Does hunting or hiking affect wildlife communities in protected areas?
Managed public wild areas have dual mandates to protect biodiversity and provide recreational opportunities for people. These goals could be at odds if recreation, ranging from hiking to legal hunting, disrupts wildlife enough to alter their space use or community structure. We evaluated the effect of managed hunting and recreation on 12 terrestrial wildlife species by employing a large citizen science camera trapping survey at 1947 sites stratified across different levels of human activities in 32 protected forests in the eastern USA. Habitat covariates, especially the amount of large continuous forest and local housing density, were more important than recreation for affecting the distribution of most species. The four most hunted species (white-tailed deer, raccoons, eastern grey and fox squirrels) were commonly detected throughout the region, but relatively less so at hunted sites. Recreation was most important for affecting the distribution of coyotes, which used hunted areas more compared with unhunted control areas, and did not avoid areas used by hikers. Most species did not avoid human-made trails, and many predators positively selected them. Bears and bobcats were more likely to avoid people in hunted areas than unhunted preserves, suggesting that they perceive the risk of humans differently depending on local hunting regulations. However, this effect was not found for the most heavily hunted species, suggesting that human hunters are not broadly creating ‘fear’ effects to the wildlife community as would be expected for apex predators. Synthesis and applications. Although we found that hiking and managed hunting have measureable effects on the distribution of some species, these were relatively minor in comparison with the importance of habitat covariates associated with land use and habitat fragmentation. These patterns of wildlife distribution suggest that the present practices for regulating recreation in the region are sustainable and in balance with the goal of protecting wildlife populations and may be facilitated by decades of animal habituation to humans. The citizen science monitoring approach we developed could offer a long-term monitoring protocol for protected areas, which would help managers to detect where and when the balance between recreation and wildlife has tipped.
Kays, R; Parsons, AW; Baker, MC; Kalies, EL; Forrester, T; Costello, R; Rota, CT; Millspaugh, JJ; McShea, WJ
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