When enjoying a beautiful day out snowmobiling or skiing in the backcountry of the Rocky Mountains, you’re probably not spending a lot of time wondering if you are chasing the wildlife out of the area. But, based on what we know about recreation impacts, many wildlife species respond negatively to winter recreation. Human use of winter backcountry is on the rise in Colorado and all over the western United States, owing to both population increases and technological advancements in motorized and non-motorized recreation equipment. Consequently, it is important to know at what point recreational use of an area makes it unusable for wildlife, and sensitive wildlife species, in particular.
One sensitive species that uses the same general montane areas as winter recreators is the elusive Canada lynx. These animals are a Threatened species in the continental United States and are of concern to managers because they rely on deep snow for hunting success during winter, and this snow condition can be affected by changes in forest condition and climate change.
Now, forest and recreation managers and wildlife biologists need to know if lynx can co-exist with people recreating in and around their habitat, and whether this might cause lynx to change how they move through the landscape. These questions were addressed by wildlife researchers Lucretia Olson and John Squires from the Rocky Mountain Research Station in Missoula, Montana—along with their partners at USFS, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and University of Montana—who used novel methods to track the paths and use patterns of lynx as well as people snowmobiling and skiing in the backcountry to get an answer.