Seeking ground less traveled: elk responses to recreation.
Recreating on public land is increasingly popular in the Pacific Northwest. Recreation management requires balancing opportunities for people to enjoy the outdoors with mitigating the effects on wildlife and other natural resources. Recreation and wildlife managers grappling with these issues asked Forest Service scientists to quantify the impacts of motorized and nonmotorized recreation on elk. Elk are highly valued for hunting and viewing by the public, and as large herbivores, they play a critical role in many ecosystems of the Intermountain West. A large fenced area within the Starkey Experimental Forest and Range in eastern Oregon provided a unique setting for assessing how a wide-ranging species like elk respond to four types of recreation. Real-time data recorded by telemetry units worn by people and elk alike allowed scientists to establish a cause-effect relationship between human movements and activities and elk responses. Scientists found that elk avoided areas where humans were recreating. This avoidance resulted in habitat compression. All-terrain vehicle use was most disruptive to elk, followed by mountain biking, hiking, and horseback riding. When exposed to these activities, elk spent more time moving rather than feeding and resting. Land managers can use this information to assess tradeoffs between multiple, and often competing, land uses. When combined with planning efforts that include stakeholder engagement, it may offer a clearer path forward.