount of human exposure to these places, either at certain times or by limiting the amount any one person can go in a given amount of time.... I am very interested to see how this plays out.
-nick stanton

Anonymous said...

Humans make the mistake of thinking that preservation of nature is for us. We do not protect areas so that we may see the beauty in them. In fact it should be the opposite. As a hiker, skier, and outdoor recreationist, I understand the draw of exploring untouched places and experiencing the natural beauty our world has to offer. Unfortunately, visitors to parks can be a source of income that supports preservation and therefore a balance must be struck.
As seen today in the radiation zone of Chernobyl, animals thrive once humans are evacuated. We are the greatest evolutionary force in history and the more we become aware of our impact, the better we can address the effects. I will have to make changes to my personal habits before I can expect anyone else to.

Nadya Hall

Marisa Flannery said...

It's hard to say whether allowing people to cross country ski or what not is good or bad. Yes, those studies show that populations of certain animal species around those areas have decreased, but connecting humans with nature is a necessity. To try to solve some environmental problems starts with people caring. Once these people feel they're a part of nature, they will want to help and change things. I feel its a small price to pay because eventually, this will help the environment. I had never thought that such simple actions could be so destructive to our environment. To potentially solve this issue, these places that provide the public with these activities could make them more private or make a profit off of them and the profit can go toward maintenance to the parks or anything environmentally beneficial.

Christina said...

I disagree with this article. It may sound ignorant to a degree considering that there are studies to back up the point that wildlife strays from human presence. I like to hike, I live in an especially woodsy area so there are trails all around me. It's not all woods though, there are a lot of people. There are always an abundance of animals on/near the trails, they don't stray away they just go about their normal everyday business. I feel like they acquired these results in extreme cases. On the ski peaks, I understand the animals running away , for one season a year their homes are invaded for our own enjoyment. We don't belong there, we're not usually there, we just take over for a bit. As for state parks it is expected that animals don't want to be there. It's a main point of attraction for a dominant species aka us. And a lot of humans aren't too nice to the wildlife. | But I'm going to switch gears here. Animals can desensitize their feelings towards us, I think. Prime example take the Pace skunks. They don't spray every time a student walks by, they expect us there so they go about their everyday life. If animals expect us there and get used to us, they'll go about their everyday business. We just need to not intrude even more.

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